After the brilliance of “Spider-Man 2” which quickly proved to be one of the best comic book movies ever made, “Spider-Man 3” proves to be an astonishing disappointment. Even though this sequel has the same director and actors as its predecessors, this time they are faced with a screenplay that has too many characters, too many subplots that don’t reach a satisfying conclusion, villains that are not all that satisfying, and some character choices that feel out of place in a movie like this.
I already had a problem with “Spider-Man 3” before I went in; there are too many villains here, and not enough time to give them more dimension. It would have been better for it to have just one villain for the Spider-Man to face because it allows the filmmakers to give more attention to the characters to where they can become unforgettable. You can get away with two villains sometimes, but you are better off with one as this movie shows.
This ended up being the last “Spider-Man” movie Sam Raimi directed, and my original thought was that he knew this would be the case so he ended up putting in everything but the kitchen sink. In retrospect, I think the studio forced him to add characters that were big comic book fan favorites, and Raimi obliged even though there was little chance of those characters getting the attention they needed. In the process of pleasing all the fans, “Spider-Man 3” succeeded in alienating them by just throwing things at us that they assumed we would all like.
Spider-Man's first nemesis is the New Goblin; same as the Old Goblin, but a lot cooler looking. We all know that the New Goblin is actually Harry Osborn, played once again by James Franco, and he ends up giving his best performance here in all of the “Spider-Man” movies he has appeared in. Franco revels in going all over the place here as he seethes at Peter Parker whom he is still convinced killed his father. But no Harry, Peter Parker is your father! NO!!!!!...sorry, I couldn't resist. Anyway, in the process of trying to kill Parker, Harry gets amnesia and forgets about what Peter supposedly did. But that doesn’t keep Harry from messing with Peter’s life or stealing away those closest to him.
Then comes Spidey's next darn nemesis, Sandman (aka Flint Marko) played by Thomas Haden Church who was on a roll after his Oscar nominated performance in "Sideways.” This is an interesting villain in that you can clearly see what drives him : his love for his sick little girl. While Haden Church does what he can with an underwritten part that has him disappearing from “Spider-Man 3” for far too long a time, he is nowhere as compelling a villain as Doc Ock was in “Spider-Man 2.” He never gets the chance to revel in his new found powers, and he doesn’t feel as threatening as a result.
After that, we get yet another antagonist in the form of Eddie Brock who later turns into one of the most famous comic book villains ever, Venom. Now while I can see that Venom is such an immensely popular character in the “Spider-Man” universe, his appearance in “Spider-Man 3” feels like an afterthought. Furthermore, he is portrayed by Topher Grace who, while having given terrific performances in movies like “Traffic,” feels completely miscast here. Eddie Brock/Venom feels too broad as he is portrayed here, and as a result we don’t get to invest emotionally in this character as much as we would like to.
Tobey Maguire has long since proven to be one of the best Spider-Mans we have ever seen on the big screen, and the best acting he does in this movie is with his eyes and face. He can get you right in the heart with just one look, and he never gives you a false moment in any movie he does. This is especially the case in a pivotal scene between him and Mary Jane Watson which is heartbreaking to watch.
This is the movie where our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man gets to explore his dark side, and it almost succeeds in consuming him completely as a result of an alien symbiote that landed down on earth in his vicinity. But things soon degenerate as Maguire is forced to play Peter Parker as if he is some sort of emo dude to where he is suddenly struck with the urge to dance in public for no particularly special reason. Some of these scenes are amusing to watch, but they feel like they belong in a different film.
It also sucks to see the female characters be so underused here. Kirsten Dunst is back as Mary Jane Watson and it’s great to see here in this role once again as she has been fantastic in this series. But in “Spider-Man 3” she doesn’t have much to do here other than end up in a perilous state where she is hanging on for dear life. You'd think at this point she would realize that she’s better off not being with Peter Parker as her life remains in constant danger when she’s around him. How many times do you think you could take fighting for your life when your boyfriend is Spider-Man?. Well, if you're Jack Bauer, I guess you could do it quite a bit. This is regardless of the fact that Mary Jane Watson is not Jack Bauer's girlfriend, but anyway…
Bryce Dallas Howard also stars in “Spider-Man 3” as Gwen Stacy, a huge fan favorite of the Spider-Man series, but she gets even less to do here than Dunst does. I think Gwen Stacy ended up in the movie because Marvel and Columbia Pictures insisted on her inclusion as they figured the fans were ever so eager to see Gwen Stacy in this or any other “Spider-Man” movie. Howard is a fantastic actress and she makes for a very good Gwen Stacy, but that does not change the fact that this character has little purpose for being in “Spider-Man 3” other than to please the most fanatical of fans.
There are welcome returns in “Spider-Man 3” like Rosemary Harris who once again plays Aunt May, the Yoda of Peter Parker's life who gives him the wisdom he needs to learn. J.K. Simmons remains the consummate scene stealer as J. Jonah Jameson, and he had me in hysterics from his first scene in the movie where his secretary reminds him to watch out for his high blood pressure. And yes, Bruce Campbell does his usual “Spider-Man” cameo, this time as a waiter who is desperate to help Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have the most wonderful of times at a restaurant. It’s always good to see Campbell in a movie no matter what kind of role he ends up playing.
The climax of “Spider-Man 3” has the Sandman teaming up with Venom to take down the heroic web slinger, and while it is an emotionally charged climax, we still come out of this movie very disappointed as it feels like there are so many missed opportunities. Once again, each of these villains are very underdeveloped to where the stakes don’t feel all that high, and everything ends up feeling far less exciting. Plus, we have seen Mary Jane Watson in danger far too many times to where everything going on starts to feel boring as a result. I ended up going on a bathroom break during the movie, something that I usually never do, and I don’t think I missed all that much as a result.
However, I do have to say that I liked how Raimi deals with the futility of revenge and how it destroys the soul, and he also points out that in the end it is better to forgive; Something I need to remind myself of more often. It makes for a strong moment between Peter Parker and the Sandman as well as with Harry Osborn. It's these moments where you feel the strength and the pain of the characters ever so purely, and this movie could have used a lot more moments like that, darn it.
I couldn’t help but come out of “Spider-Man 3” feeling completely let down by what ended up on the silver screen. “Spider-Man 2” was so good that I couldn’t help but come into this one with the best of expectations. The fact that everyone involved in this movie’s production screwed so many things up feels utterly baffling considering what came before it, and the disappointment I felt really stung as a result. I’d like to think that “Spider-Man 3” stands as an example of how not to make a comic book movie, but after watching “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” it is still a lesson everyone needs to learn.