weaves too tangled a web in ‘Spider-Man 3’
By Ben Saylor
Published May 9, 2007
villains, two women and hepcat strutting all compete for attention
in “Spider-Man 3,” a jumbled hodgepodge of action and soap opera.
At the start, Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) life
is good. He’s finally with long-time crush Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst),
and Spider-Man has never been more popular, with videos of him played
on the streets of New York and kids everywhere idolizing the web-slinger.
But in short order, trouble comes knocking. Where
to begin? Maybe with Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped
convict who stumbles into a particle radiation experiment and is
changed into Sandman, whose power is, well, do I really have to
explain? Marko turns to theft as a way of paying for expensive meds
for his sick daughter, which is itself a way for us, the audience,
to sympathize with the retro-T-shirt-wearing crook.
Then there’s Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter’s
friend-turned-enemy who’s still smarting over the death of his father,
the Green Goblin, during a battle with Spider-Man. Only now, instead
of getting drunk and whining about it like he did in the last installment,
he gets out daddy’s deadly toys and sets off on a quest for vengeance.
Then there’s some black goop that falls to Earth on
a meteorite. It is, we are told, attracted to aggression. Why, out
of all the people in New York City, it goes to Peter, is never explained.
It turns his suit black, and sets up the film’s most hilarious-yet-stupefying
sequence. Suddenly Peter has his hair down in front of his face
and is boogieing to some funky music, whilst pelvic thrusting in
the direction of every female in sight. His “dark” phase culminates
with some smooth moves on the floor of a jazz club, a club where
Mary Jane is singing because she—oh, shoot, I’m way ahead of myself.
If you haven’t figured it out already, this movie
has a lot going on. Too much, in fact, even for a near two and a
half hour runtime. The sheer number of subplots is mind numbing,
and even writer/director Sam Raimi and fellow screenwriters Ivan
Raimi (brother of Sam) and Alvin Sargent seem at a loss as to how
to keep up the pace. For every action sequence (those looking for
Cleveland should keep their eyes open during the armored car scene),
there’s a scene of fortune cookie advice from Aunt May (Rosemary
Harris) or romantic “intrigue” with either Mary Jane or comely blonde
Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who Spider-Man rescues and also
just happens to be Peter’s lab partner.
If the crux of the movie, however, was Peter’s internal
struggle (which I’m pretty sure was the intention), then what was
Raimi thinking by reducing his hero’s “dark phase” to what essentially
amounted to goofy macho posturing and an outtake from a Broadway
musical? He only does one or two things that could be considered
“dark.” It’s as if Raimi was scared to paint Peter’s character too
darkly and kept things light to placate the popcorn-munching John
and Jane Moviegoers who will fill the seats for this flick. Sam,
judging from the reactions I’ve got since seeing it, you probably
could have gone darker and no one would have been upset.
Maguire, whose combination of eternal boyishness and
bookishness have served him well as Peter in this series, really
flounders during the character’s “dark” phase. He was much more
convincing as a heel in last year’s “The Good German,” where he
played a U.S. Army soldier dealing in black market goods and prostitution.
Dunst has never been a favorite actress of mine, but I can’t blame
her entirely for the way her character is presented here, which
is fleetingly and always with something to whine about.
Franco is decent as Harry, even with the ridiculous
hoops Raimi and his fellow screenwriters make him jump through.
Howard (Ron’s kid), is attractive but distracting as Gwen, and hopefully
her character will be put to better use in future installments.
Church, in the midst of a comeback following his Oscar nod for “Sideways,”
gives about as good a performance as someone in a T-shirt as goofy
as the one he wears could be expected to give. Topher Grace is also
in the mix as slimy photographer Eddie Brock, who turns into the
villain Venom after the afore-mentioned galactic goop drops onto
him. Filling out the cast are the usual side players: J.K. Simmons’
samusing J. Jonah Jameson, Harris’s turn as Aunt May and the requisite
cameo by Bruce Campbell, cult actor and longtime friend of Raimi’s.
The action sequences are well done, although since
the movie’s plot is fairly predictable it’s hard to get caught up
in them exactly. Hopefully for the next one, some more time will
be spent on the script and not on how many major characters will
fit in a big action scene.