Review by Scott Weinberg
One of the tag lines for Sony's "Spider-Man 3" reads: "How long can any man fight the darkness ... before he finds it in himself?" Well, it sure sounds nifty and all that, but that question doesn't come remotely close to describing what goes on in this movie. The simple truth is that, after two movies and tons of profit, the "Spider-Man" series seems to be running on fumes. And to imply that there's any true "darkness" to be found in this second sequel, well, that's kind of a joke. (You don't mess up a profit-maker like "Spider-Man 3" by incorporating actual "darkness" into the proceedings, that's for sure.) The long-discussed subplot of how Spidey turns "dark" is treated here like a casual subplot, a minor story point that exists only to waste some time in between the too-few action sequences.
As much as I adore the first two "Spider-Man" movies, warts and all, there's little denying that the third entry is on "auto-pilot" on the way, stuck as it is with too many villains and, strangely, not nearly enough for each one to do. There's also the romance stuff that director Sam Raimi is addicted to, the omnipresent "life lessons" for Aunt May to dole out (as reliable as a white-haired alarm clock), and a lot more "you killed my father!" whining from Spidey's former best friend. The first two films in this series were fast-paced, streamlined, breezy. "Spider-Man 3," on the other hand, is lumbering, clunky, and outrageously episodic. It feels more like four mini-movies wedged (uncomfortably) together instead of a cohesive whole that flows smoothly from one scene to the next. And while the flick's got tons of things in its corner, the simple truth is that, this time around, the story kinda stinks. (Or it would if there actually WERE a story.)
All you need to know is this: Peter Parker is still loopy for Mary Jane Watson, and these days his arachnid alter-ego is enjoying some well-earned popularity. Petulant Harry is still bent out of shape regarding Spidey's fatal altercation with his father ... or at least he is until the poor sap is afflicted with a plot device older than "Gilligan's Island" itself: Harry has amnesia, and therefore (conveniently) forgets how much he hates Spider-Man. And then as soon as the screenplay needs him to remember, voila, he does. (This is a perfect encapsulation of the screenplay's aimlessness: A rote and tired plot device dissolved with no sense of logic or story rhythm. Harry's story, like all the other sub-stories, just sort of crops up at random, with no concern for stuff like narrative flow or pacing.) Sloppily-written is what "Spider-Man 3" is, and it sure isn't edited like a dream either: Seemingly important characters simply vanish for 40-minute stretches,
goofy coincidences loom around every corner, certain sequences end just as they seem to be warming up, and central characters change their minds, allegiances, and motivations with no warning and for only the most ham-fisted of reasons. "Spider-Man 3" is the first film in the series I'd choose to describe as "sloppy," and given the money and talent behind this series, that's one serious disappointment.
Although it's certainly not a BAD movie (I doubt that Sam Raimi could make a truly bad movie with these resources at his disposal), the simple truth is that it's a pretty darn boring one. You'd think that a movie stuffed with genetically mutated "sand men," evil "symbiotes" from another galaxy, bomb-throwing techno-goblins on hoverboards, and a man-sized spider-hero would be anything but boring, but Raimi and his team of screenwriters focus WAY too much on random dollops of generally inert melodrama. Meanwhile, normally patient movie geeks like me suffer through scene after scene of unconvincing soap operettas wondering "Dude, where's the action already?"
That's not to say I can't get behind some solid melodrama. The first two Spidey-flicks were stuffed to the gills with soul-searching, unrequited love, and some emotional subtext that elevated the films well beyond that of mindless escapism. This time around, however, Raimi puts way too many eggs in his emo basket and the result is a 140-minute movie that somehow feels twice that long. The action sequences are great, Tobey Maguire is still a lot of fun in the title role, and the villains are certainly colorful enough (when they're allowed onscreen, that is), but it's very disappointing to note that "SM3" is just another case of big-budget wheel-spinning at its most expensive and profitable.
Oh, and the whole "Spidey fights himself" schpiel? Ends up being a few goofy dance scenes and a handful of amusing struts through New York City. Hell, not even the villains are allowed to be "evil" in these movies, so there's no freaking way that Sony would ever allow Spider-Man to go well and truly "dark" -- which makes me wonder why they even bothered with this line of plotting in the first place. Flashy, diverting, and very entertaining in fits and starts, "Spider-Man 3" is also far and away the clumsiest, driest, and most confused flick in the series. It's certainly not terrible, but it sure isn't great, either. And given what came before, it sure as heck should have been.