I dearly wish I could have another go at Sam Raimi’s overwhelming “Spider-Man 3” before I take a crack at writing this review. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, so here goes nothing, adventure fans.
There’s no way to know for sure, but my guess is Raimi was thinking the likelihood everybody comes back to do another Spidey is slim, so he had better cram every last idea he’s ever had for the webbed wonder into this third installment before the clock runs out on the franchise. As a result, Spidey “3” is a bit of a mess. We don’t get enough time with old villains and a touch too much time with new and unnecessary ones, bungling what could have been the most exciting Spider-Man yet.
Dyed in the skin-tight wool, “true” comic fans will have plenty to shriek about with this one, as perversions of deeply loved Marvel characters are abound. New baddie Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”), is a snorefest and a brief and rapid-fire treatment of Venom will have panels of Comic-Con kids all in a tizzy. The highly anticipated Venom character comes off like a puny afterthought, unlike the splendid and meaty performance given by Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus in “2.”
Wimpy villains aside, Peter Parker is back to his old tricks. Raimi dusts off every device that’s worked in the past and played up a few that could’ve used more time. Parker’s twig-thin Russian neighbor-girl returns for a few comic moments. As Parker dons emo-rock eyeliner and wispy hair-in-the-eye (Good Charlotte may have a new fan), signifying the alterna-rock turmoil within, his fair neighbor plays the straight girl to a few gags showing off Parker’s new attitude. After being infected by an alien substance that turns the suit and character black, Parker eventually fights off the cosmic goo, leaving J. Jonah Jameson’s (J.K. Simmons) newest pin-cushion photog at the Daily Planet, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) to pick up the slack, becoming the teethy Venom for all of ten minutes.
Kirsten Dunst gives her most nuanced performance of the trilogy. Disregard the singing scenes and she is a much more likable Mary Jane to our newly spoiled arachnid photographer. Once again, Simmons is the movie’s hero, totally stealing the show at each opportunity. In this trilogy, Simmons has proven to be the best casting and the most dead-on portrayal of a comic book character in the history of film. When he is on screen everything else becomes irrelevant, and its the J. Jonah Jameson show. Spin-off anyone?
All in all, however, “Spider-Man 3” is a perfectly kick-ass Sam Raimi thrill-ride. And there are few directors I’d rather watch than Raimi try to force a five hour mini-series into a tiny container. I wish they had spent less time with Sandman, though, and more time showing the character arc of Harry Osborn (James Franco). They spent two films cultivating Franco’s troubled best friend, but CGI bad guys make bigger blockbusters than redeemed friendship stories, so I lose.
This wasn’t the evolution we were all hoping for. The title of Best Spider-Man Movie remains firmly with number two. Truth be told, I sure hope everyone comes back for Spidey 4. If so, Raimi should have all new ideas and ways to mess with Peter Parker, since he emptied the bag on this one.