Baity says grab the bug spray and kill the bad Spider

by Glen Baity

I’m sure, by the time you read this, `Spider-Man 3 will have already ensnared many thousands of moviegoers in its glitzy, digitally-enhanced web.

Early reviewers last week scrambled to be the first to inform the world that this third spin around the world of Peter Parker was less than a tenth as charming as the first two. I’ve heard the Batman and Robin comparisons from more than one source. Let’s put that one to rest early: Spider-Man 3 is nowhere near as bad as Batman and Robin.

That’s not praise, by the way.

There’s a wide gulf between the insufferable Batman and Robin and every other mediocre-but-watchable movie ever made, and the third Spidey is drowning somewhere in the middle of it.

It’s early yet, but that could be the surprise of the summer. Really, how does a franchise like Spider-Man, whose director (Sam Raimi) and stars are present from beginning to end, fumble so badly in what should’ve been a no-brainer finale? I’m not entirely sure, but you may have heard the same rumors I did: the production ran long, the budget swelled (it was rumored to have ended up in $500 million territory) and the stars became progressively unenthusiastic.

I can’t confirm the veracity of any but the first of those, but all three seem plainly evident in the final product. Spider-Man 3 might be the most bloated, joyless popcorn flick in a thousand summers.

The film catches up with Peter (Tobey Maguire), still broke but happier than ever, as he’s about to propose to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dusnt), whose dreams of Broadway stardom have finally been realized.

The complications start piling on early, when Harry Osbourne (James Franco), clad in a new Green Goblin suit, picks a fight with Peter to avenge his father’s death. Mary Jane is fired after a tsunami of criticism in the New York press, and a symbiotic alien goop turns her superhero boyfriend into a swaggering, aggressive jerk.

There’s a lot to cover, so here’s a short list of the film’s major problems: first and foremost, too many characters. Spider-Man 3’s new additions include the Sandman, AKA Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), revealed in a left-field plot twist as Uncle Ben’s real murderer; Venom, AKA Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a jealous photographer angling for Peter’s job at The Daily Bugle; Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), whom Pete romances when his relationship with Mary Jane hits a rough patch; and the only one with any real business being in the film, the New Goblin.

So, three villains, a new girlfriend and a personality-altering alien symbiote. Even in a movie that runs a shade under two and a half hours, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Inevitably, something is going to suffer, and that something, sadly, is everything.

Which leads to the film’s second major issue: The plot is just all over the place, scrambling not to ignore any of its characters and hustling them away once they’re onscreen. Consequently, nobody is very well-developed, and long-standing conflicts – most notably between Harry and Peter – are swept under the rug using the most idiotic contrivances, revealing the startling number of times that screenwriters Raimi and his brother Ivan painted themselves into a corner.

The cumulative effect is that Spider-Man 3 is arduous, thoroughly tragic and quite dull. Far too many scenes end with one or more characters weeping, and by the midway point, everyone just seems tired, not least the viewer. Even the action scenes, in the past a welcome respite from the franchise’s often dark story lines, are thick with mourning. There’s a patina of sadness overlaying everything, in fact, except the requisite Bruce Campbell cameo (the only part of the film that successfully bests the first two).

As a longtime fan of the character – when I started reading comics, I got hooked on The Amazing Spider-Man – and as a disciple of the first two films, I’m a little disappointed. I don’t really care that Gwen Stacy, Peter’s first girlfriend in continuity, is yanked from the grave to play the Other Woman role in this film. Raimi tinkered with the mythology enough in the first two, but he kept the spirit of the character intact, and that, to this geek, is the important thing. One could even argue that Spider-Man 3 is faithful to the spirit of the comic to the same extent as the other two films, since Spider-Man is a character with more than his fair share of personal tragedy, and many of the “black suit” stories are extremely depressing.

Even if that’s true, however, it’s the wrong way to end a movie trilogy. This should’ve been a fun summertime flick, starting with a proposal and ending with a wedding, with some crazy hijinks and a smattering of ennui around the middle. It should have been no more than an hour and 45 minutes, and involved a maximum of two villains, neither of which should’ve been Venom. This entry breaks every one of those guidelines, and all of them, I’d think, are self-evident.

The Spider-Man films have always represented a perfect tightrope act of comedy, action and drama. Only after watching the third film does one begin to appreciate how difficult that balance must have been to maintain over two films: too much of any one element throws everything off. Spider-Man 3, drunk off its own sadness, feels like a movie-length eulogy for a franchise that, unbeknownst to everyone except possibly Maguire, Dunst and Raimi, died between its second and third installments.

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