Spider-Man is back in what could the final instalment from director Sam Raimi and starring the original cast. Pulling out the big guns with a rumoured 300 million dollar budget, he pits Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) against three foes while still having relationship problems with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). A guaranteed hit at the box office, but does it have the same level of human drama to engage us between the many action sequences needed to round out the Raimi trilogy and justify the many villains?
The movie begins with Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker living a seemingly perfect life. New York is in love with the web-slinging hero and his now girlfriend Mary Jane is about the debut on Broadway. Parker decides now is the right time to ask MJ to marry him and is given his Aunt’s blessing along with her wedding ring as a seal of approval. It’s never that easy, though, as Parker soon discovers. MJ’s performance is a flop leading her to be replaced after the first show and her one-time finance Harry Osborne (James Franco), whose father, the Green Goblin, was killed in the first Spider-Man, is out for revenge. Meanwhile escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) becomes trapped in a particle test experiment and is transformed into a man composed of sand, able to morph into giant shapes and fittingly dubbed the Sand Man as he goes on a thieving spree. With MJ feeling distant from Peter and seeking solace from Harry and rival photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) looking for work at the Daily Bugle, things are getting dicey for Peter in no time.
It is surprising to say it, but Raimi and Maguire do not do this franchise any favours on this occasion.
Movies often thrive or die in their opening acts so it is disappointing to say Spider-Man 3 never recovers from its cringe worthy first 45 minutes in which Peter turns from being a teenager struggling to meet the demands on his shoulders to a smug boy who shows little compassion for MJ even after all the trouble he went through to win her over. The previous moments of teenage angst are lost giving way to a totally unsympathetic Peter, emphasised at his delight when a fight with Harry wipes his best friend’s memory of why he dislikes Peter. The addition of another subplot, that of a mysterious black alien goo binding with Spider-Man’s suit and turning Peter into an cocky emo kid only serves to make matters worse. Relief comes in the form of action scenes involving Sand Man who has a much more believable character history, but when you have already lost a lot of faith in the central hero it is difficult to ever get back on side with his goals.
Fortunately, returning cameos from Raimi favourites brother Ted Raimi and cult B-Movie legend Bruce Campbell add laughs along with the ever reliable J.K. Simmons as Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson. The good natured humour is also helped along by Bryce Dallas Howard as MJ rival Gwen Stacy although she is severely underused as Raimi throws in any old excuse for a spectacular set piece. It soon becomes tiresome watching CGI that is too fast paced to clearly see what is going on as characters fall through the air or zip across the screen. By the time Eddie Brock turns into a third villain for the climatic showdown Spider-Man 3 has outstayed its welcome. It is surprising to say it, but Raimi and Maguire do not do this franchise any favours on this occasion as both lose sight of the human elements in the face of needing to lay down numerous back stories, fragmenting the narrative drive beyond repair.
There is enough in Spider-Man 3 to make two well-rounded movies — the original series of Batman films lost their edge when multiple villains were introduced and despatched in singe instalments and that seems to be the danger for the Spider-Man franchise now. With rumours of many of the cast and Raimi departing, there is room to bring fresh energy to a tired looking formula. Yes there are thrills and spills aplenty, but it is far from the classic comic book adaptations we have been treated to recently: it isn’t as bad as Ghost Rider Mark Steven Johnson, 2007), but it sure isn’t a Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005).