Sam Raimi in the director’s chair, stars Maguire, Dunst and Franco reprising their roles, and villains galore! All good things, right? No! Spider-Man 3 is a mess from start to finish…
Previously, the first Spider-Man set up the character with an entertaining origins story before the excellent Spider-Man 2 pitted the adolescent hero against a great cinematic villain. Now, with Spider-Man 3, it’s sort of about everything. Following on from the events of Spider-Man 2, the scattered and labyrinthine plot sees Peter Parker’s problems at the Daily Bugle continue, while things are back on with Mary Jane but her affections are being relentlessly sought from Harry Osborn. Amid these concerns, there’s a new villain in town – the Sandman. Things get even more complicated when a meteorite lands, delivering a mysterious pile of living black gloop known as the Symbiote, which latches onto Spider-Man’s costume, taking control of him and creating a bad, dark, black-suited version of the titular hero, foreshadowing the birth of his evil doppelgänger, Venom.
All these plot threads sort of mesh together and they sort of don’t at the same time. Things certainly don’t improve when, after a lengthy battle sequence, Harry Osborn receives amnesia so that enough of the plot is forgotten in order for it to be repeated with him being set up again as Peter’s rival for Mary Jane’s affections in order that they can go back over a whole bunch of ground they did before. With the hype and huge expectations being set up after having a great trailer, I really wanted to like Spider-Man 3. I wanted Spider-Man 3 to be the blockbuster that gave me something different, with Sam Raimi creating a mainstream movie that is subversive, dark and strange. However, Spider-Man 3 is a total chaotic mess, and that is a real shame.
Tobey Maguire is sadly an empty shell of the every-kid from the first two outings, now seeming charisma-free and like an entirely different character. James Franco seems out of his depth as Harry Osborn, especially when he’s the New Goblin, acting more like a moody teenager than a villain hell-bent on revenge, and he’s certainly lacking the manic energy that Willem Dafoe (who gets a fleeting cameo here) brought to his Goblin in the first film. The Sandman, whilst visually impressive, doesn’t have the intrigue of Doctor Octopus and seems like a pointless addition to the many villains we have. However, whilst Sandman is completely redundant, Venom is a major disappointment. After huge build-up that he would be the principal antagonist, especially with the black suit being a major part of his storyline, he is merely reduced to a few sequences in the final showdown of the film. When we do finally see him, he just looks like a man in a suit and not the huge, living, breathing monster he is known for being. JK Simmons still chews the scenery in his brief scenes as J. Jonah Jameson, but not even he can save this mess.
There are some set-pieces which work satisfactorily, but like the first film, the vertigo-inducing sky-rise action lacks real heft and physicality. For example, in the opening action sequence when Spider-Man is up against Harry (The New Goblin), which takes a long time to get to, has competent CG, but lacks the tangible authenticity we saw in Spider-Man 2.
Then, as we move on into the story, we are introduced to the character that becomes the Sandman. He breaks out of jail, gets turned into sand, and then we forget about him for a little while. This is followed by a meteorite which lands with the symbiotic goop attaching itself to Spider-Man. Again, we are introduced to a seemingly significant plot detail only for it to be forgotten about for a while. We have some stuff with Mary Jane, a fantastic cameo by both Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell, before another section in which Peter is all cocky and confident because he’s got the black Spider-Man outfit. He walks down the streets of New York as if he’s in Saturday Night Fever. These elements feel disparate and a little desperate. They don’t hang together harmoniously. The big problem is that they arrive in a haphazard order bringing about far too much head scratching. “Gosh, we’ve been here for a long time, haven’t we?” “My bottom’s starting to hurt!” “Did I leave the gas on?” “I’m starting to get a bit of a backache!” “Hang on, isn’t this a bit from Spider-Man 2?” “Where’s Doctor Octopus gone because I’d like him to come in and sort things out?”
I became frustrated with the film; a little bored. What would’ve been a redeeming grace was if it finished by bringing everything, satisfactorily, together. But it didn’t. All the solid emotional issues that dealt with adolescence, to do with the difficult relationship Peter has with his girlfriend, to do with his double life, to do with him wanting to be Spider-Man but yet not wanting to be Spider-Man at the same time, were all dealt with in Spider-Man 2. With Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, the first film was great, the second being better, but Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness was a total disaster in every area, and it’s the same with Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. The first being good, the second one is better, and by the time you get to three, you do feel the need to grab an editing machine, just so you can cut the film down to 90 minutes. Overall, Spider-Man 3 is, not just a real stinker, but also a proper disappointment.