This time around, Spider-Man gets serious, battling several enemies—and an enemy within—in a psychological conflict that thankfully drops the first sequel’s cynical guard and gradually restores some heroism. Spider-Man 3, co-written and directed by Sam Raimi, is better than expected.
The journey is character-driven and everyone from Thomas Haden Church as an escaped convict turned super-strong sandman to Bryce Dallas Howard as a star-struck ingénue is fine—principally Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire returning as Mary Jane and Peter Parker/Spider-Man in their best performances yet. They power the third movie with romantic chemistry.
The plot isn’t hard to grasp but it does bounce along in comic book form, introducing three villains—and one major plot development—four if you count the black ooze that’s basically like The Blob, a meteoric substance that seeks to embody those with malevolent tendencies. Others include James Franco’s Harry Osborn, still grappling with the death of his father from the first picture, the somewhat sympathetic sandman and a particularly menacing beast that mirrors the soul of Peter Parker’s new photographer rival, a slimeball played by Topher Grace.
They wrestle in the air as usual, flinging balls with blades, spewing goo and pounding sand faster than Spider-Man can shoot and spin his webs, an act of heroism that is more welcomed in the Big Apple, despite the last movie, in which New Yorkers were brutish for kicks. Except for a computerized-looking subway clash, the action suffices and, with more at stake in dramatic terms, it is more involving, though Raimi could have cut ten minutes of plot—James Cromwell’s police captain character comes to mind—for more action.
But Raimi compensates with a better story about forgiveness as a virtue and man’s transformative power of choice, which is unleashed from bitter jokes. Even Spidey’s creator, Stan Lee, in his series trademark cameo, cuts in on the idea. Though clearly not the best communicator in New York—he doesn’t even know his girlfriend is canned from her role on Broadway—Peter Parker is in love with Mary Jane and ready to make his move at last.
That trio of bad guys are making their moves, too, and Spider-Man 3 strains credulity with Harry suddenly learning to cook and paint while plotting against his pal or with the sandman defying the laws of physics. Sandman, resembling the Hulk had he gone for a swim and rolled around on the beach, smashes his mighty fists into the city’s trucks and buildings. Dad’s Green Goblin getup is tempting to seething Harry, who still carries a torch for Mary Jane. And that ooze is making a mess, too, leeching onto narcissistic Spider-Man and giving form to his worst motives, which wise Aunt May (Rosemary Harris, again) inadvertently points out.
Spidey kinda likes playing the bad boy—or Goth boy with his hair matted down—and he takes his all-black new persona down the street, up the wall and into a jazz club, getting naughty and catching the ladies’ attention, including the bright, wide-open eyes of a college classmate (Dallas Howard). None of this endears Parker/Spidey to Mary Jane, who struggles to sort through her own issues and carry a tune; her insurance and therapy bills must be astronomical.
Neither as neat or thrilling as the original movie nor as spiteful as the second entry, Spider-Man 3 scores in once again letting us root for the good to prevail—a vast improvement over the last one and an intensified, if less action-packed, step up.
Posted on Box Office Mojo in 2007.