It’s slick, funny and spectacular and, for a change, here’s a super hero sequel that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is still the nerdiest of nerds but he has grown accustomed to his success as Spider-Man. Things start to go wrong for him when a mysterious sticky black substance attaches itself to him. Mr. Nice Guy becomes vengeful, arrogant and, yes, almost cool.
Perhaps the new villains, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace) will knock some sense into him because he sure won’t listen to wise old Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) even though we know by now that she is always right.
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There was a danger that, on his third outing as Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire would become a predictably routine super-hero but there is no sitting on his laurels for Mr. Maguire who resumes the role that he was born to play with renewed energy, wit and relish.
With the best script so far in this series, he is allowed to show his versatility as he goes through what looks like a treacle induced personality change that not only turns his colourful Spidey suit black but does much the same for his mood. So whilst Spider-Man becomes menacing, violent and vengeful, his alter ego, the mild mannered Peter Parker becomes assertive, cocky and, in a hilarious sequence, a chick magnet even strutting his stuff like the young John Travolta. It is the best thing he has done.
Director Sam Raimi has mastered his art third time round. Whereas the first two movies had their dull patches, Spider-Man 3 leaps from mood to mood with real panache. Revelling in physical comedy one minute and then crashing into a dramatic surprise before you’ve even stopped laughing.
The special effects in the set piece moments are slicker and more dramatic than before giving us all the exhilaration of swinging on a web through New York’s towering cityscape but also milking those vertigo moments when lesser mortals suffer the inevitable effects of gravity.
Nothing is more effective though than the creation of Sandman when, with seat rattling music, he is formed from a perfectly level sandpit. The scene manages to be scary and, at the same time, full of pathos as petty thief Flint Marko (the appropriately gravely voiced Thomas Haden Church) quite literally dissolves before our eyes.
The fight sequences with Goblin, Sandman and Venom are exhilaratingly dramatic and shot with Ramie’s characteristically energetic leaps from one camera angle to another. We feel just what it would really be like to be attacked by an airborne super villain.
The villains are more vividly imagined than their predecessors with excellent performances not just from Thomas Haden Church, who can look tragic and threatening at the same time but also from Topher Grace as Venom. The teenage star of That 70s Show has all grown up and, on the strength of this performance, shows that he is ready for his big break.
No one outshines James Franco though, repeating and developing his role as Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn and showing that he can really fill the big screen in a performance which doesn’t just rely on looking cool.
Ultimately the Spiderman movies are really comedies and the film takes a special delight in making us laugh. We really do laugh out loud too – whether it is Tobey Maguire “doing the walk” down a busy street of admiring women or the beastly editor of the Daily Bugle getting his comeuppance from an eight year-old or the wonderfully played scene when a preposterously improbable French waiter tries to help Peter create the perfect atmosphere for a romantic dinner with his true love, MJ.
She is played by “beautiful yet ordinary” Kirsten Dunst who can be the perfect stooge to Tobey Maguire’s gags and yet still give a “star” performance and she can even sing.
One running theme is Spiderman’s growing superstar status on the streets of New York where increasingly his battles become a spectator sport. Some of the best gags come from his school boy fans who shout “cool” or “wicked” when he is throwing a punch but recoil with a “yuck” when he kisses his girl.
The success of the previous Spider-Man movies could have gone to everyone’s head, both the regular actors and the director but, instead of merely repeating the formula, the screenplay takes celebrity and success as its theme and is not frightened of pointing up the many absurdities of stars and their audiences. I guess that means us too, folks.
Of course the comic book genre also has its traditional homespun philosophy, we are, after-all, dealing with the fight between good and evil. So we are told to forgive, that revenge will poison your mind and that we all have to choose between good and evil. Well, OK there’s nothing too challenging there but in a movie where we are shown that the villains have a vulnerable side and that even superheroes can turn nasty, not all of the morals are two-dimensional.
After the pretensions of Superman Returns, Spider-Man 3 is true to its comic book origins and never forgets that it is there to entertain.
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons