SPIDER-MAN 3 is a touching musical about a young couple whose struggles to keep their relationship going increase as they face the challenges of career, money and maturing in a fast paced world where not everyone is your friend, and old friendships can turn into something quite different. It stars Tobey Maguire as a man named Peter Parker. Parker is a photographer for money but he goes to grad school as well, and by night he dresses up as Spider-man, one of the most famous superheroes on the planet. However, as famed as he is as Spider-man, he doesn’t make any dough at it, so Parker must ride a mini bike to work, and lives in a tiny shoe-box — albeit one with a great view.
Meanwhile, Parker is trying to deepen his relationship to his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who has just opened on Broadway as the third lead in a new musical as the film opens. Director Sam Raimi has set up a sort of present day take on A STAR IS BORN — while both Peter and MJ seem to be having success in their respective careers — she as a star of musical comedy, and he as a superhero — Spider-man’s career is on the upswing, no pun intended. The main action of the film is set off when MJ’s limited singing talents get bad reviews and she’s canned from the show after a single performance. The fact that she doesn’t tell Peter immediately shows the cracks in their relationship, and sets them both off on the road to self doubt.
While Peter and MJ try to iron out their difference, several complicating factors arise: there’s Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter’s one-time best friend, who is also in love with MJ and blames Peter for his father, Norman’s, death (Peter was present when Norman died in a accident while dressed as a supervillain.) In addition, there’s Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a competitor for Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle, and Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), Peter’s pretty blond lab partner who is also dating Eddie. Finally, there is a supervillain named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who has the ability to turn into sand, which can be pretty handy since he’s a petty criminal who is trying to steal money to save his young daughter. Peter also has to deal with his costume being taken over by an evil alien symbiote, which brings out some of his worst qualities at a time when he’s trying to patch things up with MJ.
The main problem with SPIDER-MAN 3 is that there just weren’t enough musical numbers. Mary Jane has a few scenes, and Maguire performs a humorous song and dance reminiscent of Christopher Walken’s classic number in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN. For reasons unknown, Raimi decides to substitute CGI fight scenes between Peter in his Spider-Man outfit and the Sandman, Harry Osborn and, later on, a character named Venom. These fight scenes, while well executed, do nothing to move the story forward and just slow down the denouement of whether Peter will be able to win MJ’s love back. Raimi should have just stuck with his original plan to make a musical — it could even have ended with a great take off on A STAR IS BORN with MJ getting up on stage and saying, “Ladies and Gentleman, my name is Mrs. Peter Parker.”
Instead, by throwing in all those action scenes, Raimi just makes a puzzling blend of melodrama and heroics. Call it “Imitation of Strife”*…if you want to do Douglas Sirk, just do Douglas Sirk!
Despite our reservations, the rather piquant and vibrant scenes in SPIDER-MAN may make it a cult favorite among action movie enthusiasts, and we predict this film will make a lot of money.
MORE PICTURES AND ***SPOILERS*** IN THE JUMP.
PS: Yes, yes, yes…we are HUGE fans of Sam Raimi and his quirky pacing and what not but this time he made a movie that was ALL QUIRKY PACING! SPIDEY 3 is 75% melodrama, 10% wonderfully humorous bits (particularly Bruce Campbell and JK Simmons) and 15% action. If it had about 10 minutes cut out — did we need to see the facade of EVERYONE’S building EVERY TIME we cut to that scene???– it would have been a fine final chapter to the trilogy.
I will say that Haden Church as Sandman was SUPER DUPER. Best villain in all three films. The special effects were eerie and imaginative, and Haden Church underplayed the role beautifully, rocking that striped shirt like the sad, middle aged loser he was.
Perhaps because the Sandman was so cool, Raimi totally lost control of the Eddie Brock/Venom plot line, which should have been THE central idea of the movie! Instead of endless scenes of Peter and MJ squabbling, or Peter and MJ phoning each other and one of them not answering the phone (this must have happened four times), or scenes of Aunt May telling one of them what they should do, we should have honed in on Eddie Brock and why he was bad, and why he was doomed. As it is, his heinous deeds amounted to nothing more than using Photoshop. We hear in the sequel he comes back and uses In Design — Oooo!
The truth is, in Sam Raimi’s timeless 50s world where young folks still live in ratty apartments in the city, guys take their dates to jazz clubs where the waitresses double as singers, and newspapers still sell, all of the characters are so well known and lovable that we WOULD watch them run around crying in diners for 2 1/2 hours. He’s earned our goodwill. SPIDEY 3 isn’t a horrible movie — as the directors cut on DVD it would have been fine. As a theatrical movie, it’s just…long.
PPS: We were sitting next to Peter David at the screening and since he wrote the novelization it was sort of like having a commentary track in the theater. He did tell us about stuff that was cut OUT of the film and there was A LOT.
PPPS: Stan Lee’s cameo might just be the best one yet.
* Credit to our movie going companion Ken for this line.