Say it ain’t so, Spidey
The “Spider-Man” film are nominally about high-flying heroics and adventure, but the emotional struggles of Peter Parker and friends really made the first two films soar. We learned to care about the characers and their problems, and even the villains, especially Doctor Octopus, had a sensitive side and pathos behind their motives. We came for the adrenaline but stayed for the clever character development.Sadly, a lot of that fell by the wayside in the overstuffed “Spider-Man 3,” which feels like filmmaker Sam Raimi threw every possible scenario into the film just to see what stuck. But as the movie clunkily shifts gears from soap-opera style melodrama to frenetic action sequence and back, the film feels like just that: a bunch of sequences pasted together. It lacks the grace and smoothness of the previous movies.We return to New York City and, as always, Peter (Tobey Maguire) can’t catch a break: He’s about to propose to longtime squeeze Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but she’s getting all angsty about her flailing acting career. Whenever it’s time for a major heart-to-heart, the police blotter announces some improbable crisis and Parker has to swing off, wedded to his job as it were. The whole Spider-Man thing is swelling his head, but it’s about to get worse: A meteor crashes in central park bearing an alien symbiote that eventually bonds to Parker and his suit, bringing out his black side physically and mentally.In short, Peter becomes a jerk, and this is where the film gets tripped up the most. The film wants to go darker, but it’s also much sillier than before, and the incongruous mashup makes for wildly uneven scenes. We’re supposed to believe that Parker and Spider-Man are indulging their dark sides just because Parker lets his bangs fall over his face and struts around town in a black suit, pointing finger guns at every girl on the street to the sound of leftovers from “Saturday Night Fever.” The film reaches its lowest point when the drama grinds to a halt so he can “get back” at Mary-Jane through an over-the-top “evil” dance number at a jazz club with his lab partner Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s a sad day when a Spider-Man flick has to advance the plot with a dance scene, but perhaps Raimi was as tired of the often weak, mushy dialogue (“you’re never there for me;” “I’m there for her”)as we were.This time, “Spider-Man 3” decided to follow the model of the “Batman” films and include multiple villains, which was largely a mistake. We’ve got three for this go-round: Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict trying to steal money to help his sick daughter, the New Goblin, Peter’s former best friend Harry Osbourne (James Franco) still out for revenge, and Venom, who emerges when a rival Daily Bugle photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) inherits the alien symbiote and morphs into a teeth-gnashing, evil spider-demon.Of the three, Haden Church’s Sandman is the most compelling; he invests the character with a sadness and conviction that casts a bright light on the other actors’ likely spider-fatigue. After he falls into a sand pit at a particle physics lab and gets zapped, he emerges like Frankenstein, and it’s a masterful marriage of effects and acting as Marko comes to grips with his new self and purpose. Franco finally gets in on the action, but his vengeance storyline gets pushed to the sidelines – it has to, because at any time there are too many plot threads to attend to. Venom gets the shortest shrift of all: In the comics, he’s a deeply disturbing doppleganger for Spider-Man to contend with, a demonic representation of Spider-Man’s Id. Here, Grace plays a sniveling, smarmy wiseass who suddenly emerges as Venom in the third act and forms a hasty alliance with Sandman. While the gnashing teeth and raptor-screams work overtime to make Venom scary, we know the unfrightening Grace is inside, and he keeps popping his face out to remind us. The one strength this movie does have over its predecessors is the action scenes. While the previous films seemed a little videogame-like, you can see every drop of the record-breaking budget in “Spider-Man 3″‘s acrobatic battles. Despite the ridiculous scenes that precede them, the hectic fights between Spider-Man, Sandman and Goblin pop off the screen.By the final battle, though, you can feel the film break down into a three-ring circus as Raimi and company throw everything they have at the audience. They even include local news coverage to make sure we’re all following the convoluted mess. It all reeks of trying too hard.The brilliance of the other “Spider-Man” movies was that they never felt as if the filmmakers we’re trying to impress us at all. They took a compelling hero, a straightforward story, real emotion and let the web weave itself. This time, everyone and everything involved got a little too tangled for their own good.Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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