Darker ‘Spidey’ Takes a Turn For the Worse

by Ian T. McFarland on May 4, 2007

in Movie Reviews 

It’s the most anticpated film of the year, and it’s . . . okay?  Still, Spider-Man 3 is a film that works more often than it doesn’t, despite it really not working a lot of the time.

Spider-Man 3
Custom Rating

Spider-Man 3 is a movie that shouldn’t work, but somehow does – or is it the other way around?

What’s Wrong Spidey?

In the third (and probably last, holding the inevitable restart of the franchise 20 or 30 years from now,) Peter Parker’s got it all – until he starts getting cocky and acting like a total hot-shot, at which point he loses everything.  Lots of other awful but character-building stuff happens to Pete, but the movie is too long for me to be able to list it all, but trust me when I say that the shit gets bleak and darker than it’s been in either of the first two films.  And how is poor Petey supposed to get it back together when he’s got a giant sand monster, an alien symbiote and his best friend trying to kill him?

The film is an absolute puzzle; one where you know something is wrong, but can’t quite put your finger on it.  You’ve got all the main actors back, plus a great trio of new supporting actors – Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard; you’ve got what might be the highest budget for any film, ever (reports peg it at $250 million cool ones,) and a director that proved his worth in the first two films of the franchise, but something’s wrong.

In the end, there ends up being several things wrong. . .

For one thing, Tobey Maguire fumbles all over the place.  When Peter Parker just has to be wide-eyed and the all-American nerd, he’s perfect for the job – but Maguire is no stud, and when the script calles for his character’s cockyness to skyrocket, he comes off as even more of a nerd than an actual cocky stud like he’s supposed to.  I’m sorry, but the guy doesn’t know how to strut, and even though this chapter of the film playing for laughs, it gets a lot more chuckles than it’s intended too.  When Maguire starts wearing all black and pulling his bangs down to drape his eyes, he resembles more of a high school Sophomore who listens to 30 Seconds To Mars in shop class than a superhero gone badd (the extra ‘d’ was because it’s the cool bad,) and when he starts hitting on girls left and right, you expect the girls to slap him on the cheek – but instead they fall for him like apples in Newton’s back yard.  Fortunately, Church and James Franco save the acting side of the equation by pulling off characters designed to be as thin as the paper the comics were printed on by pouring some heart into it; but come on Maguire – you’re the lead, and you need to carry the film.

Another con is Venom – no matter how cool the guy looks on paper, he doesn’t translate to film.  Special effects aren’t to the point where they can pull off a super-powered monster with a jaw as wide as football (either that or the animators for the character just weren’t up to par.)  And, though Grace works as the asshole-ish Eddie Brock, his voice is too high and nasal to match the devil-whites splayed around the character’s face.  All this, on top of the fact that we never get a good shot at the villain.  You wait two hours, and the selling point of the film to nerds everywhere never has its moment – the one where Venom rears back the whole of its upper-body and calculatingly screams, exhaling enough air to fill Madison Square Garden, and scaring the shit straight out of you and into your fanboy Spidey-underoos.  This is mother-fucking Venom, do him right or just drop him – especially when you still have two more villains to ride on.

But the biggest downfall of the film is its pacing.  Guys, this aspect of the film is an absolute mess.  I like to imagine the tension in an ideal film like a curve on a graph – you start slow, just laying down the facts; as time goes on and you leave the first act, excitement rises and so does your heart-rate, leading to an epic climax that has you feeling chest pains.  Spider-Man 3 is riding smoothly along this curve, heading towards what feels like could be the final fight scene – and then it drops straight down, like a roller coaster that almost gets to the top of the first big hill and then is magically teleported back to the start of the ride.  The shift is so extreme that, as odd as it may sound, the film should have just been cut in two.  Even if the pacing worked, there’s still enough material here to cover two films, while it dwarfs staples like Aunt May into only two short scenes.  All you have to do is split its 140 minutes in half, throw in some more development for Eddie Brock and Peter Parker (whose story often feels like a re-tread of parts one and two) along with some other sprinkles of story, and poof! Columbia makes twice as much money and the film(s) feel more complete.  As is, it’s just an awkward piece of cinema that feels like it needs some severe work in the editing room.

Still, the film is far from a total mess.  Kirsten Dunst steps up in the last chapter of the trilogy – maybe it’s just because her role in this film is smaller and less challenging than it’s been before, but she’s perfect as a woman having to deal with her man’s inadequacies.  Also, like mentioned above, Franco pulls everything he can out of the role of a conflicted friend; but the show really goes to Church.  We’ve seen movies try to give us criminals with hearts of gold plenty of times before, but Church actually makes you believe he’s a second good guy, right along with the title character.  In a final scene where Sandman and Spider-Man are verbally confronting each other, you’ll find yourself rooting for the supposed baddie of the situation over the goodie-two-shoes like you should be expected to.  The character in general – the acting, scripting, design and special effects – end up being the strongest attribute of the whole movie.  It’s just too bad the part holds hardly any importance in the actual film.

Complain as I might (and I do,) it’s still Spider-Man.  It’s still better than the first one, which felt flat and unoriginal in contrast with its sequels.  It’s still got effects that feel ahead of their time.  Despite a lot of rough spots, Raimi still gets the Spider-Man universe more than any other director who could pull off this large of a production.  It’s still Spider-Man; and if I have to come down to voting Yea or Nay, I’ll have to go with a Hell Yea.

Previous post:

Next post: