Spinning Into Theaters
Too many villains. Too many love triangles. Too many Kirsten Dunst musical numbers.
As "Spider-Man 3" begins, everything is pretty nifty for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). He's happily in love with the Broadway-bound Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), excelling in his ongoing studies and, like Rudy Giuliani, his alter-ego has helped rid the city of crime. There are dark clouds on the horizon, of course. A pesky new photographer named Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is bucking for Peter's job and Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, quite lovely when not forced to be M. Night Shyamalan's ultra-serious mouthpiece), the cute girl in one of Peter's classes, is about to produce jealousy. And then there's the living black goo (the "symbiote," if you want to get all geeky) that arrived on an alien asteroid and has taken a specific interest in Peter, instigating an ongoing batter with his more malignant nature.
After two admirably restrained films in which Spider-Man was left to face only one equally superpowered adversary, "Spider-Man 3" forces a trio of baddies upon him. The film's first segment focuses on Harry Osborn's (James Franco) revenge-seeking New Goblin. In the middle, we deal largely with Thomas Haden Church's sediment-channeling Sandman. By the end, Spidey has to deal with Venom, the alien-enhanced embodiment of our hero's own rage-driven id. Each villain has an arc tying directly into Peter Parker's life, with sufficient subplots to carry an entire movie, so it's no wonder that despite a running time of 140 minutes, none of villains are well served.
It's particularly damning that even though New Goblin, Sandman and Venom are around, the film's best action sequence just involves a misdirected crane and some dangerous steel girders. Most of the fights are more geared toward video game reproductions or optimized IMAX viewing, rather than toward accentuating either Spider-Man's strengths or the gifts of the individual villains.
Granted that there's ample darkness to "Spider-Man 3," but it's more literal than emotional. Yes, Peter Parker's addiction to the sticky, black symbiote causes him to do things you wouldn't associate with your formerly friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, but whenever "Spider-Man 3" threatens to get too deep, Raimi goes tongue-in-cheek instead. Thus, Parker's descent into bad boy behavior is mostly covered by an odd-ball strutting musical montage, and his absolute nadir immediately follows a jazz-themed dance number that may force damning comparisons to Jim Carrey's "The Mask" (never a good sign). Raimi's grasp on the sequel's tone is also less sure than his devotion to old friends -- Bruce Campbell has a cameo that manages to be both hilarious and jarringly protracted, Stan Lee's obligatory walk-on is double the required length and Dunst somehow is allowed two full musical numbers.
Maybe without Dunst breaking into tune twice, the Gwen Stacy character could have been fleshed out to justify giving her the name of one of the comic's most beloved characters. And maybe there would have been a reason for an Oscar-nominated actor like James Cromwell to pop up in an utter non-part as Gwen's dad, Captain Stacy. The list of familiar faces in thankless parts also includes new addition Theresa Russell and returning actors Elizabeth Banks, Dylan Baker and Bill Nunn. Only J.K. Simmons, bringing the full force of his personality to his limited scenes as J. Jonah Jameson, stands out from the supporting cast.
There are too many villains, too many love triangles, too many satellite characters, too many loose ends to tie up from previous films. There was too much Raimi wanted to do if this ends up being his last film on the franchise. Some viewers will find it to be an embarrassment of riches, but most will recognize that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing.