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Spider-Man 3

starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Topher Grace
written by Sam and Ivan Raimi and directed by Sam Raimi
rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence.
85%

I watched Peter Parker’s high school graduation in the first Spider-man movie with my class on the last night of my senior trip, just a few days before I graduated from high school. A few years later, in Spider-man 2 after completing my sophomore year at college, I watched him struggle with his personal life: juggling tough college courses, a lousy job and some rather tortured friendships. This was a character who was aging at exactly the same rate and going through many of the same major life events that I was. More than any other superhero on page or screen (with the possible, but dubious, exception of Batman) Peter was human, and I could relate with him.

I say all this because perhaps the most withering criticism I can level at Spider-man 3 is that I no longer feel any connection to its title character. I graduated from college almost exactly one year ago, and I walked into the theater for a reunion with an old friend . . . only to find that I don’t know who this guy is anymore. The franchise may not have jumped the shark with its 3rd chapter, but its main character is not what he once was. Naturally, when I say “most” withering criticism, I do not mean “only.” At 140 minutes, Spider-man 3 may be too long, but it feels much too short.

Peter Parker’s life couldn’t be better. He is acing every class, a permanent staff position at the Daily Bugle seems just within reach (despite the schemes of Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a cocky newcomer), his girlfriend is starring in a Broadway production and he is getting ready to propose. Most importantly, New York City has fallen in love with his alter-ego, Spider-man. He is a hero and a cultural icon. Trouble can’t be far away.

Harry Osborne, once his best friend, has assumed his father’s place as the new Green Goblin, bent on revenge against Peter. A small-time crook named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who may have previously unsuspected connections with Peter’s past, finds that he has the power to do whatever he wants to achieve his ends. And, perhaps worst of all, a strange glob of black alien goo has attached itself to Spidey’s suit with alarming results.

There is easily enough material here for an entire trilogy, but (no doubt feeling the pressure of losing the franchise’s top stars) Raimi has gone all out to cram as much story material as possible into a single film. Don’t get me wrong; there is lots of fantastic material here. Probably enough, in fact, to make a top-notch Spider-man movie of much more moderate length. But there are quite a few very bad ideas as well, to say nothing of underdeveloped characters. Gwen Stacy, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (who seems to be showing up wherever the action is hottest these days), probably gets the shortest shrift with a role that is used solely to manipulate a few key decisions by other characters.

The new villains, while they are fun and brilliantly conceived, are badly executed on a couple of levels. Sandman’s connection to Peter screams “conveniently contrived” and Venom, aside from being given very few chances to shine, is woefully under-explained. What is this thing? Where does it come from and why? Why are sonic vibrations its personal Kryptonite? A few minutes of explanation would not have been amiss in answering such questions.

Spider-man 3 also contains the most painfully awful sequence of the trilogy (or any other recent superhero movie that I have seen, for that matter). I had the overwhelming urge to avert my eyes and pretend that this scene was not a part of the movie I was watching. It was ridiculously out of place, out of character and out of touch with any semblance of sane filmmaking, like everyone involved in the production suffered a sudden collective lapse in judgment. I waited in suspense, knowing that a few more minutes like this would sink the whole movie. By the time the scene was over, it was nearly too late.

But enough about what I hated. There are two things about Spider-man 3 that I really, really liked. First, of course, are its action and effects sequences. There is plenty of great spectacle to take in: high-flying acrobatics, devastating battles, startling transformations and so on. It would not be difficult to “totally geek out” over some of this stuff, especially if that is all you ask of your comic book movies.

Second, and more significant to me, is the thematic unity of the movie. Spider-man 3 is a story of revenge and forgiveness, and throughout almost two and a half hours of action, exposition and malfunctioning relationships, it never entirely forgets that. Peter, Harry, Eddie and Flint each have interlocking (and somewhat parallel) personal revenge arcs, and we watch each of these play out: the pain and destruction they cause, how each character handles himself and the consequences for those who find redemption and those who don’t.

This is fertile material, and I enjoyed its depth and breadth. The thematic thread which tied all of the subplots together did a great deal to make up for the sheer number of interwoven storylines. Harry, to my surprise, had the best material to work with, and his character seemed to be the most fully realized. Perhaps, though, I’m just a sucker for the magnificent Hamlet elements of his character development.

Ultimately, there is just too much to like for me to declare this movie a failure, and too much to hate to declare it a success. It is certainly far weaker than Spider-man 2, and I believe it is weaker than the first movie as well (although many might disagree). It does not stand well on its own, but there is no doubt that it is still crackerjack blockbuster fare with more depth than the average summer movie.

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~ by Jared on May 4, 2007.

2 Responses to “Spider-Man 3”

  1. And what exactly was this scene horrid scene. Was it the “Peter Parker goes emo” scene? The lack of specificity regarding this and other criticisms of the movie are somewhat annoying (to my reading, anyways.) I mean, I’m by no means an apologist of the movie… I just hate reading vague analysis without substantiation :-D .

  2. Spoilers! ;) Do the words “Saturday Night Fever” mean anything to you? See “Joe Loves Crappy Movies” for further specificity.

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