The movie was engaging, the marital question was compelling and kept the story together, and even the campy dinner scene with Bruce Campbell brought brevity that I appreciated. In some ways, the movie felt more like the comic book than the first two did. This is also the source of some its trouble.
There is a lesson to which
Another version of this is the weaving of too many stories together (see X-Men United). Some of the stories that are trying to be told here (and in the third X-Men movie) are ‘updates’ of classic story arcs, told over years and hundreds of pages. The more-is-better philosophy leads to cutting and pasting in a way that trivializes the origins of these stories: again, abandoning the very idea so important to the first installment.
To be more specific, Spider-man 3 suffers from underdevelopment: underdevelopment of the new bad guys, underdevelopment of plot, and worst, underdevelopment of motivations. We do a lot of the short-hand implicitly, and it works for much of the movie, but doesn’t leave the viewer satisfied or fully confirmed.
There is also an issue of two competing themes that I envision Sam Raimi saw as complementary, but they seem to get in each others’ way: 1) a person can’t do everything alone and 2) one must do what is right even when they feel inclined to the opposite. There is a third theme of the seductiveness of power and how it corrupts the way one sees the world. Am I missing anything else, because there were so many themes to keep track of?
Clearly, the black suit is the story that they wanted to tell. Save the ‘you-can’t-do-it-alone’ stuff for the fourth movie and deal with ‘the seduction of power’. Deal only with the black costume. Sandman served as a vehicle for the dark side, but they should have picked a more low-level thug: someone that isn’t really in Spider-man’s league. Someone that Peter could truly make a ‘mistake’ with. The Rhino would work; I think (and excite the die-hards geekdar).
Secondly, the ad campaign ruined what was supposed to be the surprise. If the viewer is to think that the black costume represents the darkness within, don’t reveal where it comes from in the opening moments of the movie and don’t reveal in the trailers that it becomes a villain! The Sandman and the costume were intended to be a bait-and-switch, but it ends up giving us way too much Sandman and not enough costume (or vice-versa). Another option could have been to save half of the costume story for the next one. I don’t care, but as it stands, it’s convoluted!
What the movie and its subplots remind me of is finger-painting as a kid. You are exploring what colors you can mix to make other colors. Blue and red make purple. Yellow and blue make green. Purple and green, then make brown. Crap-brown. Disgusting brown. I-should-never-have-been-forced-to-see-that-color brown.
Here’s the lesson: cut the extra villain you are tempted to include. Make the subplots link together and make them meaningful. You’ve introduced the Stacey family, so there’s a great plot right there. Make Spider-man 4 the movie 3 should have been.
I know I slipped into a negative review mode, so I apologize for that. The truth is that despite its warts, I liked Spider-man 3. I found it to be no campier than parts of the first two. It’s portrayal of Peter’s dark side as dork-influenced-Rat-Packer leads us deeper into the mind of Peter Parker than a less verbal, edgier, brooding sequence would have. It also shows us how tempting the dark side of your soul can be, because it expresses itself in confidence. Even in this, though, the complexity that Raimi is going for simply leads to confusion and disengagement with the movie, as it is never clear how others see Peter in this sequence—is he a joke or is he weird or both?
I would have overlooked all of the problems I had with the story and given the movie a B+ if the ending weren’t so contrived and wretched. That alone should drop it a whole letter grade, but I’m feeling generous today: B-.