Sunday, May 6, 2007

Reel To Reel: Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, doing things that a sequel can... poorly.

How It Rates: **
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Superhero Action Violence

Spider-Man 3 raked in $148 million opening weekend, rendering this review equal to the Surgeon General's Warning on a pack of cigarettes. However, the preceding chapter in the Spidey saga demonstrated an unflinching ability to balance love story and action flick. The third installment tries to balance parable, love story and action flick, making everything fall to the floor in a mushy mess.

The story picks up with our hero (Maguire) in a good groove. Spider-Man is wowing the crowds and making the papers. Girlfriend Mary Jane (Dunst) is starring in a Broadway show. That's enough to make Parker forget he still ekes out a living as a freelance Daily Bugle photographer living in a rathole apartment while going to college. Maybe it's time Spidey asked for a cost-of-crime-fighting allowance.

But who needs fortune when you've got fame? Parker relishes it, saving the police chief's daughter and giving her a kiss during a big congratulatory bash -- right in front of Mary Jane. Enter Complication #1: relationship problems.

Complication #2: lingering resentment. Harry Osborn (Franco), you will remember, blames Spider-Man for the death of his father, the former Green Goblin. Now Junior is suiting up and stepping on Senior's flying surfboard.

Those two complications should be enough. But since this is a big-budget summer sequel to a pair of big blockbusters, we don't have enough seasoning. So, let's add in...

Complication #3: Flint Marko (Church), an escaped con who has a connection to the death of Peter's uncle, one who conveniently accidentally ends up in a particle disintegrator turning him into a walking heap known as the The Sandman. Actually, it's more like Cat-Box-Litter Man. I see a product placement opportunity for Fresh Step squandered, but they wouldn't be able to explain how Sandman manages to re-integrate his clothes as well as the rest of his body. Talk about absorbancy...

Complication #4: some black goo from a meteorite lands on Earth and wants to bond with Parker's Spidey suit. Black never goes out of style, but conceited revenge is a heck of a fashion accessory. Come to the Dark Side, Spider-Man.

Complication #5: rival photographer Eddie Brock (Grace), who's angling with Peter for a staff position at the Bugle, still headed by the hilarious blowhard J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).

Now we've overdone it. Too many bad guys, too many subplots to stir together. And boiling in there, we have a morals clause: a theme of revenge and forgiveness that's supposed to sweeten the pot. But with simplistic, overtly moralistic dialogue tacked on to provide an emotional hook, I could only cringe at the tartness. Screenwriter Alvin Sargent handled the last film with finesse, but with Ivan and Sam Raimi (who also directed) sharing the credit, you know that saying about too many cooks. You can clearly tell the emotion came from Sargent and the action came from the Raimis. It doesn't work.

But with a $148 million domestic opening and $375 million around the globe, a lot of people think it does... or did.

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