“Spider Man 3” is what’s known as a ‘review proof’ movie. There are millions of people around the world who will plunk down $11, yen, British pounds, francs, whatever, to see the latest installment of the series, no matter what any critic says.
If you are one of these people, please go and see the film. You will enjoy it.
For everyone else, the few of you out there, read below.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) are pretty much in a holding pattern. Parker enjoys the fame his alter ego Spiderman now receives; New Yorkers seem to realize he is there to help and have turned him into a hero, hanging banners proclaiming their idolatry of him, making action figures, throwing parades, etc. Mary Jane has landed a role in a Broadway musical and Peter sits front row center, ready to support his girlfriend on opening night. Harry Osborne (James Franco) sits in a balcony seat and glowers at the man he believes killed his father. Peter is at the stage where he wants to ask Mary Jane to marry him, so he seeks advice from Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), who offers her engagement ring. That night, Parker is walking home when he has an encounter with the new Green Goblin, Harry Osborne. But Mary Jane is becoming a little distant; every time she wants to talk or seek advice from Peter about a problem she is having, the conversation turns to Peter and his exploits as Spiderman. Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escapes from prison; he has to see his daughter who is sick. He promises to get her some money, before his ex-wife (Teresa Russell) runs him off. The police chase him across a park and he runs into a giant genetic testing facility right before an experiment begins. The police are unable to locate him, but he soon reappears, changed by the experiment, able to change the molecules in his body and command the sand he was trapped in. The Sandman is born and he proceeds to rob some banks, to get the money for his daughter’s medical needs. Eddie (Topher Grace), a new upstart photographer is trying to earn the staff position Peter has desperately sought for so many years. When Spiderman saves his girlfriend, Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Village”, “The Lady In the Water”), a model and the police chief’s (James Cromwell) daughter, she becomes infatuated with her new savior and Eddie becomes jealous. So much so, that he wants Peter Parker to die. Then, a mysterious, aggressive, black ooze falls from space and lands near Peter. It attaches itself to Peter and begins to make both Peter and Spiderman more aggressive, more powerful, scarier, allowing both to explore their dark side. Soon, all of these forces will meet and Mary Jane will be smack dab in the center of the battle.
“Spiderman 3” is a huge, heeeyyyyyooooggggeee, disappointment. Written and directed by Sam Raimi and co-written by his brother Ivan, both of whom worked on the superior “Spiderman” and it’s sequel, you would expect the newest installment to at least be an enjoyable experience, if not a great film. But the latest installment is unable to reach even an acceptable level.
Based on the success of the previous two films, the executives at Sony opened the bank vaults and allowed Raimi full access and he took full advantage. “Spiderman 3” is apparently one of the most expensive films ever made. Why is this even important? Generally, when a movie costs this much, a significant portion of that money is spent on special effects. When this happens, the filmmakers generally spend all of their time and energy on this particular aspect, and have little left for characters or story. One of the great things about “1” and “2” was the combination of great special effects, interesting story and engaging character development.
Raimi seems to have felt it necessary to use all of that money to create a lot of special effects. To make these special effects necessary, he needs to have a lot of characters and a lot of villains. “Spiderman 3” has too much of everything. This isn’t a complaint I often make. Usually, the more complicated a story or characters, the more I like it. But in the case of “3”, too much of everything means that nothing is done particularly well. And this leads to a hollow experience that you feel for every one of the film’s 140 minute running time.
We already know a lot about Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson from the previous films, and there is a certain likable nerdy quality about Maguire’s portrayal of Parker. But Dunst seems to be bored, mad, or both and her character never goes anywhere. Throughout, there is a conflict about their relationship and whether it will continue or not. Frankly, there are arguments for both. But these moments are not handled particularly well and don’t really add to the story.
The returning supporting cast is pretty uneven. James Franco returns as Harry Osborne, Peter’s friend-turned-enemy who now would like nothing more than to see Peter dead. Apparently, Mary Jane doesn’t know about this problem, because she seems to think Harry is a good guy. At one point, there is an abrupt, laughable change in Harry’s personality and he starts to gaze at Peter as though they are lovers. Aunt May has been reduced to a small supporting character who pops up and gives Peter advice. This isn’t actually a bad thing because Harris’ performance is boring. J.K. Simmons is the only one who appears to be having any fun and manages to create some lighter moments throughout.
All of the best superhero films have really intriguing, interesting villains who provide a worthy challenge to our hero. Initially, Marko is interesting; the back-story, while melodramatic, does help make his character more interesting and Haden Church is able to bring some sympathy to the role. When he breaks into his old home, a rundown apartment near the tracks, to see his daughter, we feel his pain. Then he runs into the middle of a scientific experiment. What is this facility doing in the middle of a field with only a chain link fence protecting it anyway? The transformation is initially interesting, but this character has the same problems the film versions of Ghost Rider (Nicholas Cage) and “Fantastic Four”s Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) have; in order to make these characters work in a film, they are almost completely created by CGI. When a character is completely made with computer-generated imagery, there is nothing for the viewer to latch onto, to identify with, to make the creation seem human, believable, or real. When Batman or Spiderman are doing elaborate stunts, or flying through the air, these bits are clearly accomplished by CGI, but we also see the characters in these same costumes, as they prepare to fight evil. It helps to make them believable to us because we can believe there is a human in the costume.
And again, the character development of the Sandman is almost non-existent. After we learn he wants money to help his daughter, we learn almost nothing else. At the end, there is another abrupt change and he apparently… Well, I can’t really reveal that, now can I.
Of the new characters, Eddie is, perhaps the best developed. We see his drive, his motivation to get the job Parker has been vying for. When his luck begins to change, Grace is able to help us see the broad strokes of his growing jealousy and hatred of Peter Parker. We also get hints that perhaps his relationship with Gwen is not as he believes. Then, we he becomes Venom (I don’t think anyone even calls him that) we get it. He is the dark alter ego of Spiderman.
So, let’s recap. In “3”, Parker has to deal with his relationship with Mary Jane, his relationship with Harry Osborne, his relationship with Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard)… Whoa, let’s stop for a moment. His relationship with Gwen? Who is she? We only learn three things about her. She is a model. She is the police chief’s daughter. And she is Eddie’s girlfriend. Spiderman saves her and she begins to become infatuated with him. This makes Eddie and Mary Jane jealous. But why? She is easily one of the most boring and forgettable characters I have ever seen in film. I couldn’t even remember her character’s name until I looked it up on imdb.com.
Ok, continuing the recap. Relationships with Mary Jane, Harry and Ron Howard’s daughter. Mary Jane is jealous of Gwen. Eddie is jealous of Peter. The police chief informs Parker that Marko is the man they now suspect killed Peter’s uncle. Spiderman then wants to kill Marko, or the Sandman. Harry Osborne wants to kill Parker. Spiderman must battle the Green Goblin, the Sandman and Venom, separately and in groups. And it goes on and on. It just becomes a bad melodrama.
The problem with “3” is that there is too much going on. Too many relationships, too many interactions between this character and that, too many battles, too may special effects, and none of it is particularly interesting or engaging.
Raimi took the keys to the cookie jar, emptied the cookie jar, put the cookie jar in the kiln, melted it down and used that as well.
Also, when this much money is spent on special effects, you would expect them to be top notch. Many of the effects are very impressive. The oft shown scene of Parker clinging to a piece of wall as it falls to the ground with the Green Goblin flying around in circles. As is a scene with a giant crane swinging through the air, demolishing a building. But often, I noticed little inconsistencies in these sequences that completely took me out of the adventure. I see a lot of films every year, around 150, so I am perhaps more attuned to this type of thing than you may be. But a couple of times, when characters were falling, or moving real fast their faces changed and they became badly done CGI, or their body shapes changed before retaining their natural look. With this much money spent, it seems as though they could really devote the required effort to perfect these things.
Sony is ecstatic about the opening weekend box office, any movie studio would be. They have already promised three more sequels. Hopefully, “3” will be the “Revenge of the Siths” of the series and not the “Empire Strikes Back”.