Spider-Man 3
directed by Sam Raimi
(Columbia, 2007)

Disillusioned by negative press, I was almost reluctant to pay movie-theater prices to see Spider-Man 3. But my unwavering love for the first two films in the series was impossible to resist, and soon I found myself taking my wife and two kids to see it despite my misgivings.

I left with mixed feelings about some aspects of the film, but overall -- heck, it was a pretty cool ride!

The movie begins with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) riding high for once, on Spider-Man's popularity and his own blossoming romance with sweetheart Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Sure, it stinks that his best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), is taking after his father and is trying to kill Peter under the guise of the Green Goblin, but otherwise, things are pretty good for Our Hero.

But then a spider-like symbiote falls to Earth and latches onto Peter, and Flint Marko, an escaped con (Thomas Haden Church) looking for his daughter, gets trapped in a science experiment that turns him into living sand (leading to some very cool special effects and the startling realization that washing a villain down the drain seldom works).

But for every hit, there's a miss. Osborn makes a cool entry into the film as a villain, but Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is a little too smarmy as a competitive photographer and just a little too insane as the villainous Venom. (Why did Brock's teeth change like that, anyway?)

Osborn's butler Bernard (John Paxton) is a watered-down slice of Alfred Pennyworth, and his one big scene is too sappy for words. Even newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) has lost his brittle edge.

Sandman is the strongest of the villains in this movie, but the filmmakers' decision to rewrite the classic story of Peter's uncle's killer -- even after establishing it so solidly in the first film -- is a stupid and completely unnecessary dramatic twist.

Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a nice romantic addition to the film, but her role makes little sense given the complexity of things between Peter and Mary Jane. (In the comics, Gwen's romance with Peter precedes him meeting Mary Jane.) But heck, things aren't going well for Mary Jane in this film at all, so what's a flashy blonde going to hurt? Still, Mary Jane's jealousy over Peter's success despite her own professional failings is a little less than believable, given the character she has so lovingly created for us over the previous two films.

And Peter's funky behavior under the symbiote's influence is just a little too silly, even if his new black outfit is wicked cool. Ah, but which costume loves him best, his sleek black symbiote threads or his tried-and-true red-and-blues? Time will tell.

There's one melodramatic confession and an overwrought death scene that earned giggles from the back of the theater.

When I look back over this review, I see lots of little character problems that detracted from the overall movie experience. And this movie attempts to do far too much with too many villains and too many romantic twists and triangles. But when the credits roll, it's still a solid truth that Tobey Maguire is the perfect man to play Spider-Man, and Sam Raimi is the perfect man to direct him.

This movie could have been better. But, for Spidey fans, it was still pretty great.

review by
Tom Knapp

11 August 2007

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