Two out of three ain't bad. Like Batman and X-Men before it, Spider-Man has learned just how hard it is to create a final, trilogy-closing installment. I am not saying that Spider-Man 3 is even remotely close to Batman Forever or X-Men: The Last Stand, but it isn't all that close to Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2 either. With predecessors that are the best of what the comic book genre can possibly offer, Spider-Man 3 features a Sam Raimi that seems all too caught up with special effects and completely distracted from what matters -- the story and the characters.
Negative Impressions: Spider-Man 3
When the credits began to run on Spider-Man 2 back in 2004 I could not help but celebrate how Sam Raimi created a film that does what other sequels rarely do -- beat out the original. Even with improved special effects and choreographed fight sequences that were breathtaking, Spider-Man 2 never faltered off of the story's arc and addressed each character with due respect. Parker's conflict between the love of his life and his 'responsibility' was classic. The arc pulls him out of the costume and then, as a finale, right back in - with precise steps in the middle to explain why the world needs Spider-Man.
Though Fred found Spider-Man 3 to be the best of both films, I beg to difer. Spider-Man 3 reminds me of "Spider-Man: The Music Video" or "Spider-Man: The Flipbook". To excel on one level the film had to abandon -- what's the best word? -- reason. Even with my admiration towards Sam Raimi, the director went way in over his head on this one.
Three villains. Tough. Though the first hour of the film is jumpy in order to give the villains a just do, it works. We meet Sandman, understand his reasons, and get to see one of the most impressive feats of CG likely to appear on the screen this year. Well done, but what about Venom? To get to Venom we need to witness the brief fall of Peter Parker. Like Anakin's conversion to the Sith, Parker quickly dons his new black suit while causing testosterone-filled trouble for both his enemies and romantic interests. With multiple opportunities to show just how 'dark' Parker has become, only one scene actually satisfies. The rest of the time we get to see Peter Parker dance through the street. Remember the 'Raindrops' scene in Spider-Man 2? Well, Raimi tries a similar approach again and, this time, does not succeed. Watching Tobey Maguire looking like Jared Leto while snapping his fingers, dancing around the street, and weirding out beautiful women is not my idea of 'dark' -- it is my idea of an idiot, however.
The only time Peter truly does show his darker side is during a confrontation with his tenant and a brief scuffle in a jazz club. They work, the dance montage did not. Unfortunately for viewers, the dance montage is a whole bunch longer and the bar scuffle first requires us to watch Parker do even more Westside Story dancing.
Spider-Man 3 comes packed with five big action sequences that all use a hefty portion of the ginormous budget given to this film. It is obvious that Raimi concentrated much more of his efforts on this aspect of the film than on story or character development. Parker's Aunt May only stops in when advice is needed and quickly disappears faster than Obi-Wan Kenobi in Empire Strikes Back. Though Parker and Mary Jane's relationship comes in second behind the film's action, it is more like watching a couple fight than seeing any progress. The characters/actors who did stand out did so on their own -- namely Franco's Harry Osborn and Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson.
Venom, who should have been center stage of this production, comes in as an afterthought. After the villain's creation he only gets to hang around for one apparently-useless fight. Venom's quick exit should disappoint a good many.
The final tag-team battle is big and the special effects just as mighty, but it ends abruptly and immediately jumps into the films conclusion. Like all Spider-Man films, this one tries to end on a noble point. Since the story was a single string of disarray, Parker could have narrated, "Don't Smoke Pot," and we would have got the same message.
My final criticism has to go to Raimi himself. The large action sequences, even with the impressive CG, could have been better. Probably to help make things look more real, Raimi applies some awkward camera work that will likely confuse audiences rather than entertain them; sometimes you just can't tell what the hell is going on. Since he abandoned any real character development, Tobey's performance falls a bit flat. Sure, he tears up more often than most are going to like, but the character has no middle angst. Parker is either stone faced, crying or absolutely pissed off. What about the battle within? How about a couple moments of 'extreme frustration' or some other middle expression.
What did I like? The action sequences are obviously top-notch and will be the biggest reason why Spider-Man 3 will become one of this year's largest grossing popcorn films. Bruce Campbell as the Maître d’, he represented some of the only smart comedy featured in the film.