There’s been much speculation the last few months about which May release would come out on top at the box office. Would it be the third installment of the “Spider-man” franchise, the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Shrek the Third”? This is just a hunch, but I’ve got a strong feeling that it won’t be “Spider-man 3.”
Or at least I did until I saw the box office figures on the morning of May 7. “Spider-man 3” broke a lot of records, including the largest opening ever ($151.1 million) and the largest one-day grosses. I still think, though, that word-of-mouth will eventually keep this movie from reaching the heights of its 2002 predecessor. At least I hope I’m right, because if I’m not, that means that the Hollywood marketing machine will have hoodwinked the public once again.
For the record, I thought the first two movies were quite good and deserved their success. The first one was perhaps a bit overrated but still a lot of fun. The second was heads and shoulders above the original in a lot of ways. It had a more interesting villain (the great English actor Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus), more exciting action sequences and more compelling drama. Because of all these factors, “Spider-man 2” had more weight to it and a feeling of deeper meaning than the first. Because of this improvement, I had pretty high expectations for the third entry.
Instead, “Spider-man 3” just feels like the production team took the elements that made “Spider-man 2” a success, cranked them up several notches and blew a fuse. It has too many action sequences and they sometimes feel like they exist simply to justify the movie’s enormous budget (reportedly more than $250 million). It has too many super-villains, too many subplots and too little focus.
The opening credits treat us to Danny Elfman’s great score set to a cheesy “Superman 2”-style montage of important moments from the first two movies. After the events of those films, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is aware that her boyfriend, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), is actually Spider-man, so one might think that this would give the lead characters a chance to relax and grow closer to one another.
Instead, he has become extremely self-absorbed because of his blooming celebrity, staring at himself in his Spidey outfit on the covers of newspapers as if preening in front of a mirror. This focus on himself leads him to forget about M. J., whose ego has been badly bruised by scathing reviews of her Broadway musical debut. He doesn’t help matters by telling a good-looking blond named Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), whom he saved hanging from a skyscraper, to kiss him while he hangs upside down as part of a publicity appearance. M. J. is understandably upset since she and Spidey perfected that move together in a memorable scene from the first movie.
With no one else to turn to, M. J. seeks solace from Peter’s former friend, Harry Osborne. Harry has wanted revenge since the first movie because he blames Peter for the death of his father, the Green Goblin. He later uses M. J. as a weapon of sorts to get back at Peter/Spidey.
Let’s get to the main plot, which starts out simply enough but becomes incredibly convoluted. While in a park at the beginning of the movie, a meteorite lands in the park while Peter and M. J. are canoodling. Some black goo latches onto Peter’s moped and follows him home to his grungy apartment. Though we never find out why, this space goo makes people turn bad when it connects to them and uses them as a host.
Before Eddie becomes corrupted, although he’s already a class A jerk, the goo latches onto Peter, causing him to turn into a dark version of Spiderman, complete with a sharp-looking black suit. Even though this is the most publicized aspect of the movie, it’s pretty disappointing. Instead of a truly evil version of Spiderman, we just get more of a jerk, even though he was already acting like one. He takes Gwen Stacy out on a date just to make M. J. jealous and wears his bangs across his forehead like some guy in an emo band. He seems more pathetic than disturbed, especially when he dances stylishly at a jazz club with Gwen.
A photographer named Eddie Brock, who wants Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle, gets taken over by the goo and turns into a new villain known as Venom. Of course, he was already a Class A jerk, so you can imagine how he acts after turning bad. He also resents Peter/Spidey because he (Eddie) used to date Gwen. In one very weird scene, Eddie goes to a cathedral and fails the “W.W.J.D.” test when actually (no kidding) prays to Jesus to kill Peter!
And then there’s the main villain, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who, as it turns out, was the one who actually pulled the trigger and killed Peter’s Uncle Ben. Marko has escaped from prison and ends up getting zapped by some kind of ray that makes his body blend with sand. I have to be honest, I’ve never read the comic books, but the explanation (there really isn’t one) for how Marko becomes Sandman leaves a lot to be desired.
With that said, Church does a decent job at making Marko somewhat sympathetic, but he doesn’t have much of a script to work with. Before seeing the movie, I was wondering how it could have possibly set a new record for the most expensive movie ever made since it doesn’t create an amazing new world like the “The Lord of the Rings,” but now I think I know. When we see Sandman emerge from a pile of sand, it is a truly groundbreaking moment in visual effects. This is an effect we’ve never seen anything quite like before, and it looks incredibly realistic, not to mention expensive.
It’s really sad to see how far this franchise has fallen with one movie. Before, director Sam Raimi expertly blended comic moments with heartfelt scenes and characters we could actually relate to. With “Spider-man 3,” Raimi crosses the line from comedy to silliness, and we eventually fail to take anything in the movie seriously. There’s talk from the studio doing a fourth movie, although it’s still unclear if Raimi, Maguire or Dunst will sign on. Even if this third installment’s final box office fails to live up to expectations, it’s already made almost enough to justify its budget in the industry’s eyes. It would take a miracle to keep Sony from running this franchise into the ground.
As if it hasn’t already.
“Spider-man 3” is rated PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned.