There’s rarely anything as upsetting to a movie-lover as a failed sequel, and in Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi diminishes much of the success of the second in this series, which stands as one of the truly great comic book adaptations. Dull, bloated, confused and featuring some of the most difficult to watch action sequences of recent years, Spider-Man 3 is profoundly disappointing.
Picking up shortly after its predecessor, we find Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) still deliriously in love with childhood sweetheart Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and continuing his one-spider crusade against the forces of evil in New York City. His (former) best friend Harry (James Franco) still thinks Spidey killed his dad, and there are new villains for him to contend with, in the lives of both Parker and alter-ego Spider-Man. By its end, Spider-Man 3 will have resolved several story arcs, but it is the journey to get there that is the main problem.
Spider-Man 3 is long; really long. Clocking off after 140 minutes, it is simply too long to sustain the energy. Multiple flat spots weaken some of the more interesting sequences, and perhaps too much was undertaken when the decision was made for Spider-Man to have two arch villains to contend with alongside regular nemeses Harry Osborne and J. Jonah Jameson. The cutting from one thread to another is clumsy and awkward, and the story never quite gels to present one cohesive narrative. Perhaps with less to balance, Raimi may have made a shorter, more compact film that could continue to build on the absorbing character work of Spider-Man 2.
The web-slinging heroics of Spider-Man have been the mainstay of the success of the franchise, with audiences thrilling to watch him swinging through the familiar landmarks of New York, and avoiding projectiles and traps with cunning and agility. It is here that Raimi also misfires, with the editing and CGI for some of these sequences distracting and nearly unwatchable. The first mid-air chase sequence featuring New Goblin and Spider-Man fighting in between the densely packed buildings of the city is a good example of how these techniques should never be used – when will Hollywood learn that if audiences are left vertiginous and nauseated, their enjoyment has to be lessened? Moments that are obviously computer animated mixed with rapid cutting and frankly bizarre camera angles mean the fans don’t get what they paid to see… in fact they see barely anything at all.
Maguire is adequate as the hero, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of Spider-Man 2, and although he seems to enjoy the chance to add a darker touch to this character, he slightly underperforms as the black-suited Spider-Man/Parker. Dunst is actually asked to act this time around, and is fair without being brilliant. Franco continues to be wooden, and one wonders whether the original decision to cast him will be viewed as a success in retrospect. All the minor characters of the first two films are reprised by their original actors, and although this would normally be considered a good thing, in this case their presence is often superfluous. The two major additions are Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace, and Grace threatens to steal the entire show in his limited scenes. He continues to impress in a varied career to this stage, with roles in films such as P.S. and In Good Company balancing his villainous turn here.
Disappointing for any fan of the series thus far, Spider-Man 3 contains some interesting moments, but never manages to get itself going. With a spectacular final fight scene only barely making up for some of the other battles being so difficult to watch, it is hard to see anyone enjoying this nearly as much as the second in the series. That it features one of the most blatant and appalling American flag shots in recollection is the final straw.Rating: