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Movie Review: Spider-Man 3

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“With great power comes great responsibility.” 

The statement, popularized in the first Spider-Man movie, holds just as true with the latest installment, Spider-Man 3, due in theaters this Friday.

For this go-round, director Sam Raimi, who also helmed the first two installments, has wielded all of his might, along with that of a plethora of computers, in order to try and give audiences the biggest and baddest Spider-Man movie yet. And, throughout the CGI-laden film there is not a single effect that looks cheesy or slightly undercooked. Raimi and his team are able to blend the CGI and live action elements into a dizzying array of punches, kicks, and exploding pumpkins. It’s a thing of beauty and all the time, effort, and money that put into it was well spent.

Sadly, the same thing cannot be said for the script and pacing of the film. The first two films in the series, despite their action and fighting, still had the feel of being small, intimate stories. That feeling is not present in this installment.

Picking up in Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) life where the last film left off, Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter’s one-time best friend, is still out for revenge, thinking Peter murdered Harry’s father (the original Green Goblin from the first Spider-Man movie). Harry, as the New Goblin, attacks Peter in the film’s first display of computer enhanced fighting. It’s an amazing display, though some of it happens way too fast for the eye to catch on the big screen. 

Soon enough, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has other enemies to battle, most notably Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), Marko’s evil super-identity, Sandman (some Church, mostly CG), and Spidey himself. Early on in the film, an evil sentient black ooze attaches itself to one of Parker’s Spidey-suits, turning it black. The ooze, a symbiote we’re told by Peter’s professor, Dr. Curt Connors (Dylan Baker), changes Peter’s persona, making him more vicious and mean. 

Herein lies one of the great problems of the film. Rather than going for dramatic weight at what should be important moments in the film, more often than not Raimi opts to play the entire thing for laughs. When Peter’s personality is affected by the ooze he does some bad disco moves walking down the street, and a Jim Carrey Mask-esque dance in a jazz club. Additionally, the obligatory Bruce Campbell appearance (which I was happy to see), simply went on too long and only added to the overly humorous tone the film set. The first two films, with their ability to mix huge, action-fantasy set pieces with a dramatic, serious, storyline, were two of the best comic book adaptations ever put on the big screen and helped to elevate the genre.

As Parker’s personal problems become more weighty, he becomes estranged from his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). At the same time, a new upstart photographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), fights Parker for a staff job at The Daily Bugle. As Parker’s feelings of moroseness and distress increase, he wears his new black symbiote Spider-Man suit more and more as it makes him feel better, and his attitude and problems in his personal life get worse. 

By the time Spidey is able to rid himself of the symbiote and tries to right his life, we’re nearly two hours into this behemoth of a movie. A movie that isn’t done yet. The symbiote does not go quietly into the night, instead binding with Eddie Brock to form Venom, and though Venom is listed in the credits to the movie (and looks like the Venom character from the comic book) I’m not sure that he is ever referenced as such during the movie. There simply isn’t enough time to get into it.

And that is the real problem with the movie. The Harry Osborn/Peter Parker story could be a full movie, the Flint Marko/Peter Parker story could be a full movie, the Peter Parker/Venom story could be a full movie. Yet, here they all are, rolled up into one huge, overstuffed film. There is too much happening and not enough time to really explore it all.

The weakest storyline here, the Flint Marko one, should have been dropped entirely. Even Sandman’s origin story falls flat. While escaping the police he stumbles upon some weird research facility that’s doing some kind of particle testing. The only reason the audience finds that out is because Marko hops a fence warning people about the facility. All of a sudden, Marko falls and is in the middle of a research project that’s about to take place. What the project is supposed to be doing is never said. Howexactly he becomes transformed is never said. The entire event is unclear. It’s possible that the DVD release will contain an expanded edition of the film that will fix these shortcomings, but they are glaringly obvious within the film as it stands.

One of the best things about the first two movies was that the super-villain becomes that due to their own drive and ambition. They are willing to go beyond what could be, or should be, done in order to further their own pursuits. Marko just sort of stumbles upon his; it’s a far less compelling origin tale. 

Spider-Man 3 is not a bad movie. It is however, a strictly average comic book, popcorn film. The first two films in this series elevated the genre, they led the audience to expect more and to want more. They established such a wonderful tone and precedent for the series, that a film like Spider-Man 3 feels like a huge letdown. Everything was in place for this movie to be just as good as the previous ones. Venom and the New Goblin’s interactions with Spidey are two of the best storylines the comic has to offer but, due to this film’s bloat and lack of gravitas it does not measure up. 

Raimi wields great power here, but seems to have shirked some of the responsibility, much to this reviewer’s dismay.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Additionally, the obligatory Bruce Campbell appearance (which I was happy to see), simply went on too long

    There is no such thing as a Bruce Campbell appearance that goes on too long.

  • I agree. Bruce Campbell’s appearance was one of the best things about this movie.

  • I should add that I agree that Raimi played Parker’s stepping out for too many laughs. *That* part went on too long, which is probably (I think) what soured you on the Bruce Campbell scene.

    As far as the Sandmand storyline, I get the point they were trying to preach, I mean make, about choices. You needed someone not driven by vainglory or what-have-you to make that point, so I get why they had him in there. Plus, it needed to be a credible threat at the end for, well, no spoilers, but you know what I mean.

    But yeah, with three nemeses, none of them got quite enough time.

  • You may be right, it may just be too much in the way of laughs in general, making the Bruce Campbell thing that much more egregious.

  • Troy D

    I have waited since the first Spidey movie for Venom to make an appearance and was sorely disappointed by the lack of screen time this character recieved. Even a single reference by Venom to himself as “We” would have helped. Furthermore, with both Fantastic 4 and Punisher movies out, Spidey 3 missed the opportunity for crossover appearances present in the original blacksuit/Venom story lines.

  • I think that this was a great capper to the trilogy. They handled multiple villains well, they mostly fixed the horrific scenes involving Peter and MJ. Kirsten Dunst was going to be on my crap list for sure if she spouted the same syrupy, false sounding lines from part 2.

    James Franco and Topher Grace were well cast. I’ll give it to Franco over Grace. Franco had some great scenes towards the middle. Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman just didn’t have as many lines or time to make his character more sympathetic for the audience. He also didn’t get time to resolve his family issues.

    I think that movies like this need cheesiness to some extent, but I agree that some bits are too extended. Bruce Campbell had his best cameo of the spidey movies he was in, I think.

    I just feel sorry for the spidey fans who want and need the movie to follow the plot of the book. I especially feel sorry for Venom fans.

  • Jimmy Luzer

    I just got back from seeing Spider-man 3. It was an ok movie. I thought there were opuurtunities to have a better scene. I thought there were too many fake endings at the end. The battle scenes wre pretty good, but what really got me was the romance in the movie. I thought the plot between Mary Jane and Peter was a good idea. I liked the fact that Peter didn’t purpose and he had to strecth out the movie longer. I did in fact think that the end could have been better, becuase when Peter went up to Mary Jane in the restauraunt, I thought he was going to purpose and she would say yes. Although she didn’t. I thought it would be a btter ending that way. Overall, I thought the movie was pretty good and worth the while and 10 bucks.

  • I too, found the movie a very emotional, very downbeat, strongly paced film. Venom to me has always been an overrated character, and the Symbiote storyline is far superior as it affects Peter’s attitudes and life tremendously, adding to his already elitist attitude that can’t make him really understand MJ’s hurt and emotion.

    A lot of fans thrashing this film don’t seem to “get” the Spider-Man comics, they just want a superhero movie, they don’t understand that this is PRECISLY how the comics are often written and handled. Conflict between freinds and foes, loved ones and enemies. There is nothing here that you won’t find in a typical Spider-Man issue.

    This was probably the most conflicted, darkest, and strongest of the three films, and it’s because it stays true to what makes that duality and psychological drama work, the human aspects carry the film to great heights.

    Without spoiling much, I’ll say that Venom plays a “cautionary tale” role here, a mirror reflected back at Peter at what he probably would become, like Eddie, had he embraced the symbiote compleltly.

    In that sense, Venom was always the top villain of the movie, only he was’nt represented entirely by that which made his character more famous: the joining of Brock and the suit

    By harkening back to the true original Symbiote storyline, Raimi proved how much of a true Spider-Man he really is

  • Elouisa

    Spider-man 3 was a major let down. It started off very cheesey and alot of it made me cringe! Then the multiple villains storyline did seem quite shallow. I would have liked to see one or two stories explored fully. And I was really confused about why MJ broke up with Peter, I assume it was becuase Harry said he would kill spider-man if she didn’t, but, surely MJ knows that spiderman can hold his own. That whole section was not delt with well and MJ never explained what had happened to Peter.

  • katie luke

    i thought the dancing thing was a liittlleee cheesy, like to much nacho cheese on chips cheesy. but overall it was good

  • Overall Impressions:
    The plot outline didn’t even contain a reference to Harry Osborne and his revenge upon spiderman and with good reason. Three villains, that’d be a bit much right? Well, it’s not as bad as I thought but I agree partially, there is a little too much for one film, but it sure ensures you don’t get bored at any point. The action has definitely gone a notch up since the last film, as have the villains. I don’t mean to sound like I hate him, but it’s good to see spidey get beaten around a fair bit, makes it more … believable.

    The fans of Venom may be a little disappointed with his duration of screen time, but while he is on, it sure is a treat. There are a couple of plot holes, I think, but probably best not to discuss them due to spoilers .. feel free to pop by at my blog in the comments, if anyone cares.

    The routine of Peter, M.J and they’re little soppy love story have their place in a spidey flick but thankfully it’s kept short this time, making it overall a pretty decent comic-book film. Admitedly I wasn’t all that impressed by the first two (dodging the bricks being thrown at him), this one, I’d say is worth it however.

  • Nicole

    I think James Franco plays an excellent role in this movie! I was totally sad when he died :'[ But whatever. Hes super cute too! Im obsessed!!

  • There was so much action with Harry attacking Peter Parker in the air that it was dizzying!! (Altho I LOVE Harry & he played a great death scene!) I hope there will be no more Spidey films! This should be it! I didn’t like Sandman, the kid who played Venom was very funny but I hated Venom. Really, the whole film could have been about Peter, MJ & Harry’s triangle! Franco had a good turn at being bad, crazy, pitied & normal! Way to show them actin’ chops, Mr.Franco!

  • Sarah Berelles

    I did not like in the 3rd where they killed Harry. He was hot,and should be playing Edward in Twilight on December 12th! Good movies, anyway, my brother is obsessed and I’m impressed!

  • Green Goblin

    Dude, it needed more Goblin! And harry was not even wearing a goblin like suit, that really ruined it for me..

  • Lisalovechachi

    all I want to know is did the professor keep the symbiote that peter parker gave him? my sons are arguing about this and I’m sick of it

  • Mike

    this is the baddest 3rd Installment of the Trilogy thanks to this Bull
    Sh!t! everybody hated Spider-Man 3.