SPIDER-MAN 3 directed by Sam Raimi, written by Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Thomas Haden Church. A Sony Pictures release. 137 minutes. Opens Friday (May 4). Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It may be time for Sam Raimi to stop directing Spider-Man movies.
First, he's now ripping off the Superman franchise. (Superman III was the one where the Man of Steel had to do battle with his own dark side.)
Second, during Spider-Man/Peter Parker's flirtation with the dark side, he turns into this bizarre stud/dork straight out of one of those late alternate-reality episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess that manifested the team's creative exhaustion by making Joxer the hero.
Spider-Man 3 has three separate villains: son of the Green Goblin (James Franco), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace), who starts out as an amoral Peter Parker doppelganger and becomes an evil Spider-Man doppelganger when he's taken over by the meteor goo that initially turned Spider-Man to the dark side. This smells very much like studio executive input. If one villain was good in Spider-Man 2, two will be even better. How about three?
Another sign of creative exhaustion is the Sandman plot, which could have been cut to reduce the running time to a more reasonable 110 minutes. Remember how the first film was about Spidey tracking down the guy who killed Uncle Ben? Well, it turns out the murderer was actually some other guy who turns into Sandman. So Spider-Man is going to avenge Uncle Ben's death again? Aunt May has to talk him out of it, because "Ben wouldn't have wanted us to live with revenge in our hearts," proving that Ben is a sanctimonious old bore even in death.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is that Hollywood has no faith in the idea of abstract heroism. In effect, they can't imagine heroic behaviour unless some personal issue is involved: the bad guy has killed my dad or kidnapped my girlfriend, so I'd better get heroic.
Speaking of which, Mary Jane Watson seems like an awfully high-maintenance girlfriend for a full-time student who's got no money and a job as a superhero. With all her emotional fragility, she stays with him even though supervillains keep kidnapping her because she's Spider-Man's girlfriend? Peter could be totally nailing that cute Russian girl across the hall (Mageina Tovah) who's obviously into him.
As superhero franchises go, three is, so far, where they start spinning their wheels. It happened to Superman, it happened to Batman when Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton, and it's happened here.
Spider-Man 3 isn't a bad movie. It's overlong, too busy and doesn't really develop Spider-Man as a character beyond where he was at the end of the second film. But it's not boring most of the time, and things keep happening.
The execution is spectacular, and given the rumours of a budget somewhere north of $200 million, it bloody well should be. The digital effects that play Spider-Man are pretty effective, and Raimi's principal virtue as a director, his elegant hyper-driven lyrical approach to action, is on full display.
Let someone new take a crack at it. (Please, not Joel Schumacher.) And the next one should focus more on J. Jonah Jameson. Spider-Man 3 is never more alive than when J. K. Simmons is onscreen.