Journeys end in lovers meeting, or so the saying goes. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson do have one rough journey, though, before that ending comes.
Spider-Man 3 is the movie Superman Returns should have been. Take one iconic American comic book character, stir in lots of terrific, dizzying action, add a measure of relationship woes, sprinkle a dash of rocky romance, and what Sam Raimi cooks up, for the third time in a row, is a movie that captures the emotional and visual charge of the comic book art form for the big screen like no other superhero movie has done since the original Superman.
Just make sure you sit farther back in the theater to catch it all: it gets rather hectic and you may spill your popcorn trying to keep up with the exciting, Danny Elfman inspired, music and all that web-slinging mayhem.
Spidey's doing pretty well. He's on top of the world; and when Spidey's happy, Peter's happy. Filled with a cocksure attitude that he can take on anything, his Spider-sense doesn't warn him about those dark clouds on the horizon. He's so wrapped up in his alter-ego's success, he can't see that Mary Jane's really hurting from a career stumble, or that Norman Osborn's sinister heritage has been passed on to his son, Harry.
If that weren't enough to upset his cozy web, there's the meteor rock that crashes, releasing a spidery, creepy-crawling black sludge that wants to make friends with him in a really bad way; and then he finds out that the man who killed his Uncle Ben is not the man he cornered in the warehouse back in Spider-Man. The real killer of his uncle is Flint Marko, who escapes from prison only to get his molecules shaken and stirred with a pile of sand during a particle-reactor fusion test.
The result is a villain, the Sandman, that provides much of the onscreen action in swirling sand clouds that pack quite a wallop — and pathos. He's not all bad, just morphed that way. He desperately keeps trying to steal the money needed for his dying daughter's treatment, but Spider-Man keeps getting in the way. Thomas Haden Church is perfect as the Sandman. His angular face, striped-shirted athletic build, and ability to convey the internal struggle with the regret for the decisions he's made add up to one of Spider-Man's strongest, yet more vulnerable, foes.
Venom is not so vulnerable. That creepy-crawling sludge has no internal struggle to slow it down. It just needs someone with enough anger to make it thrive. It finds that anger in Peter. His need for revenge on the man who murdered his uncle is all-consuming, and feeds the black parasite what it needs. It consumes Peter and his Spidey costume, creating a darker, more aggressive, more callous Spider-Man and Peter Parker.
In a funny then serious show of his newfound over-confidence and aggressiveness, Peter makes the relationship with Mary Jane worse and uses Gwen Stacy to do it. He also goes after the new Daily Bugle staff photographer, who played dirty, with a vengeance; again making a bad decision that will lead to the creation of a much more powerful foe.
As Peter and Spider-Man struggle with the choices to be made, Aunt May and Uncle Ben (in flashbacks) try to help him find his way out of the darkness. But will he make the right choices to rid himself of his more sinister self? And when the Sandman and Venom team up to end Spider-Man, how will he survive their combined onslaught?
Raimi proves once again who's your Superhero Daddy. He and the special effects crew create a swirling, spiraling, exhilarating ballet of web-slinging aerial combat that sizzles across the screen. In between the slugfests, he captures the difficult relationship between Peter and Mary Jane, the growing relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacy, and the trade-offs of being everyone's hero.
Spider-Man 3 is the perfect kick-off to this summer of the cinema, where more potential blockbusters wait in the wings. 'Nuff said.