Has there ever been a great third chapter to a cinematic superhero franchise? Superman III, X-Men: The Last Stand, Batman Forever ... all are No. 3s that paled in comparison to the films that preceded them. With director Sam Raimi and his entire cast back for Spider-Man 3, prospects looked good for the curse to be broken.
The curse lives on: Spider-Man 3 is easily the most disappointing Spidey film to date.
Many rumors have been swirling about the third chapter being the last for Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. That could explain why this film tries to do so damn much. Not one, but three villains vie for screen time; Peter Parker gets a subplot that has him getting all dark and evil; girlfriend Mary Jane is a bummer; another love interest, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is thrown into the fray.
The overstuffed chapter starts promisingly and then goes a bit haywire. A few minutes into the film, a meteorite crashes to Earth while Peter Parker (Maguire) and Mary Jane (Dunst) are on a date. The meteor contains some sort of black blob "symbioite" that attaches itself to Spider-Man's suit, turning it black. The black suit gives him greater superpowers, but also amplifies whatever trace of bastard there was in Parker's personality. Raimi shows us how evil Spidey's gotten by having Parker strut down the street, Saturday Night Fever style, and perform a wacky dance number. A great chance to be nasty gets sabotaged by sophomoric humor.
The symbioite also causes trouble with the love life, as symbioites often do. Parker becomes a bad boyfriend and is unsympathetic to Mary Jane's getting canned--deservedly so, I might add--from her Broadway gig. Why? Because she sings like a nervous 11-year-old boy. Mary Jane is a major bore this time out.
Right there, you have enough for one movie, but here comes the villain parade. First, there's Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), a misunderstood criminal on the lam who gets caught up in some overblown centrifuge thing that gives him superpowers. He can change into sand, blowing around in the wind or growing to the size of King Kong. There's no real explanation for what the guy can do, or how he can do it. We just know that he's actually a good guy underneath, looking for cash to save his dying kid. We also know that, like Mary Jane, he's a whiner.
Then there's Venom, a comic fanboy favorite who gets woefully shortchanged in the movie. Topher Grace plays Eddie Brock/Venom, and he probably would've been a great villain had he gotten the time he deserved. Instead, the interesting concept of Parker's photographer rival being transformed into a steroid-raging monster version of Spider-Man gets footnote status. An utter waste of a great idea.
That's not it. There's also Harry (James Franco) seeking revenge for the death of his father, the Green Goblin. Harry takes to using his dad's old equipment and picking fights with Spider-Man, qualifying him as a rather formidable villain.
Had the movie focused on Venom and the new Goblin, that would've been more than enough. Instead, we get the mopey and uninteresting Sandman hogging screen minutes.
The effects are surprisingly bad in spots, with subpar computer animation. The editing style is too cut-happy during some of the action scenes, making things hard to follow. From a visual standpoint, this is definitely a step backward from the superior second chapter.
I love big movies, but this one needed four hours or two chapters. The film plays like Raimi ingested all the Spider-Man comics he could get his hands on, chased them with some pulpy romance novels and barfed the whole discordant mixture onto the movie screen. One, maybe two villains would've been plenty. As it stands, not even 140 minutes are enough to cover all of this material sufficiently.