Spider-Man 3 (2007) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 140 min.

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons, James Cromwell, Theresa Russell, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn, Bruce Campbell, Elizabeth Banks, Cliff Robertson, Ted Raimi, Stan Lee (cameo)  
Director: Sam Raimi

Screenplay: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent

In this third installment of the popular superhero franchise, Peter Parker (Maguire, Seabiscuit) is all set to pop the question to the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst, Marie Antoinette).  Unfortunately, every time he gets up the gumption to try, things keep getting in the way, and soon, the relationship itself seems to be uncertain.  To make matter worse, his formerly good friend Harry Osborn (Franco, The Dead Girl)  is out for his blood, avenging his father's death which Harry is sure comes at Peter's hands.  A no-holds barred fight across the sky leaves Harry with amnesia, apparently back to his old self -- or is he?

Meanwhile, Peter and his Aunt May (Harris, The Gift) learn new news about Uncle Ben's death: the man originally thought to be the killer was merely an accomplice.  The real killer is Flint Marko (Church, Over the Hedge), an escaped criminal who finds himself suddenly gaining newfound powers when he accidentally gets inside a physics particle accelerator filled with sand, which becomes engrained down to his very core.  He turns into a man made of sand (the Sandman), able to shift his shape and come at people hard or soft in his attacks. 

Just as Peter thinks he might be getting it all together, a pitch-black substance of alien origin that has crash landed near him becomes one with his body, effectively making itself into a suit just like the Spider-Man suit, except all black.  Peter finds the suit to his liking, as it gives him a certain edge, but soon discovers that it also makes him more aggressive, whether he has the suit on or not.  His new persona gives him a certain drive he's never had before, but it comes with a price -- it also pushes people away.  As Spider-Man fights for his life against Marko, he fights for his soul with the symbiotic alien being, while Harry begins to show familiar signs of cracking under the weight of his father's legacy.

If truth were to be completely told, while I did like Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, I have to say that I do find them to be films that carry a great deal of baggage, with incredibly contrived developments that strain disbelief to the maximum allowable limit.  Most of the problems stem from inherent flaws in the medium of superhero comic books themselves  A small group of people in one of the world's largest cities conveniently comprise of all of the heroes or villains, just so happening to have a personal connection with Peter Parker in some major way. The worst example of this that I can remember came in Spider-Man 2, where Doctor Octavius (Octopus) just so happened to know Peter and Harry in different capacities, and they just happen to be there when he gains his powers -- powers he would later use to hold up a bank at the same time that Peter is there, while he also just so happens to kidnap Aunt May.  However, as egregious as the contrivances were in the first two entries, at least Raimi had tried, however feebly, to explain the connections.

If these films were bending plausibility ever so close to the point of breaking, Spider-Man 3 shatters it beyond reparability.  Here we have not one, not two, but three villains (actually four, if you count the symbiote), and wouldn't you know it?  All three happen to be only one degree of separation from Parker.  Of course, we all know about Harry, whose enmity has been bubbling under in the last two films, so when he remarks to Peter, "You knew this would happen," he isn't exaggerating.  Just when you think that we might finally get a super-villain who manifests independently from Peter in The Sandman, it is revealed that Flint Marko is actually the real killer of Ben Parker -- the other guy (killed in the first film) was just an unfortunate accomplice! 

Oddly, when Spider-Man confronts Marko, Flint reveals that he is more than a mere man, but a living entity of sand, and Peter is completely nonchalant about it.  While it is true, that he's faced formidable foes before in the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus, Peter knew them (before they went bad) as men of science that created their own mega-powered weapons.  Here is a guy in Flint Marko whose entire body can shift, can separate, can transform into just about anything, and one which Parker has no idea of his powers' origins.  As Parker proceeds to fight Marko, all sorts of ultra-fantastic things are happening with his body that would be the most amazing sight on Earth to about 100% of the population, and Spider-Man just says,, "Uh-oh."

That's pretty indicative of he poor dialogue. Not convinced? Here's another example. In the scene where an errant skyscraper crane smashes into the floor of the building that Gwen Stacy appears modeling in, Gwen Stacy ends up dangling for her life, practically hanging on by her fingers in what would surely be a gruesome way to go for the young woman.  Eddie Brock goes to take a picture and notices its Gwen, points it out to Capt. Stacy, Gwen's very own father.  Capt. Stacy looks up and sees his daughter the pride and joy of his life, hanging from the building and certain to die, and says, "What's she doing up there?"  Ugh.  Is that all he can think to say?

It gets worse.  "I don't know.  I just saw her last night.  She said she had a modeling gig.", Brock replies.  To which Capt. Stacy, getting into protective father mode, turns to look sternly at Brock and huffs, "Who are you?"  As Gwen Stacy hangs on for her life, the two find the time for a formal introduction and even shake hands.  "Eddie Brock Jr.  I work for the Daily Bugle, and I'm dating your daughter."

I haven't even mentioned Eddie Brock (Grace, In Good Company), Peter's rival photographer in the Daily Bugle who just so happens to take on the symbiote at some point in the film, becoming Venom (I don't recall them referring to Sandman or Venom by name, but perhaps I may have missed it).  In probably the most artificially conceived transfer of powers,  Spider-Man happens to try to rid of the symbiote atop a church that also just so happens to have Brock praying for Parker's demise inside it -- yes, out of all of the tens of thousands of buildings in the city  -- quite convenient! 

Perhaps the reason I can't cut this third entry the slack of the previous two films is that, with so many characters, origins, and motivations to have to contend with, in addition to such subplots as Mary Jane's acting career, a new potential love interest for Peter in Gwen Stacy (another contrivance -- she happens to be a woman Spider-Man saves from a building mishap AND Peter Parker's lab partner in school AND the woman Eddie Brock formerly dated that he's obsessed with AND the daughter of the cop who briefs the Parkers bout Ben's death), the Brock/Parker rivalry at work, and Peter's seedy new personality (very reminiscent to the effect of the "bad Kryptonite" that Superman is exposed to in Superman III), -- while also allowing a great deal of time for the obligatory, prolonged, special effect-laden fight scene extravaganzas -- there just isn't time to explain things in depth or detail as it whizzes from point A to Z. 

Unfortunately, by the time we get to point Z, our heads are spinning from all of the story elements Raimi tenuously wafts together like some sort of intricate web that easily falls apart if given the slightest pressure of scrutiny.  Worse, with everyone shifting loyalties, and personalities, we no longer have a sure sense of the characters anymore.  They're as thin as paper dolls, played with aggressively and smashed together like young boys and their action figures in the sandbox.  Sandman becomes a grotesque monster, Venom is -- well, he is just like Spider-Man with teeth because I guess the symbiote just likes being Spider-Man a lot, and Harry-come-lately Goblin rears his ugly head just in time to make sure the film is padded out another 15 minutes.  The plot here is predictable, the attempts at emotional content hollow, and unlike the previous two films, the trilogy ends without the requisite energy and bravado we'd expect after such a long journey. 

Spider-Man 3 probably could have been a worthy sequel if Raimi would have pulled in the reins a little and kept the villains down to Goblin and one of the two other villains -- the Sandman preferably (sorry, fan-boys, Venom SUCKS!).  Only then could I see enough time being given to adequate developments told in a plausible (well, as much as they can be in a Spider-Man film) fashion that didn't seem like it was in a rush to get everything in.  Gwen Stacy's character, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Lady in the Water, The Village), used so dramatically in the comic book version, is little more than window dressing, and when more time is given to Bruce Campbell (The Ant Bully, Man with the Screaming Brain) as a comical French maitre' d than Aunt May, or even J. Jonah Jameson, something's definitely off-kilter in the editing department.  One gets the sense that Raimi had constructed what would have been about a 4-5 hour film if he could have his way with it  Perhaps dividing the film into two parts might have proven the best option, but even so, the directions the film does go with its villains are weak.  The only moments where the film seems to come to life is when Peter is without costume, playing in scenes where affording some romance or laughs.

I never thought I would say that I didn't really like a major studio Spider-Man film, at least one that had most of the same cast and crew, but Spider-Man 3 is a major disappointment for a longtime comic book (and Spider-Man) fan like me.  It plays much more like the humor and special effects-powered Fantastic Four than it does the original Spider-man films.  Like Sandman, the film lacks substance, constantly shifting and changing, but rarely coming together to form anything solid.  Like Venom, the film is overcome by adherence to "I do it because it feels good" elements that end up consuming all of the humanity that lies within.  Like Green Goblin, its strengths are purely on the technological side, taking misdirected emotional stabs, throwing explosive elements in whenever it can to the point where it falls victim to its own concussion-inducing pyrotechnics, self-inflicting numbness until it no longer seems to remember what it's supposed to be anymore. 

If there's one character it's not like, it is Spider-Man, at least not the one we all know and love -- the one which we've followed through print to cartoons to major big screen event. 

"Who are you?", Mary Jane asks Peter after she realizes he has completely changed.    "I don't know..." he replies, ashamed.  Hopefully it will be figured out whenever the obligatory fourth film arrives, and we have a return of what we all enjoyed so much of -- the character development, the pacing, the timing, the intelligence, and most importantly, the humanity -- back again.  As a true-blue Spider-Man fan, it pains me to say it -- this third time offers little charm.

Qwipster's rating: 

©2007 Vince Leo