Spider-Man 3 might be best subtitled, “Peter Parker Grows a Pair.” That would seem like an endearing quality if this was a coming-of-age movie about the sand-in-the-face nerd finally overcoming bullies and low self-esteem to win the girl of his dreams, but it’s not so wonderful or interesting in a superhero movie.
Sure, Spidey DOES have low self-esteem, and sure, Peter Parker IS a nerdy little twit, but he’s no weakling – that ship has long since sailed. Now, Spider-Man is the hero of children across the city, so there’s less reason to empathize with him, to identify our own uncoolness within Parker.
The problems with this movie are manifold. To begin with, the webslinger has far too many bad guys to face. First, there’s the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict who fell into a particle accelerator and now has the properties of, well, sand. Then there’s an alien parasite, conveniently falling from the sky so it can latch onto Peter and bring out the worst in his repressed personality. Then there’s Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a supremely vicious rival photographer. Oh, and Harry Osborn (James Franco), the son of the Green Goblin; he thinks Spidey killed his pop (he didn’t), and he knows Peter is Spidey (oops). So you can imagine what’s on Harry’s mind.
With all of these villains, you’d think there’d be plenty of conflict. Clearly, however, the writers felt something else was needed, so they invented a highly contrived plot thread in which Peter (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane’s (Kirsten Dunst) relationship disintegrates. It should be no surprise to you whatsoever that somehow this relationship gets resuscitated by movie’s end. They’re together! They’re apart! They hate each other! They love each other! You’ll hate them both! And what bugs me more than the obviousness, the sheer craptastic predictability of the relationship angle, is that both MJ and Peter act like completely selfish, rotten jerks to each other – and we’re supposed to eat that up. Apparently, we’re supposed to think, “Hey, yeah, that’s exactly how it is!” Supporters of the movie might point to the fact that Peter’s under Venom’s control when he’s treating MJ like garbage, but that’s not true – he’s a creep to her well before Venom shows up. He’s smug, self-centered, clearly soaking up the adoration of the city like he was Donald Trump handing out low-income housing in Brooklyn. Okay, maybe not that smug, but still. Peter Parker, in this movie, behaves exactly opposite from what makes Peter Parker interesting to the rest of us in the first place – that he is an insecure dweeb who happens to have superpowers. A crass, smarmy punk is not appealing.
There’s one telling scene – it was in the trailer, too – that shows Peter strutting down the street, wearing the Venom costume under his normal clothes, and every girl stops to stare at this supposed virile paragon of masculinity. Yeah, Peter Parker. The problem is that Tobey Maguire isn’t much of an actor, and when he has to stray from the golly-gee innocent-lamb of Peter Parker, his inabilities are completely exposed. In short, he sucks ass. He can’t carry a scene without putting on a mask and looking like he’s swinging on some web-like substance. The casting of Maguire made sense originally, because he looks exactly like the kind of doofus nitwit you’d expect Peter Parker to be, but in this movie, when he has to be more than just that doofus, Maguire can’t hack it.
Speaking of looking like he’s swinging …. isn’t the whole purpose of CGI to make awesome things look real? Remember back in the day when actors would be in a car, appearing to drive through a city, when it was obvious they were on a set with the city scene playing in the background? I mean, on the cheaper films, it was pretty clear what was going on. The CGI in this movie is a lot like that. When Spider-Man is swinging between buildings, it looks like they took Maguire jumping around and plopped it onto a city background. It looks terrible, and it’s distracting.
So, let’s recap. Too many villains (they should have stuck with Sandman and Harry), a shallow, ridiculous relationship, poor special effects, and bad acting, at least on Maguire’s part. But hey, I can’t blame him entirely – Sam Raimi’s script turns Spider-Man into Emo Spidey – complete with stereotypical Goth haircut and dull monotone! And who knew that simply wearing the Venom costume could make one an accomplished jazz pianist and dancer? With all of these obvious inadequacies, you’d think that the door would finally be closed on this series, but since the movie did well, you can bet a S-M 4 will pollute the theaters sooner rather than later.