Spider-Man 3 (Sony Pictures Entertainment, PG-13)

spider2 3 is far and away the scariest and darkest Spider-Man thus far.



I didn't know until a few days before I saw the press screening of Spider-Man 3 that, as someone who thinks the original Spider-Man is better than Spider-Man 2, I'm in the minority. That isn't to say that I don't like Spider-Man 2—both of the first two Spider-Man movies are great, and, alongside the first two X-Men movies and Batman Begins, they have spearheaded the recent boom in really good superhero movies (the last ten years have produced 90% of all of the good superhero movies ever made, I'd estimate). My liking of the original over 2 is a very marginal thing. That said, Spider-Man 3 is my least favorite of the three, but it is only marginally worse than 2, which is to say that it is still really good.

Really, the only thing that hurts 3, which is just as funny and exciting as the previous installments (minus the sweet train scene in 2), is that it is just too much. This criticism is kind of a shame, as you don't really even have to have seen the movie to make it, but it turns out that it is correct. Where the original had the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), 2 had Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), 3 has The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), and the New Goblin (James Franco). To make things worse, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, who I think is a capable actress but whom I still don't really like) is thrown in, too, so not only does Spidey have too many enemies, he has too many girlfriends, as well. This results in The Sandman, Venom/Eddie Brock, and Gwen feeling like they need to be developed more as characters, or have their origins explained better, as well as a bloated running time (140 minutes, as opposed to a few minutes over two hours, as the first two were). That said, Topher Grace, despite being goofy and seeming like a weird choice for a big role in a hugely anticipated movie, is very good, and Sandman is probably my new favorite Spider-Man villain (the sand effect is as cool or cooler than any of the special effects in the previous movies, including the aforementioned train scene). There are good cameos for both Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell, too.

One kind of major thing that warrants mention here is that 3 is far and away the scariest and darkest Spider-Man thus far, and that the younger kids in the audience might wind up having a rough time of it. The degree to which Venom is scary is comparable to the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, and that is failing to mention that Peter Parker dabbles with the Venom suit himself, which results in an extended sequence where Parker does some pretty seriously bad things, and not always in a comical or forgiveable way. By the time Parker parts with the Venom suit, there's not enough time left in the film to totally redeem him. So, maybe the events of Spider-Man 3 would have been better suited to being split up into two movies (or three?), so that the various storylines and characters could be fleshed out as much as would be required by the story. But with all of this talk of 3 being the last installment either period or with the cast and crew as it is, maybe it is for the best that Sam Raimi and his clan crammed as much in as possible, because I doubt that anyone else could come close to doing it as capably as they do. | Pete Timmermann


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