I decided to begin this review with a quote from the 10-year-old (maybe 8 or 9) kid who walked behind me as we exited the theater. When his father asked him what he thought about the movie, the boy responded with, "I don't get what the big deal was." Although I kept walking, I wanted to turn around and tell him that if a film like Spider-Man 3 came out when I was ten, I would've talked about it for weeks. The special effects alone would've infiltrated my dreams; I'd demand that my parents run out and immediately buy me any action figure associated with the film so that, within the comfort of my own home, I could let my imagination run loose. When I was ten, my friends and I prayed for films like Spider-Man 3 -- not because of the hotly-debated conversations we could have about the film's potential box office figures, but because it was bursting with the kind of energetic spirit us kids craved. I'm not sure whether kids these days know the power of imagination; part of the problem is that they've grown up in a medicated world without any surprises. And I guess if you're a kid who watched both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 on your HD flat-screen TV in between games on your PS3, while trying to decipher the coded text messages your friends are sending, then you might not get what the big deal is here. Or maybe you did get it ... and you're just not impressed.
If anything, Spider-Man 3 could be looked at as a healthier form of Ritalin -- heck, there's so much going on in this film, kids don't have a lot of time to lose concentration. If you've seen any of the trailers, then I'm sure you already know the basic premise. In between Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has done a bit of growing up. Saving the day is no longer an overwhelming responsibility; instead, he's addicted to the attention. And though he's still madly in love with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), he's become consumed by his own greatness. The geeky, self-conscious kid from Queens has been replaced by a guy determined to be the best at every task he takes on, be it inside the suit or out. He's become the kind of guy who can't help but brag about his own adventures even when someone, like Mary Jane, is simply looking for a shoulder to cry on. Problem is, everyone is beginning to notice ... except for him. To Peter, life couldn't get any better. Sure he's still got some unsettled business with Harry Osborn (James Franco), but he has Mary Jane by his side. A woman he adores. A woman he wants to marry. Well, that's if she says yes.
The greatest thing about Spider-Man 3 is that it doesn't leap into your lap during those opening moments. Director Sam Raimi waits a good half-hour before serving his appetizer (which, in this case, is the first of many confrontations between Peter/Spider-Man and Harry Osborn/New Green Goblin). Some might criticize the film for not jumping right out of the gate, but there's this quiet build that's very enjoyable to watch. And when the rest of the film comes at you like a bloodthirsty pack of wolves, then it's the simple moments you end up cherishing the most. Though he's far from the awkward teenager he once was, Peter is having trouble making the transition from kid to adult. Thus, his relationship with Mary Jane is suffering. Whereas he used to find it tough to balance all these responsibilities at once, the immature side of him has become convinced that, because he's a superhero, he can do no wrong. Whatever doubts and insecurities he still has are now buried deep under several layers of Spidey coolness. Essentially, he's a little boy trapped in a grown-up body -- a boy who's immune to real-life struggles, like losing a job or maintaining a successful career.
Once it's established that Mary Jane isn't crazy about the new (and improved?) Peter, the A.D.D. portion of the film begins. This consists of introducing one new character after another, while at the same time trying to tie up any loose ends left over from the previous two films. There's Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), The Daily Bugle's new photographer and Peter's greatest on-the-job nemesis. Eddie is determined to land a staff job by providing the newspaper with a handful of controversial Spider-Man photos. Yeah, like Peter would ever let that happen. There's Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict whose only goal is to reunite with his sick daughter and provide her with enough money to get better. (And though we're never really told what's wrong with her, it's nice to know that money solves all our problems.) Of course, along the way Flint stumbles into some sort of particle machine that fuses his body with a whole lot of sand, turning him into Sandman. At the same time, Captain Stacy (James Cromwell) informs Peter that Marko is the guy who killed his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), and not Dennis Carradine (Michael Papajohn). While all this is going on, some sort of alien symbiote conveniently crash lands on Earth in the same spot that Peter and Mary Jane are hanging out. We're not sure what it is or where it came from, but it arrives complete with a fashionable black Spidey suit. Oh, and then there's Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). She's a waste of a character, but we'll get to her later.
All of these new villains begin to take time away from what I feel is the meat and potatoes of the Spider-Man story; that being the relationship between Peter, Harry and Mary Jane. I suppose it could be compared to hanging out with your three best friends in the same spot -- your special spot -- for years, until one day all of these strangers show up eager to join the party. Suddenly, that unique bond you once shared becomes infected by a slew of folks looking to share your memories. Are the special effects great? Yes. Are the action sequences fun to watch? Yes. But when Peter puts on that black suit, not only does he become a different person, but it also becomes a different movie. One that's too campy, too comedic. Whatever dark (but brief) moments Peter has while in the suit are overshadowed by a silly Saturday Night Fever sequence. Since Peter doesn't know how to be "cool," the alien symbiote helps him project his own ideas of being "cool." And folks, let's just say that none of it is very cool. That being said, it's all a bit too much to handle. And while I have to give credit to Sam Raimi for somehow packing it all in there (and still churning out a decent enough film), I would've been happier if some of this stuff was saved for a future installment.
Case in point: the Gwen Stacy character. Since Raimi and the gang missed the boat early on, failing to introduce Stacy in a spot that would've remained more faithful to the comics, including her here felt too forced. The angle they took (which involved Peter saving Stacy's life, then using her to make Mary Jane jealous) was an interesting one, but definitely rushed. Her character should've come into play in Spider-Man 2. But if you're the type of person who could care less about the silly romantic plot twists and are more interested in Spidey kicking some major ass, then this third installment will not let you down. Though, at times, the inclusion of two villains at the end of the film felt a little too much like Schumacher's Batman films, the battle scenes provide plenty of edge-of-your-seat excitement. If he failed to convince you before, Sam Raimi proves here that he owns this character. And if he refuses to helm another installment, then Sony should cash in their chips and call it a day. In the end, Spider-Man 3 succeeds at being a new form of summer blockbuster entertainment; one that's carefully constructed to appeal to a generation that's hard to impress. Like the character of Peter Parker, hopefully when these kids finally grow up they'll learn to appreciate the little things in life. In the grand scheme of things, Spider-Man 3 might not be a big deal. But getting to experience a major film like this in a packed auditorium with hoards of screaming fans is something to remember. And getting to do so in the company of your father is a memory no one can take away. That, my friends, is a big deal.