The last few movies based on Marvel Comics' characters have been bad ("Fantastic Four"), mediocre ("X-Men 3") and so bad it's good ("Ghost Rider"); so I'm happy to say that latest film based on a character from the House of Ideas, Spider-Man 3, is a good film and a highly entertaining one.
The latest cinematic installment in Peter Parker's life involves a lot of elements. Just when Spidey's life is starting to turn around and things are going well, a host of complications rock the Web-Slinger's world. Now that he knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Harry Osborne's vendetta against Spidey has gotten much more personal and he's modified his father's old gear and gone hunting for his enemy. The police have discovered Uncle Ben's true killer and just before they can collar him, he's transformed into the villainous and very powerful Sandman. Edward Brock Jr., a rival photographer is gunning for Peter's position as Spider-Man's official photographer. Peter Parker's lab partner, Gwen Stacy has begun to make Mary Jane a little jealous. And, lastly, a mysterious ebony hued alien life form has latched onto Spider-Man's costume, turning it black and upping his super powers, but also making Peter Parker susceptible to a host of dark and violent emotions.
If that sounds like a lot to handle in two hours and fifteen minutes it is, but writers Sam and Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent weave things together quite well. All the story elements are tied together by common themes of choice and forgiveness. So, various characters' stories move into and out of the forefront as the film progresses. The story also ties together a number of threads that have been building throughout the first two films.
The story is tied together and ties things up quite nicely, but it's not without its problems. Much of the events in the film are connected by coincidences: Character A happens to be in the same place at the exact same time as Character B and boom! Something happens. Also because of the sheer number of events happening, some characters' story and screen time end up getting neglected; most noticeably, the Sandman. A lot of his screen time is spent as a special effect; albeit a well done and exciting special effect.
In the moments where he does get to act, Thomas Hayden Church shines as the Sandman. He invests the character with a real humanity and even though he's a villain and sometimes does terrible things, you end up feeling sympathetic towards the guy.
Topher Grace gets quite a bit of screen time as Eddie Brock and he practically steals every scene he's in. Grace is incredibly charismatic and plays the character with a fun blend of weasely charm. His Eddie Brock and Venom are slightly different than the comic book incarnation of the character. Grace plays Brock/Venom as sort of the anti-Peter Parker and it works.
Completing the villainous triumvate of the film is James Franco, who's also excellent in the film. Some story twists and turns call for Franco to play Harry as both an angry, sadistic villain and a caring friend. He plays both ends of the spectrum very well.
Tobey Maguire isn't outshone by his villainous co-stars in Spider-Man 3. This installment of the franchise is probably Maguire's best to date. He especially shines when he's bringing to life Peter Parker's dark side. There's a particular montage of Peter being selfish and bad (under the influence of the alien symbiote) that's hilarious.
Speaking of hilarious, Bruce Campbell fans rejoice! The star of the "Evil Dead" films is once again in the Spider-Man films playing a different character. Campbell's character in this film is the funniest and wackiest of the three and he's gone from making a cameo to getting a nice few minutes of screen time.
"Spider-Man 3" is full of laughs, but it's also not short on action either. Spider-Man tussles with both the Sandman and Harry Osborne in a number of fast paced and exciting battles throughout New York and the final battle with Venom at a construction site is also very cool.
So, the ultimate question is how does Spider-Man 3 compare to the other two films? My feeling is quite well. It's not a perfect movie, but I think it's the most fun of the three films. It's also the most comic book like of the three films, so certain viewers may enjoy that more and others may not but it's nice to see Marvel Comics' flagship character continuing to get the cinematic love and respect he deserves.
Want more? Return to CBR this Friday for an in-depth critical analysis (with some spoilers) of Spider-Man 3 by CBR's own Andy Khouri.
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