I finally managed to catch Spider-Man 3 this past weekend; a cold and familial obligations prevented me from seeing it the first two weeks it was out. As the final credits rolled, my disappointment at not seeing it opening night evaporated. I found this entry to be the least impressive of the franchise, a film bogged down by trying to do too much. It had a decent theme running though it, but it was lost in the muddled mess caused by having four villains.
Let’s start with what I did enjoy about the film; I enjoyed the Harry/New Goblin plot thread. It was nearly the only device in the film that gave the character’s some warmth and depth. It also served to establish the film’s theme of forgiveness. MJ and Peter’s deteriorating relationship also added some depth to the characters; it was the first real test of their relationship, and both made mistakes that helped push the other away.
The film also featured some brilliant pieces of humor, notably Peter’s strut sequence. The symbiont amplified aggressive behavior in its host; this causes Peter to strut down the street acting like he is God’s gift to women. However, the symbiont cannot compensate for the fact that Peter is still a nerd at heart making the whole sequence comical.
What didn’t work
This boils down to the film trying to cram in too many villains – Harry/New Goblin, Sandman, the symbiont, and Peter’s rising fame. There simply was not enough time to flesh out all of these elements, leaving most of them paper thin. Sandman was completely underdeveloped; his screen time is limited and does nothing to make the audience sympathize with his plight. Venom left the stage as quickly as he appeared; one of Spidey’s more powerful villains was reduced to a convenient plot device to drag Harry into the climax. The acting from some of the secondary characters, notably Harry’s butler, was also poor and distracting.
What I would have enjoyed would have been a film that only focused on Harry, the Sandman, and the initial problems the symbiont caused. Sandman could have grown into the same sort of villain Doc Ock was in the previous film, a villain by circumstance rather than by pure evil or malice. The climactic battle still could have drawn both Spidey and Harry together and have the same emotional results; Peter could have then discarded the symbiont, have it bond with Eddie, and have your bridge for the fourth film.
Where I eagerly awaited the DVD releases of the first two films, I will be passing on picking up the third film; it lost a lot of the magic and warmth the first two films captured. They feel like films written and produced to reproduce what made Spider-Man a great comic character. This film feels like the studio mandated that the film follow their own formula for success, a formula far removed from the spirit of the original work.