Film aspires for too much to develop a coherent plotline
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is back — in black. Spidey's patriotic red-blue suit gets a dirty makeover, courtesy of an ominous, extraterrestrial symbiotic goo that has a strange effect on its host, and suddenly, Peter is not-so-nice.
Neither is, it turns out, this movie. Everything starts out perfectly enough: Peter is happy, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has a gig on Broadway, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is situated in a sweet little apartment and New York loves Spider-man so much that the web-slinging hero receives the key to the city during a parade in his honor.
But the bad guys are still hanging around, and there's a whole slew of them this time. There's the escaped convict, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), with a connection to Spider-man that could only happen on film, who also happens to get radioactively turned into metamorphic sand — "the Sandman," if you will. Then there's Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), the suave, unscrupulously sycophantic photographer for the Daily Bugle who tries to beat out poor Pete for the staff job. And finally there's Peter's on-again, off-again best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), "Green Goblin Jr.," who looks pretty while throwing explosives and riding a revamped flying skateboard. Even Peter, despite his overactive conscience, has a much-hyped dance with the dark side.
The plot basically consists of Peter fending off this hodgepodge of villains while trying to work out a future with Mary Jane between police calls and emo phases involving lots of hair dye and black eyeliner. If this doesn't make much sense to you, well, it didn't make that much sense to me either.
As this third installment of "Spider-man" will likely be the last in the multi-billion dollar franchise, returning director Sam Raimi probably wanted to give us something special. Perhaps that's why he had a mind-boggling number of conflicts and plot-movers. Unfortunately, multi-conflicted is not exactly the same thing as multidimensional, and "Spider-man 3" quickly loses focus, turning into a monotonous, plodding chronicle of its characters' many melodramatic problems. There are poignant moments, brilliant in their raw emotional power, but these scenes are overpowered by formulaic special-effects-galore action that really does nothing for the plot.
Perhaps even more painful to endure than the languid pace is the change that's overcome the film's characters, especially Peter Parker himself. Yes, Raimi is trying to tell a story of internal conflict that comes with Peter's abilities — the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" schtick. But Peter's newfound aggression is as overnight as his Spidey suit's color change. It seems unnatural for Peter, perhaps the most pure-hearted of all comic book heroes, to do anything that involves intentionally hurting someone for ego or revenge.
And Marko, with a classic sob-story of a poor man going bad when trying to take care of his dying daughter, is a bit too manufactured to be believable. It's as if the bad guy in these movies always has to have a good reason behind it all. The normally charming Dunst also seems lost playing a character that spends most of the movie giving the camera pretty, melancholic stares and offering up standard classic lines like, "who are you?" complete with the wide-eyed, fearful look. The only character that really remains true to himself is Brock, who turns into Venom after bad-Spidey wrecks his career. Only with that situation, can you really stop debating who is more at fault — Peter or the "bad guy."
It's simply not enjoyable to watch your favorite characters go through scene after scene of misery and pain. The effects, that Columbia Pictures probably spent a good chunk of the film's $258 million budget on, are truly spectacular, but not when someone is being impaled or getting a concussion every other second. The Spider-man franchise has always been saturated in angst, but filmmakers used to depend on smart, comical interludes to lift viewers' spirits. This time around, there are no such impasses of witty comedy. Most of the comic relief is in the form of cheap, throwaway laughs normally relegated to amateur, poorly-written kiddie films (think anything with Hilary Duff in it).
"Spider-man 3," much like its title character, simply plods ahead, without much aim as to what the destination will be. In an attempt to wrap up all the storylines, the filmmakers create too many new, inconclusive ones. As Peter says, "Everyone has a choice."
Indeed, everyone has a choice, and everyone has to choose. If Raimi had realized this small detail of life, he may have picked the strongest storylines, stuck with them and removed all of the weighty excess.
"Spider-man 3" (140 minutes, wide release) is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence.
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