“Everybody needs help sometimes, even Spider-Man.”
Director/producer/screenwriter Sam Raimi and several recognizable actors return for this amazing 140 minute superhero spectacle, which made more than a million a minute in its recording breaking U.S. opening weekend. As in Spider-Man 2, the opening credits summarize previous events (this time including video, not just stills) from the two previous films. This film never takes itself too seriously, even poking fun at Spidey’s numerous and eclectic adversaries. “Where do all these guys come from?” says Peter, again played by Tobey Maguire.
Peter’s high sense of honor and admirable heroism are tested when revenge and even ego come into play. Maguire portrays the “nerdy kid from Queens” well, especially during some drastic and often funny situations. He makes everything and everyone around him better, including own of his fellow students named Gwen Stacy, played by an almost unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village, Lady in the Water). Peter’s relationship with life-long love, MJ – Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirsten Dunst – strains again, but the genuine care and honesty remains. Both actors get to stretch their characters and musical talents. “Try to understand how I feel,” MJ tells Peter as the couple sifts through jealousy, fame, and career setbacks. Dunst presents several dramatic and emotional relationship concerns in her performance.
Harry Osborne, again played by James Franco (Flyboys) expands his action role here, but needs work on the drama, especially in his attempted recapture of the famous Green Goblin “mirror shot”. Thomas Haden Church brings a formidable physique in his quietly controlled performance as Flint Marko (a.k.a The Sandman) who has motives directly related to his family. “I had a good reason for what I was doing,” says Marko as the plot delves into the potent theme of survival crime. The audience understands his plight (especially after two flashbacks), but it would’ve been interesting to see more of his personal struggles.
An alien material that “amplifies characteristics of the host” also factors into the plot. This symbiote-type chemical eventually creates Venom, a vicious villain who deserved a lot more screen time. Other complementary characters include James Cromwell as Police Captain Stacy, Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, and Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben. Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson, played by J.K. Simmons, spews fast-paced, funny ramblings at the office while exploiting employees for his own advantage.
Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, That 70s Show) is a photographer who competes with Peter for the Spidey spotlight at the Daily Bugle. Even Peter’s landlord and his daughter make an appearance while Raimi movie vet Bruce Campbell plays a French restaurant maître d’.
Director Sam Raimi uses some notable techniques throughout the film, including some handheld camera shots during a robbery and a sound enhancement of Spidey’s heartbeat during a rescue sequence by a skyscraper. The action sequences, backed by a reported $250 million plus budget, include thrilling aerial sequences that surpass what any stuntman could accomplish. Raimi even completes a family trilogy with his brothers, Ted (who plays Jameson’s assistant Hoffman) and Ivan, who co-writes the screenplay with Oscar winner Alvin Sargent.
Their plot pieces the numerous characters together well with excellent continuity, but needs more original moments to stand stronger as an individual film instead of repeating iconic scenes like the Goblin mirror shot and the upside down kiss. Supporting cast dialogue, especially from Aunt May and Harry’s butler, seems rigid and unnatural because of the convenient timing where they deliver wise words to help the current character in need. Plus, it’s frustrating to watch tough situations that could’ve been solved if characters told each other the truth immediately – a manipulative emotional tool that’s a bit annoying, yet effective. It’s realistic that matters of the heart might interfere with a character’s common sense, but how about a danger word or special code, especially when you’re a guaranteed target for the bad guys? Previews and the cast list give away some elements, but predictable foreshadowing, especially through one character’s doomed promise, reveal even more potential surprises.
Composer Christopher Young utilizes several familiar musical themes, previously composed by Danny Elfman, while complementing powerful moments like the Sandman origin sequence. All audiences should enjoy the escapism, but parents should remember that director Raimi (the Evil Dead movies) creates some strong visuals, especially the Sandman sequences, that may seriously frighten younger viewers. Filmed in California, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City, the story is based on the highly popular comic series originated by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, who also appears in a nice cameo role.
Hopefully the series will continue with Raimi, Maguire and Dunst — or will producers go with a whole new set of talent? In any case, it would be great to see Peter incorporate some of his school work in physics and chemistry out in the field next time. Recommended with a rating of PG-13 for intense action-related violence. Also being shown in IMAX theaters.