Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat. Longtime readers may recall that I was not a fan of Spider-Man 2, a movie whose obsessive adherence to formula made it play more like a half-hearted remake of the original than a sequel. I'm happy to report that Spider-Man 3 has added some new ingredients to the recipe, though somewhat less pleased to note that it's added several too many: another crisis of identity for Peter Parker; a roller coaster of affection and enmity with his best friend Harry; new revelations about his Uncle Ben's death; multiple interlocking love triangles; another calamity involving heavy machinery; and not one, not two, but three new supervillains dedicated to squashing Spider-Man.
This, evidently, is what happens when your star, Tobey Maguire, has expressed doubts about making any further sequels. (As he put it a while ago, "It feels like a trilogy to me, and it feels like the end.") Early on, there was reportedly some discussion of dividing the developments in Spider-Man 3 into two films; instead, Director Sam Raimi has crammed everything into one $250-plus million, two-and-a-half-hour behemoth, the most exhausting mass entertainment since Peter Jackson's King Kong. Every plot thread is tied up, every character completes his assigned arc, and every special effects technician on the planet will be able to put food on the table for months to come. Even viewers who enjoy the movie--and for fans of the franchise there's plenty to enjoy--may be relieved that this could be the last we see of the webcrawler for a while.
When we first drop back in on Peter Parker (Maguire), he's facing a novel dilemma: happiness. He's won the love not only of sweetheart Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) but, more improbably, of New York City. Even the newspapers are explaining "Why NY ?s Spidey." Peter is so giddy at his good fortune that we're soon begging for a super-baddie to come along and knock the insipid grin off his face.
It doesn't take long. Peter and M.J. are lounging away a sultry evening in a decidedly uncomfortable-looking web hammock when a small meteor crashes mere feet away--what are the odds?--and releases what appears to be an inky, ambulatory booger. This bit of villainous snot follows Peter home and soon takes the form of a rubbery, black Spider-Man costume. A professor friend of Peter explains to him that it's a dangerous symbiotic life form that he should avoid at all costs, but he takes to wearing the suit anyway: It seems to enhance his superpowers and, besides, it goes with everything.
In the meantime (expect this phrase to come up often in any discussion of the film), a thief and murderer named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escapes from prison and, while fleeing pursuit, falls into a pit in which a nuclear experiment is taking place. His body is quickly disintegrated and then, rather more slowly, re-integrated from granules of sand. Dubbed "Sandman" by the ever-literal press, he finds he has the ability to take any shape he chooses, from towering golem to dust in the wind. In keeping with the immutable law that any Spidey villain must have a connection to Peter's personal life, Marko/Sandman is soon revealed to have been ... well, you can find out for yourself. It will come as no surprise, though, to report that Peter's old friend Harry (James Franco) has also decided at last to follow his supervillain dad, the first movie's "Green Goblin," into the family business.
The challenges facing Peter are not solely of the superpowered variety, however. His relationship with M.J. has become, well, a relationship, and as such requires tending. And while things are going fabulously for Peter, M.J. is struggling. Fired from a Broadway play for her weak singing voice (it's hard to differ), she is in need of a little attention. But Peter, in his cheery self-absorption, is oblivious to her unhappiness. He is wearing success rather poorly, in part because he's also wearing that extraterrestrial body suit, which has the side effect of making him not a terribly nice person. The slithery symbiote will eventually leave Peter for another host, who will as a result become the villain "Venom" (Spidey nemesis number three, for those counting at home). Before then, however, it will force Peter to exhibit all the behaviors familiar to those of us who've ever watched a good man go bad: flirting with another woman (Bryce Dallas Howard); crushing a professional rival at his day job (Topher Grace); jive walking down the streets of Manhattan to a funkadelic soundtrack; and restyling his hair in the angry, diagonal wash of bangs that has consistently denoted madness, from Hitler to Crispin Glover.