You know that the third Spider-Man had to be bigger. The third movie in a franchise goes for broke.
And Spider-Man 3 is bigger, if not better. It's overdone, overlong, and overplotted. It's all over the place.
This does not mean Spider-Man 3 is a bad movie; it's an entertaining one. But it is fundamentally limited by its size and scope.
One of the great assets of the original Spider-Man movie was that Peter Parker was naive and innocent. He was startled and pleased when he was transformed -- he was a kid with super powers. The movie was genuine.
The second Spider-Man movie turned big and clunky -- the villain, Doc Ork, was part machine. The movie became part machine; it was a good film, but labored.
Now the third Spider-Man movie morphs into competing effects, and characters who won't quit. There are two Spideys, two Harrys, two Flint Markos, and two Edward Brocks. Dualities asunder. They play musical chairs with their characters. He's good; no, he's bad; no, he's good again. It makes your head spin as though it's caught in an addled web -- or just a very fickle script.
Spider-Man 3 has three villains for the price of one. And these multiple villains keep coming back to life ad nauseum.
The plot is a hodgepodge of revenge and identity confusion. Spidey is now a celebrity, and it seems to have gone to his head. He preens and brags. But writer-director Sam Raimi does very little with this promising theme. His satire is conventional.
It is fortunate that Raimi is back directing Spidey for the third time, but Raimi has a dull streak.
The opening fifteen minutes of the movie are drab and listless. This is no way to treat Spidey. And Raimi's handling of crowd scenes with mobs of people applauding Spidey and his exploits is painfully one-dimensional.
If it weren't for J.K. Simmons, who chews the scenery as the blustery editor of the New York Bugle, there would be little if any comic relief. Spider-Man should have a lilt to it, but that spirit is mostly absent.
The cast is serviceable, but it often is smothered by special effects. Welcome to the world of modern movies. Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace humanize their villains when they aren't ducking special effects. Church eats many pecks of sand. James Franco acts as though he is in some kind of smiling contest as the erratic Harry. Bryce Dallas Howard is winsome as Peter Parker's classmate. Dylan Baker is wasted as Peter's teacher, as is James Cromwell as the police chief. One can assume much of their footage was sacrificed to more special effects, and wound up on the cutting room floor, amidst piles of left-over sand.
Kirsten Dunst keeps plugging away as Mary Jane Watson. She's now on Broadway -- for one performance. Then she mopes and pouts. Sometimes -- especially with her character -- it seems as though the director has thrown away some page that had motivation and continuity. Mary Jane changes her mood like a cheap mood ring.
The best moments of Spider-Man 3, of course, are the human moments. The affecting climax is emotional.
But too much of the movie plays games with the plot. It's special-effects hopscotch, instead of a convincing, coherent puzzle.
The best thing about Spider-Man 3 is that it is not Spider-Man 4.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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