Thursday 25 October 2007

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Thursday 25 October 2007
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi & Alvin Sargent (story by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi, based on characters created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Cast: Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn/New Goblin), Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/Sandman), Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy), Topher Grace (Eddie Brock, Jr/Venom), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J.K Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Dylan Baker (Dr Curt Connors), James Cromwell (Captain George Stacy) & Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin)

Peter Parker contemplates proposing to Mary Jane, but the emergence of new super-villains complicates matters...

I'm in the minority, but I don't think Spider-Man 2 was a particularly wonderful achievement. I think people were so relieved to have a brilliant villain (after the dire Green Goblin), that they overlooked its failings -- primarily that everything screeched to a halt when Spidey or Doctor Octopus weren't around, and we were forced to watch Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) procrastinate over his feelings for Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst)...

The final moments of Spider-Man 2 realized a third movie couldn't perform the same trick thrice, so it laid the groundwork for a different sequel in its dying moments -- as Harry Osborn (James Franco) discovers best-friend Peter killed his Green Goblin father, and Peter reveals his secret identity to Mary Jane...

Which makes it the more disappointing to find Spider-Man 3 both reaping the rewards of part 2's changes, but making other mistakes director Sam Raimi avoided twice before! Spider-Man 3 finds Peter Parker and Mary Jane now blissfully in love. Spider-Man has never been more popular with the public, Mary Jane is a Broadway star, and Peter is plucking up courage to propose.

But trouble is brewing elsewhere. Harry has been redesigning his father's equipment and fashioning himself as the "New Goblin", in order to avenge his father's death...

Across town, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escapes from prison and falls into a particle atomizer that transforms him into The Sandman -- the movie's best technical achievement. A sequence with the newly-transformed Sandman trying to achieve physical form in a sandpit, is wonderfully haunting work.

A third villain enters the picture via a meteorite containing black alien goo that attaches itself to Peter, transforming him into a black-suited, souped-up version of Spider-Man. But the alien symbiote feeds off Peter's darker qualities; making him egotistical, cruel and a show-off.

The threats come from all angles in this sequel, meaning a dizzying amount of special-effects are thrown at the screen. The massive $258 budget does justice to most of them, but the sheer workload means quite a few sequences are less than stellar. In particular, many of the CGI-humans are badly integrated into scenes and some of the ambitious stunts aren't quite up to scratch. But, for the most part, it's another fine achievement and the Sandman's particle effects were particularly memorable.

Spider-Man 3's main failing is with the script – which has too many villains and too many subplots to deal with. Taken individually, the plots are actually quite decent for a comic-book movie; it's just that they're not fleshed out. The wonderful Thomas Haden Church is particularly mistreated as Sandman, with his character ret-conned to be Ben Parker's actual killer, vanishing in the middle of the film, only to return for last-minute irritation and sappy closure with Peter.

The alien symbiote is a neat way to give physical form to Peter's darker, revenge-fuelled thoughts – over his uncle's killer and Harry's machinations against him -- but the symbiote itself is ill-explained. When it eventually takes form as super-villain Venom (after attaching itself to rival photographer Eddie Brock), I have no idea why it becomes a muscular Spidey clone with finger-length teeth and a twirling tongue! I guess it just looks cool, eh?

However, the tragic romance between Peter and M.J is much more palatable in Spider-Man 3 than it's ever been. Tobey Maguire is still too wet for me to really enjoy as Peter, but he's far easier to engage with here -- particularly when he turns into a bitter prick after an amusing Saturday Night Fever-style street dance!

The conflict between Peter and Harry also works well, as theirs is a relationship integral to the whole series. Maguire and Franco are great together, so their ups-and-downs in this movie are real highlights, particularly when the finale arrives.

Ultimately, Spider-Man 3 is a decent comic-book film that deals itself a blow by having too much on its mind. If Raimi had focused on Sandman, with Harry as a supporting element, it would have worked much better. The alien symbiote is one subplot too many (albeit an enjoyable one), but it perhaps should have morphed into its Venom-guise for Spider-Man 4. The reworked explanation for Uncle Ben's death also left a bitter taste in my mouth, as it's discourteous to change established facts this way.

Still, the actors all do a good job with the material. Maguire and Dunst are particularly improved, while Franco has always been too good for this franchise, and Church is note-perfect but undernourished by the script. Topher Grace is another casualty of the multiple plots, as Peter's irritating rival at the Daily Bugle -- but he does a competent job with what's he's given. Likewise Bryce Dallas Howard as unwitting love rival Gwen Stacy, who's similarly wasted in the frenetic plot.

Overall, my expectations were very low after a summer of mixed reviews, so I was surprised my how agreeable Spider-Man 3 was. It lacks finesse, it's definitely guilty of villain gluttony, but it's constantly enjoyable, often thrilling, and a great deal of fun. All said, it's one of the most entertaining failures I've seen in awhile.

Sony Pictures
Budget: $258 million
139 minutes