Mark Reviews Movies

SPIDER-MAN 3

4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, James Cromwell, Dylan Baker, Cliff Robertson

MPAA Rating:   (for sequences of intense action violence)

Running Time: 2:20

Release Date: 5/4/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Now I see: Spider-Man 2 was just setup for this. Spider-Man 3, which is the real entry in the series thus far that belongs on the list of the best superhero films Superman and Batman Begins, takes the character elements and conflicts, which its predecessor eluded in favor of cutting them short for action, and brings them to their necessary, sometimes tragic, end. If the first sequel was superhero movie as soap opera, this is it approaching opera. This is a big film. Not only does Spider-Man 3 continue and/or resolve the major continuing storylines of the series, but it also adds new characters, villains, and story arcs that both expand upon the themes to which we've grown accustomed in the series and send them hurtling into much darker terrain. With all these elements piling up, the film seems prone to collapse. Sam, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent's screenplay, though, keeps the proceedings entirely character-driven, and director Sam Raimi's obvious love for this material is stronger than ever, balancing the imaginative, free-flying, occasionally insane action, the light, sometimes campy humor, and the surprising thematic weight of the characters' plights and some strange, overtly symbolic comic mythology with considerable dexterity. Spider-Man 3 is jubilant but wise in its own way, taking the peculiar turns of the story and making them relevant.

After opening credits that give us a visual recap of the previous movies, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is living it up as his alter-ego "your friendly neighborhood... you know." The city loves him (Manhattan is now advertised as "Home of Spider-Man"), and more importantly, his girlfriend, the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) loves him too. He sits in the front row of the theater, geeky smile on his face, singing along, as she performs in her first Broadway show ("That's my girlfriend," he marvels to no one in particular). His former friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), still reeling over the belief that Pete killed his father, is there as well. After the show, Pete and M.J. watch a meteor shower, lying in a web, professing their love, and on their way out of the park, a meteorite strikes—a black ooze attaching itself to Pete's bike. Meanwhile at Osborn manor, Harry is testing his father's old superhuman-creating formulas, and Pete visits his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) to tell her he plans on asking M.J. to marry him. The plan is almost ruined when Harry accosts Pete, with a fight that sends Harry to the hospital (I'd love to see the deleted scene where Pete tries to explain to hospital personnel why his friend is dressed in a metallic suit).

Harry suffers from short-term memory loss after the battle, a gravity-defying chase through the city—with pauses for Pete to catch the ring he plans to give M.J.—that reaches its climax in a narrow alleyway, and while that certainly sound gimmicky, its purpose of showing Harry, who now does not remember the circumstances of his father's death, and Pete as friends again makes up for it. I said there's a lot going on in the film, and we've only scratched the surface. There's also Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church in a surprisingly sympathetic performance), an escaped convict who admitted responsibility for Pete's uncle Ben's (Cliff Robertson in flashbacks) murder. He returns home to visit his sick daughter (the reason he ended up in jail was stealing to provide for the costs of her medical care) and stumbles into a testing facility where a demolecularization test just happens to be taking place while being chased by the cops. After a haunting, lyrical scene of Marko reassembling himself and trying to obtain his daughter's locket, he becomes Sandman, continuing his robbery spree with ease, as he can become a cloud of sand, floating in the wind or assemble other sand around him to become monstrous at will ("Where do these guys come from?"), and catching Spider-Man's attention after pummeling the web-slinger in an armored truck robbery—another accomplished action sequence racked up here.

But what of that mysterious black ooze? Turns out it's a symbiote, a parasitic organism that binds itself to a host and, as Pete's science professor Dr. Connors (Dylan Baker, who hopefully will get more screentime in further sequels) says, it seems to really like Pete. When the symbiote attaches itself to Pete's spidey suit one night as he dreams of Uncle Ben's murder, it turns Spider-Man's suit black and has sinister ramifications on Pete's personality. With Ben's real killer on the loose, revenge is primarily on Pete's mind. He stalks around his apartment, listening to the police radio for any noticeable sign of Marko, and ignoring M.J.'s attempts to help. "Revenge," Aunt May (always a reliable source for words of wisdom) tells her nephew, "is like a poison." Beyond the thirst for revenge, the symbiote brings out more of Pete's pigheadedness, giving him a new swagger (women on the street still giggle and glare at him) and having him start looking very emo (these scenes are a lot of fun)). He and M.J.'s relationship is put even further on the rocks (no surprise that a relationship between a failing actress and a bigheaded superhero has problems). She's jealous of Spider-Man's fame, and when he rescues fellow student Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) in a great scene involving a runaway crane and receives the key to the city from her, he gives M.J. even more reason to be jealous. There's an incredibly affecting scene where those problems come to a head

Rounding out the new characters is Eddie Brock (Topher Grace at his smarmy best), a professional and later personal rival to Pete, whose own arrogance uncomfortably mirrors Pete's. This gives us three villains over the course of the film, and all three represent something Pete has to face within himself. This personal reflection gives the multiple subplots a unifying theme, and it's a testament to the screenplay and Raimi's desire to mature these characters. Pete always feels guilt for consequences over which he has no control, but by the end of the film, he has to account for a lot of things—the choices he's made and the actions he's taken as a result. The symbiote complicates matters, of course, and it stays with Pete till it finds a more suitable host—one who prays that God will kill Peter Parker. Thankfully, Aunt May is around for more sage advice, telling Pete that to find his way through his troubles, he must start by doing the hardest thing: He has to forgive himself. Forgiveness is possible here, but it's not as easy to forget. Some may see the last scene as a copout for a happy ending, but it portrays a fragile reunion, one with the pain of the past still present.

I haven't mentioned much action, but that's because the action isn't really the focus. Yes, there are action sequences, and they are spectacularly realized, especially the insane cliffhanger of a finale. There's effective comedy, as J.K. Simmons continues to steal scenes as Pete's megalomaniacal boss and Bruce Campbell makes a cameo as a maitre d' with a ridiculous French accent in a farcical scene involving Pete's attempt to propose. Spider-Man 3, though, is about the murky ground of relationships on the verge, the ways pain and loss help us to learn about ourselves, and how, even though you might save the girl and the city, things do not automatically return to normal. And, yes, this is a superhero film I'm talking about.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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