There's a lot going on in the much-anticipated Spider-Man 3 , which ups the ante in the series by adding more super villains, more special effects and considerably more angst to the increasingly tumultuous relationship between Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and aspiring actress Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But the final result is an unwieldy, impersonal movie that, even as it tries to wring new, deeper meanings from its superhero motifs, hedges its bets by pandering to the audience with overdone, unimaginative action sequences and too many quick, superficial scenes that are geared to short attention spans. Admittedly, it would have been hard to top Spider-Man 2 , a perfect blend of action, humor, drama and suspense and one of the finest cinematic comic-book adaptations. However, the same cast and crew, including director Sam Raimi, were onboard for this sequel, so its many flaws are less easy to explain away.
This time around Spidey battles three different bad guys: the New Goblin, aka his troubled high-school friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), who blames him for the death of his father, the original Green Goblin; Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict who has a connection to Peter's past and who is another victim of a scientific experiment gone awry; and Venom (Topher Grace), who first crosses paths with Peter in civilian life. That's probably one villain too many, and that's not including Peter's problems with Mary Jane, whose budding career undergoes a serious setback even as Spider-Man's reputation soars; his continuing efforts to get a full-time job on The Daily Bugle; and the temptation of a new woman, the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who also happens to be a classmate of his.
The film doesn't really do justice to any of its myriad plotlines: Unlike Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 , the villains seem to be competing for screen time rather than emerging as fully realized, complex protagonists with interesting back stories. Nor does the movie do justice to its myriad characters: Gwen, who in the Spider-Man comic book was Peter's first great love, disappears fairly quickly from the movie, and others, such as Peter's hysterically bombastic publisher J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who nearly stole Spider-Man 2 , barely get to make their mark at all. At least Jameson has a couple of scenes to act in; blink and you'll miss Bill Nunn as Daily Bugle editor Joseph “Robbie” Robertson or James Cromwell as Gwen's father, Captain Stacy.
Worse, though Dunst gives it her all as Mary Jane, who's beginning to see newly narcissistic Peter in a disturbing harsher light, Maguire has decided to condescend to his role, aided and abetted by his director. When Peter decides to act out as a “bad boy,” the film goes embarrassingly over the top, with Maguire ineffectually aping John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever and acting like a total, unredeemable jerk, something his character would never do. In that regard, Spider-Man 3 betrays the Marvel Comic it's based on. The source material and, for that matter, the two previous movies in the series, always understood that the painful push-pull of Peter Parker, ordinary guy, and Spider-Man, extraordinary superhero, was what made for the inherent, effective drama in the concept.
This time around, there's not one scene with the naked emotional power of Spider-Man 2 's finest sequence, in which Spidey, unmasked, was delicately passed through the arms of subway passengers in tribute to his valor in saving their lives. The highly disappointing Spider-Man 3 has its touching moments, to be sure, but they're few and far between. Distributor: Sony
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriters: Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent
Producers: Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence
Running time: 139 min.