With Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons
Directed by Sam Raimi
Reviewed by Guest Reviewer Steve Bailey
Previously published at the time of the film's original released in 2007.  Used by permission. 

   After the glorious heights of SPIDER-MAN 2 -- probably the best comic-book movie ever -- the franchise succumbs to sequel-itis with the decidedly earthbound SPIDER-MAN 3.

    It’s rare that a movie's opening credits make you dread what is to come, but this might be No. 3's only triumph. Behind the credits is a montage of highlights from the first two, far superior movies. Sappy Star Trek 3 did the same thing. It's as if co-writer/director Sam Raimi was saying, "My other movies were great, so cut me some slack for this new one, would you?" Write it again, Sam.

    Then we get some aw-shucks narration from Spidey/Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), telling us how he's still in love with M.J. (Kirsten Dunst) and is still thriving in college. Then we're shown what a nerd Parker still is, as some idiotic classmates sit behind him in class using -- I can't believe I'm writing this -- pea-shooters on Peter. Do today's college students even have time for this kind of stuff?

    Most telling is what we might call the de-characterization of M.J. I suppose she was always just "the girlfriend in peril" (a la Superman's Lois Lane), but at least it wasn't so drearily obvious in the other movies. The same woman who ended S2 declaring eternal love for Peter is now a self-centered drip, whining about Peter "not considering her feelings" and other psycho-babble.

    The villains are flimsy, too. Peter's buddy-turned-foe Harry (James Franco) is so sketchily written, half the time he can't even remember whether he's Peter's enemy or not. The origins of the Sand Man (Thomas Haden Church) are sloughed off with a movie cliche: He became a crook only to raise money for his sickly daughter's operation (Awww!). And don't even get me started on Peter's job rival Eddie Brock (Topher Graceless, excuse me, Grace).

    After that, Raimi tosses other sequels in the air and picks their worst elements off the floor. The villains are so weak on their own, they have to bond to fight Spider-Man (same as in Batman Forever). Some alien goo lands on Spidey/Peter and makes him show his darker side (Superman 3, been there, done that).

    The special effects are snazzy, as always, even though Raimi has publicly claimed that he didn't have enough time to get them right. So that means he had time to hone the script and let that slide instead?

    And finally, a sop to fans of cult actor Bruce Campbell: As in the first two movies, his short but funny role here is probably the movie's comic highlight.

    The message that this movie labors to shove down our throats is that each person has a choice and should make it properly. Here's my recommended choice for S3: Wait for it on HBO.  - SB

Copyright © 2010 Steve Bailey.  All Rights Reserved.  Used by special permission.

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