Sunday, May 06, 2007

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3

In Brief: What's Good

  • Good balance of drama, action, and humor

  • Elaborate, well-choreographed action sequences

  • Excellent visual effects, as is true with the first two movies

  • Hilarious J. Jonah Jameson scene

  • Hilarious Bruce Campbell cameo

  • More welcome, although brief, appearances from Ursala, the nice, happy girl who lives across the hall from Peter

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • A bit too much crammed into one movie (but not as bad as many critics are saying)

  • Mary Jane character not handled well; Kirsten Dunst's lackluster performance not helping

  • Tobey MacGuire and Kirsten Dunst have little, if any, chemistry

  • Tobey MacGuire and Kirsten Dunst's performances not as good during crying scenes

  • Somber ending

B Story
B Acting
A- Directing
A Visuals

Tobey MacGuire returns as Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spider-Man, in the third installment of the comic book movie franchise. This time around, Spider-Man faces a triple threat.

Peter's best friend Harry Osborne still believes Spider-Man killed his father and decides to use his father's Goblin suit and equipment to take revenge on Spider-Man. Thomas Haden Church plays Flint Marko, a small-time crook who's recently broken out of prison to help his daughter only to get mixed up in a scientific experiment that turns him into Sandman, a humanoid made out of living, organic sand. Meanwhile, a symbiotic creature of black goo from a fallen meteorite takes over Spider-Man's suit, amplifying his power and turning his persona to the dark side.

In a way, Peter Parker faces an additional trio of interpersonal threats. His relationship with Mary Jane Waston (played by Kirsten Dunst) is on unsteady ground, which is made more challenging thanks to the flirtations of Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard). His income is threatened when competing photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) tries to upstage him at the Daily Bugle. And, thanks to the symbiotic goo mentioned earlier (un-named in the movie but called Venom in the comics), Peter faces his own inner demons.

I liked the movie. It had, perhaps, too much story to tell in 2.33 hours, but it balanced the various characters and subplots as best it could. It's still entertaining with a good blend of drama, humor, and action. The action sequences are thoroughly impressive, as usual. And, Sam Raimi's directing style feels consistent with the first two movies.

Having said all that, the movie does have its flaws. It's not as good as the 2nd movie, and probably not as good as the 1st either. The opinion seems to be prevalent. On Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper and his guest reveiwer both gave Spider-Man 3 thumbs down. John Campea and Doug Nagy of spent almost their entire Friday podcast trashing the movie, giving it a 3.5/10 and 4/10, respectively. At, it has a barely fresh rating of only 62%. And, at Yahoo! Movies, critics average it at B- and users average it at B, which isn't bad except that the first two movies earned B+ and A- averages.

Perhaps, the best way to critique and defend the movie is to address the aspects most commonly criticized.

Common Criticisms of Spider-Man 3

(1) Too Many Villains (a.k.a. Not Enough Venom)
Having too many villains (like in the old Batman sequels) means the attention to each one gets diminished. Spider-Man 3 faces that problem too, but it's not as bad as most people say. The conflict between Harry Osborne and Spider-Man was an ongoing theme that needed resolution, but I don't think a new Goblin would have been sufficient to carry the villainy alone in the 3rd movie. I agree that Sandman or Venom probably could have carried the rest of the weight of the movie without having to include both. The movie does an excellent job balancing the various villains and subplots, and there is still time left over for nice character moments with Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson, as well as the best Bruce Campbell cameo of the trilogy.

(2) Mary Jane Character Mishandled
Mary Jane was used the same way in all three movies. The villain uses Mary Jane to lure Spider-Man into a trap, and Spider-Man has to save her. They should have found a better way to use MJ. True. Some have also described MJ as whiney and nagging in the 3rd movie. All she does is cry, complain, and scream when she's in peril. Unfortunately, also true.

(3) Kirsten Dunst Bad in Role as Mary Jane
I've seen & heard a lot of complaints about Kirsten Dunst. To be honest, I used to be a fan of hers and loved her in the first Spider-Man. But, she did seem to snooze her way through the 2nd movie, and she lost even more appeal in the 3rd. From things she's said in interviews, I don't think she has the right attitude about being in the Spider-Man movies, and it's begun to show in her performances.

(4) Tobey MacGuire and Kirsten Dunst Have No Chemistry
Peter and MJ's relationship seems perpetually problematic, and the chemistry between MacGuire and Dunst has felt lukewarm in the last two movies. A couple scenes in Spider-Man 3 show MJ spending time with Harry Osborne, and she seems to have triple the chemistry with him than she does with Peter. If the rumors are true that a possible 4th movie may continue without MacGuire, Dunst, or even Sam Raimi as director, it might be that re-casting the roles may revitalize a character relationship that seems irrevocably strained.

(5) Gwen Stacy: Under-Used and a Waste of Time
Because so much is going on in this movie, there's not a lot of time to develop the Gwen Stacy character, but she is in the movie to help wedge the gap between Peter and MJ, and in that way, she is effective. She is also well acted as spunky, smart, cute, sexy, and cheerful, by Bryce Dallas Howard, much better than Dunst is in her role as MJ. On the other hand, I've heard the opinion that Peter and MJ's relationship was strained enough without adding Gwen as an obstable and that a lesser character, such as the Daily Bugle receptionist, could have served the role as an object of MJ's jealousy. Still, this did not register to me as a major problem.

(6) Too Many Song & Dance Numbers
It's not that there are too many song & dance numbers, it's that Kirsten Dunst (or whomever she is lipsynching from) can't sing that well. As for the dancing, Peter's "dark side" scene in the bar is a bit overdone.

(7) Too Much Crying
The problem is not too much crying. This is a darker, more somber Spider-Man movie, and the crying moments are appropriate in both quantity and context. The problem is that Tobey MacGuire and Kirsten Dunst don't perform that well in crying scenes.

(8) Peter's Dark Side is Silly
When Peter experiences the effects of Venom, he begins to act uncharacteristically. In one scene he walks down the street with a cocky attitude and a very confident stride that we don't see in normal Peter. It comes off looking a little silly, as some have said. Despite being a superhero with a "hot" girlfriend, Peter Parker is still a nerd. So, I think it's interesting and appropriate that even Peter's "dark side" still comes off as geeky--just a different kind of geeky.


Despite the flaws and probably being the least satisfying of the trilogy, Spider-Man 3 is still very well made and better than a lot of other movies out there. Even if some of the criticsm against it is accurate, it's best to judge for yourself. It is, afterall, the first movie of the summer season, when movies are made for action, laughs, and popcorn. So, don't take it too seriously.

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

The movie's budget was $258 million, making it the most expensive movie ever made. Bryce Dallas Howard performed many stunts, unaware of the fact that she was pregnant. The fake fangs that Topher Grace wore as Venom bruised his gums.

Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database

Originally, Sam Raimi did not want Venom in the movie, but he was convinced by Marvel producer Avi Arad and came to appreciate the character in the film. Thomas Haden Church worked out for 16 months to achieve the Flint Marko physique. Kirsten Dunst dyed her natural blond hair red for the role of Mary Jane Watson, and Bryce Dallas Howard dyed her natural red hair blonde for the role of Gwen Stacy. While in the Venom costume, Topher Grace did not drink any water during his breaks.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

You wrote a spot-on review of it here, Todd. Excellent work. And I just sent you a Myspace message about how you've got a permanent link on my blog now (how'd that go missing before? I need to update that thing...)