Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco,
Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace. Rated PG-13.
Spider-Man 3 is an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink production,
a narrative mess that thrives on its boundless energy and the sheer audacity of
its vision. It’s the best-looking Spider-Man yet – clearly, director Sam
Raimi favored style over substance for this installment, elevating the visual
effects to a point where they overshadow his characters, who are too often
neglected for long stretches. Still, it remains an invigorating distraction,
even if Spidey’s web has never seemed so tangled.
Supervillains abound in Spider-Man 3, though none are
afforded the depth of Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin or Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock.
They are rough sketches, blunt instruments with which to challenge Spidey’s
mettle. There’s the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict who
stumbles onto a particle-physics test facility and is transformed, in one of
the film’s most impressive sequences, into a malleable pile of sand; Venom
(Topher Grace), an insidious creep who derives his superpowers from an alien
symbiote; and New Goblin, son of the Green Goblin, who resolves to avenge his
The New Goblin needs little introduction – he is Harry
Osborn, the erstwhile best friend of Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker. He
is consumed by his desire for revenge to the point of tedium, though he is
hopelessly outclassed when he takes on his father’s old nemesis. Sandman is a
different sort – he steals (and kills) to provide for his daughter, but beyond
that, he is a virtual nonentity. He surfaces, quite literally, when Spidey
needs a new bad guy to pummel, and makes himself scarce otherwise.
Venom is similarly enigmatic. He arrives late in the
movie, first as Eddie Brock, an upstart photographer angling for Peter’s job at
the Daily Bugle, and then as Venom, an unscrupulous villain who is Spider-Man’s
mirror image, save for his razor-sharp fangs. His transformation is explained
away by a mysterious black goo that attaches itself to his spindly frame. The
same goo finds its way onto Spider-Man’s suit and, we learn, “amplifies the
characteristics of his host” – a good thing if you’re Mother Theresa, a bad
thing if you’re an egotistical brat.
Beneath Peter’s nice-guy persona, we learn, Spider-Man
(Tobey Maguire) is no Mother Theresa. Decked out in his new black duds, he is
goofily charming at first, strutting through Manhattan like Travolta in
Saturday Night Fever, winking at all the pretty passersby. But his
personality shift has a serious downside. He grows sullen, as evidenced by his
new goth ’do, and violently unpredictable, driving longtime sweetheart Mary
Jane (Kirsten Dunst) into Harry’s arms. He wins her back, of course, and the
sequence ultimately proves a diversion, typical of an anything-goes plot that
plays fast and loose, heaping one transient event on another.
In that sense, “Spider-Man 3”
lacks the sophistication of
its predecessors. Those movies had confidence in their characters, not just
their superpowers, and proved that even tales of comic-book heroism could be
both poignant and compelling . Spider-Man 3 seems to forget that – it is an
entertaining distraction, with a sharp sense of humor, but the conceptual
thinking behind it is shoddy. As lightweight, campy fun, it works, but this is
more a pleasure for the eyes than the mind.