Spider-Man 3 is a very messy film, perhaps a bit too ambitious for its own good. Worse, Sam Raimi undercuts his own grand themes by playing up the camp aspect more than in the previous films. The story is unfocused and the characters are often so cartoonishly presented that it reduces their portrayal - already established as being very broad in the first two films - to the level of cariciture.
Part of the problem with the film is the central Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) dilemma. Spider-Man has attained the level of folk hero, which has swollen his head, and making him unable to see the cracks forming in his relationship with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). THIS SHOULD HAVE WORKED. The first two films were successful enough to have established himself as the sweet and earnest do-gooder. However, the level of asshole that we see the character descend to under the influence of the symbiote really required those elements of the character to be reintroduced. Unfortunately, the movie is too cluttered really give the viewer the chance to bond once again with Parker before he is already on his downward spiral... and Dunst, just as bland as usual, becomes a helpless victim both to Spider-Man's enemies and Parker's idiosyncracies yet again. This is the central conflict in the film, and unfortunately with both parties being so insufferable there is little investment in it (perhaps Mary Jane only works as a goal that Parker can't attain?).
Having multiple villains... it almost works in the film, which is why it is so infuriating that it doesn't. However, by having too many plot strands going at once, the same problems happen with each of them that happens with Parker; none of them are really able to establish much of a presence. The result is that parts of the film seem very mechanical... including, unfortunately, the Flint Marko/Sandman storyline which completely wastes what seems like an otherwise fine Thomas Hayden Church performance on a both a stock backstory and a horribly forced retrofitting of the origin story. The Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) plot is perfunctory at best. The Harry Osbourne (James Franco) storyline which the film series has been building to this point takes a few unexpected turns, but advances in such illogical - and overly convenient - leaps and bounds that it causes the finale of the film not only to ring hollow, but wonder how a Duex ex machina could have been overlooked for so long.
The biggest problem with the film, however, is Raimi. He lost control of the balance between serious and tongue in cheek that kept the previous two films somewhat in check. Ultimately, the film is about dealing with the darkness within oneself, and perhaps the theme would have been better conveyed had the movie gone a more lower-key route than being so campy. Perhaps it is meant to communicate Parker's symbiote-inspired devil-may-care attitude, but all it does is make his sneering that much more abrassive... and when Spider-Man appears, his heroism is unfortunately counteracted by the annoying hyperbolic - one might even say sycophantic - manner in which his entrances are presented. The hammy performances combined with the outlandish make-up styles Maguire goes through don't allow this central concept to carry any dramatic weight. The forgiveness theme doesn't really coalesce into any sort of decent moral here, either.
As usual, the effects are quite good. There are a few moments where the swinging Spidey figure gets a little bit more CGIish than it really should in this day and age, but they were few and far between, and the Sandman was interestingly rendered. I wasn't too hot on the way that the symbiote looked, but it was reasonably accomplished for the concept. The digital image looked outstandingly crisp and detailed, and looked just fine in low-light conditions (traditionally the bane of the DPI system). Like the first two films the sound mix was a bit sloppy but had its moments. I found Christopher Young's score to be a distinct improvement over Danny Elfman's work on the first two films. Elfman's themes are present, but Young's music is more expressive and texturally interesting. While I don't feel that Elfman's scores harmed the films, I never really warmed up to them; the first was pretty much exactly what I was expecting it to sound like and the second was just more of the same. Young's treatment of Elfman's music is more effective in the film than Elfman's was (though one does hear the unfortunately inevitable retracking and temp-track love here and there), and seems to develop the themes more than Elfman ever did.
While the film never gels, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a disaster. If the franchise continues and produces another movie as involving as either of the first two, then this one might be viewed as a lower-grade entry, but at the very least it does not ruin the first two films, which a bad sequel is wont to do.
Conversely, the supercharged stylisms found in Hot Fuzz works well because the contradiction between Edgar Wright's over-the-top direction and the pastoral setting intensifies the humor. Of course, the film is lampooning the Retard-O-Tastic™ action movie, and all the swish-pans and quick zooms do a good job of pointing out to the audience how silly such things are... and yet, it delivers the goods as that very same Retard-O-Tastic™ action movie at the same time.
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is an earnest but up-tight über-cop that is banished to Bumblefuck Nowhere in Gloucestershire because he made the rest of the police department look bad. Once there, he is saddled with a naïve partner Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), who seems to think that Angel is an action hero as well as the standard albeit well-done fish out of water trappings as Angel adjusts to country life. The work presented in his new position includes such tasks as chasing down mascot swan and busting underage drinking. Over time, however, Angel starts noticing that there are a lot of very convenient accidents in what would seem like the fairly tranquil Sandford, and the film has a few gnarly twists from time to time.
Interestingly, the movie doesn't bother sidestepping the whole issue of how homoerotic buddy cop films are - in fact, it becomes a source of some of the meta-humor in the film when Butterman actually produces copies of Point Break and Bad Boys II to Angel (his fairly reasonable assessment: "There is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork"). In fact, it becomes central to how the story plays out as Angel has to become Butterman's idealized version of himself.
The film sports a really accomplished supporting cast, including Jim Broadbent, Stuart Wilson, Timothy Dalton (clearly having a great time in his role), Edward Woodward, Billie Whitelaw and even Paul Freeman, Rene Belloq himself, gets a few choice lines as the town priest, and cameos by Cate Blanchett, Peter Jackson, Steve Coogan, Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy. The murders are shockingly graphic, but are perfectly in keeping with the high-octane tone of the film, and the climactic action sequences are both exhilirating - just like a good Retard-O-Tastic™ action movie - as well as being hysterical. David Arnold's score does the right thing and takes itself seriously, which just ends up emphasizing the satirical elements of the film.
Having seen this film, I determined to catch up with Wright, Pegg and Frost's earlier collaboration Shaun of the Dead, only to have a zombie dream that made me decide maybe I ought to just wait for now.
A not safe for work image of an very different Spider-Man 3 that I found by accident whilst looking for an image in the above review.