Spidey visits the friendly neighborhood

By Jess Decina

There are some comic book films that are just a bit darker than others. Take Batman Begins and Superman Returns, for example. From day one, the Spider-Man series has never tried to be super-serious. Spider-Man 3 is no different. And that is perfectly OK with me.
In the latest Spider-Man film, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has it all: He’s got the perfect balance between his relationship with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and his responsibilities as Spider-Man. This all falls spectacularly to pieces as three new villains ­— the New Goblin, formerly Harry Osborn (James Franco), the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace) — arrive on the scene.

But perhaps the greatest enemy Peter faces is himself. Consumed with frustration, Peter begins to lose himself to his darker side, which arrives in the form of a black parasitic substance that attaches itself to Peter’s Spider-Man suit. It’s up to our hero to find compassion and forgiveness deep within himself before it’s too late.

Maguire handles Spider-Man’s inner conflicts with more humor than grace, which makes for an interesting effect. It’s hilarious to watch Maguire flounce down the street as his newer, darker self, dressed all in black and sporting a trendy new ’do. Maguire’s complete lack of shame in these scenes — as the “evil” Spider-Man, the worst he does is taunt Harry with, “Awww, little Goblin junior…gonna cry?” — makes up for his inability to pull off the more serious moments.

The supporting cast members get a chance to shine as well. Although Dunst’s character isn’t given much to do in this movie except get into fights with Peter, she prevails, especially in the more emotional scenes between Mary Jane and Peter.

Spider-Man 3 also has its share of newcomers in the cast. Grace pops into the film as rival photographer Eddie Brock, who eventually transforms into Venom. Grace’s Spider-Man debut is less than terrific, and I can’t figure out if it’s simply because he bears a slight resemblance to Maguire. He may be cute and plucky, but his performance is nothing terribly impressive.

A much more solid performance is provided by Church, a down-on-his-luck convict who is transformed into the massive Sandman. The audience is given just the right amount of the Sandman’s difficult past — he is unable to afford healthcare for his sick daughter — and Church follows through with seamless drama.

More importantly, all of the brilliant touches from the first two films are still intact. The film’s special effects are gorgeous but don’t become overkill — like the high-speed chase between Spidey and the New Goblin through the streets of Manhattan. Every confrontation in the film exceeds expectations in the suspenseful and action-packed departments.

And Spider-Man 3 refuses to take itself too seriously, which is something I adore about the series. Director Sam Raimi knows the material well and it shows. The stories are deeply personal, the characters are deliciously zany (I’ll never get tired of the blustering J. Jonah Jameson, Peter’s Daily Bugle boss) and the comic book authenticity never fades.

Here’s the bad news: the film’s plot is far too busy. If Spider-Man thought he had it rough in the first two movies, take a look at what he must face in the third installment: three different villains, problems with MJ, the dark side of Spider-Man and competition at his job, to name a few. Cut at least three plot points from this list and you would without a doubt have another excellent movie in the Spider-Man franchise.

All in all, Spider-Man 3 is a great film — it still plays to its strengths and was a dazzling start to the summer movie season. But the movie’s plot is out of focus, which sours the experience.

But I figure this: If Spidey has enough gusto to forgive his enemies, I suppose I can forgive this movie’s mistakes enough to see it again.

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