Dir: Sam Raimi
Script: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace
Whether you’re an aspiring Jedi or a Mafioso wannabe, there is something truly magical about the cinematic trinity, a beginning-middle-end format within which even the weakest movie is elevated by its stronger brethren. With all primary cast and crew returning for a third – and likely last – time, Spider-Man 3 maintains a perfect visually consistency with Raimi’s earlier efforts.
Like last year’s equally likable but unspectacular X-men 3, Spider-Man 3’s greatest achievement is that when it works, the film feels like the final piece to a predetermined trilogy. But whereas Spider-Man 2 swung magnificently, building upon its predecessor’s minor flaws with a superior villain and soap opera character development, part 3 plummets under its own multitudinous assets, striving to deliver far more than it can carry.
The Harry Osborn arc reaches a satisfying conclusion, with the previously wooden James Franco evidently enjoying himself more than ever before, while conversely Mary Jane (Dunst) undergoes a personality transplant, making the feasible if poorly handled transition from affectionate girl-next-door to prima donna bitch. New villains Sandman (Haden Church: a man, made of sand) and Venom (like Spider-Man but bad, black and sticky) are successful only in CGI proficiency, lacking the tragical afflictions of past foes.
It would be easy to blame Spider-Man’s watery broth on its multifarious and conflicting ingredients, but in all fairness the plot strains predominantly from the inclusion of the extraterrestrial Venom, whom Raimi was wisely reluctant to include. The alien symbiote, which in conjunction with the laws of comic book misfortune happens to fall from the stars and land beside our Peter Parker, feels out of synch with the series’ established territory. Much like X3’s Jean Grey/Phoenix subplot it suffers in translating a convoluted and dated comic book storyline rooted in space opera.
Peter Parker’s brief visit to the Dark Side is painful to watch. Fully demonstrating Toby Maguire’s acting deficiencies, his descent results in little more than assaulting a nightclub bouncer and ordering his neighbour to bake him cookies. Haden Church’s Marko is a bland and unsympathetic thug, who could have been brilliant given more character development, while Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock brings a bright-eyed vigour that Maguire this time lacks, but after bonding with the symbiotic Venom becomes a forgettable cliché-spewing fanged monster.
But underneath the dense clutter there are still glimmers of pure Sam Raimi. The obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo, this time a camp maitre’d with a so-bad-it’s-good French accent, tops any number of CGI slugfests, and J.K. Simmons still delights as J. Jonah Jameson even if his material isn’t quite as slick as before.
Suffering from lofty aspirations, Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy reaches its end with a noticeable limp, having exuded much of the Stan Lee sensibilities that made its predecessors so darn charming. But as family entertainment for the popcorn crowd, it still swings high above the competition.