Spider-Man 3 is probably the weepiest superhero film ever made. In fact, the characters seem to spend the film’s entire running time either moist-eyed or openly crying. It’s the ultimate action film meets chick flick.
Being a sensitive gay man, I theoretically shouldn’t have a problem with this; but it was quite honestly one irritant among many that threatened to undermine an otherwise entertaining film.
And so the final film in the Spider-Man trilogy turns out to be something of a disappointment. Continuing and concluding a number of plot points and themes from the first two films, it simply tries to do too much. And I really mean too much.
Rather than surprising us with something new in terms of direction, tone or story, the franchise’s director Sam Raimi chooses to instead turn up the volume: He throws in three villains, two girls vying for Peter Parker’s attention, confusing romantic triangles, Spidey wrestling with his “dark side”, meteors from space, and even a couple of bizarre comedy musical sequences. Despite this, it feels like we’ve seen it all before – complete with the obligatory rescue of Mary Jane Watson from certain doom at the end.
Ironically, the romance and naivety which made the first Spider-Man movie an invigorating breath of fresh air in the superhero movie genre has become a quagmire for the filmmakers. The scale of the events and their implications remain the same: very much focused on the streets of New York and our primary characters. I used to think that the fact that the Spider-Man movies were very tightly focused on the characters was a good thing, but on this outing I missed a real sense of the epic.
I understand that Raimi envisaged the three films to cover an arc about forgiveness and redemption that begins with the murder of Peter Parker’s uncle and leading to Spider-Man finally confronting the killer in this movie, but the characters seem stuck in a rut.
Thankfully the cast are largely capable of impressing with their charm. Tobey Maguire at first annoys with his perpetually goofy grin, but he is fantastic when he turns nasty – thanks to some black goo from space. He manages to be oddly sexy, and is surprisingly limber on the dance floor. Kirsten Dunst doesn’t get to do much new, but radiates an attractive and genuine energy which you can’t but help falling for.
I found Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman to be a unique creation, one which also reflects how beautiful and moving digital animation can be when well executed. Church brings a real pathos to the character which is unfortunately drowned out by the crowded roster of villains and the messy storyline.
The usually gorgeous James Franco, who plays Harry Osborn, tries to outdo Maguire’s silly smile (apparently losing your short term memory means that you wander around grinning like an idiot.) He undergoes a major revelation near the end of the film that is handled so badly that it doesn’t deliver any of the possible drama that could have accompanied it.
There are many similar ‘dropped balls’ and inconsistencies in the script: Some things simply don’t make sense, characters appear and disappear willy-nilly, and we never get any kind of explanation of important plot-points – like where the black goo actually came from.
Thankfully, Raimi doesn’t disappoint in the much anticipated action sequences (bar a couple of badly rendered digital versions of the characters swinging through the air). These segments are spectacular, using the city and its citizens as a dispensable landscape in which to explode, destroy and generally cause mayhem. From a construction crane gone amok among skyscrapers to an edge-of-your-seat chase sequence through narrow alleyways, I found myself ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ on cue.
Spider-Man 3 is an ultimately unsatisfactory conclusion to what has been one of the best-made comic book big screen translations to date. That doesn’t mean it won’t entertain, and it does this far better than other recent big budget blockbusters, but I must admit to feeling a little cheated. I expected it to be the climax of the fantastic mix of spectacle and well-crafted characters we’ve previously seen from Raimi; instead, Spider-Man 3 is something of a step back for our favourite man in red and (very dark) blue.