Movie review by Greg Carlson
The first major studio release of the 2007 summer blockbuster season, “Spider-Man 3” proves that a movie’s ability to stuff a bank vault has nothing to do with the actual quality of the goods. Word of mouth is not likely to be kind to Sam Raimi’s third outing with the gigantic franchise, as the movie sputters and stalls out again and again. Many fans will be scratching their heads, wondering what went so wrong so quickly. “Spider-Man 2,” after all, bested the original in terms of wit, depth, charm, and storytelling. The latest one offers none of these qualities, instead presenting a warmed over rehash inexplicably dumbed-down even as the special effects budget is pumped up.
The good things about “Spider-Man 3” can be counted on a rather short list. Bruce Campbell’s cameo is as entertaining as Stan Lee’s is painful. As Gwen Stacy, Bryce Dallas Howard squeezes every ounce of value out of her poorly written role. Beyond that, the movie is nearly wretched. Dialogue scenes are almost always shot in tight close-up, the CG is two-dimensional and unconvincing, and Raimi never passes an opportunity to shamelessly wave the American flag. Hurricane-force nepotism places no fewer than five additional Raimi family members in the cast or crew, and Sam should be ashamed for allowing one to exclaim “wicked cool!” during an action sequence.
As the ever beleaguered Peter Parker, Tobey Maguire is at his most somnambulistic, going through all the motions as if he’s done it a million times before. It doesn’t help that the old Mary Jane-in-peril saw tastes so stale, but this time, Peter is also written as clueless and vain. Instead of demonstrating that with great power comes great responsibility, he has thoroughly regressed to a state of naivete and self-centeredness that jeopardizes his basic likeability. Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane is equally gloomy. You don’t want to spend time with either one.
Perhaps because it is the third part of a cycle, “Spider-Man 3” attempts to cram as much plot as possible into its unnecessarily bloated running time. In addition to the half-hearted resolution to the Harry Osborn/Green Goblin/New Goblin thread that has been percolating in each of the films, two more marquee villains, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace) jockey for pride of place. The multiple villain strategy is exactly what crippled the “Batman” series, as it diminishes the importance of any one rival by dividing the amount of time that can be devoted to crafting an interesting character.
There is little question that we will be seeing more “Spider-Man” movies in the future, although it is too early to say whether Maguire and Raimi will return. It might be better to try something without them. The current episode is completely devoid of the freshness and excitement that accompanied some of the first one and most of the second. Perhaps the movie, which is rumored to have cost in the neighborhood of 300 million dollars, suffered because it subscribed to the more is more school of thought. Without a well-written story, buoyed by compelling characters and sharply defined conflicts, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man looks appears to be running out of web fluid.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/7/07.