This is a good film, but it is not on the same level as the first two. There are many good ideas to be found in the script by Sam Raimi, his elder brother Ivan and Alvin Sargent and it is quite well written but it is overstuffed. The film is surprisingly well paced considering its somewhat sprawling storyline and the fact that it is the longest of the trilogy. It is well directed by Sam Raimi but the action scenes are generally not the equal of the second film’s.
Tobey Maguire is again very strong as Peter Parker, who seems to have finally achieved the balance in his life that eluded him for most of the second film. In spite of J. Jonah Jameson’s best efforts over the years, the people of New York City have embraced Spider-Man as their hero. When it comes to his personal life, Peter is living the dream as he has been dating Mary Jane Watson for some time and he is planning to propose to her as soon as possible. Kirsten Dunst is good in the role but the material lets her down a bit. Mary Jane is having less success given that her career as a Broadway star died a quick death when she was fired. She thinks that Peter does not understand how she feels and that he tries to make everything about him as he often turns the conversation to his career as Spider-Man. The situation is not helped by the fact that Mary Jane is jealous of him re-enacting their upside down kiss with Gwen Stacy, a young woman whom he recently rescued as Spidey who just so happens to his lab partner as Peter. After a meteorite crashes to Earth, an alien symbiote bonds itself to Peter, amplifying his negative attributes. As the newly black suited Spider-Man, he goes from being a public hero to a public menace. He becomes callous and manipulative and is prone to outbursts of anger and violence. He also changes his image and begins to strut around the streets of New York trying to impress the ladies. These scenes were not really necessary but it was for the best that they were played for laughs. I am far less certain that this was the case when it came to his dancing in the jazz bar, one of the silliest scenes that I have seen in a film of this kind. Whether or not I was supposed to laugh, I did.
In the case of the three villains, the one in which I had the most vested interest was Harry Osborn, who discovered his late father Norman’s cache of Green Goblin weapons and gadgets and has taken on the mantle of the New Goblin. Much like Dunst, James Franco is good but would have benefited from stronger material. Armed with the knowledge that Peter is Spider-Man, Harry vows to destroy his erstwhile best friend in revenge for the supposed murder of his father. To that end, he attacks Peter in the skies above New York using his glider but falls from a great height and suffers a convenient loss of memory. In the process, he forgets all about Peter’s secret life and they resume their friendship, after a fashion. Things go a bit pear-shaped, however, when his memories reassert themselves and he forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter in order to save her boyfriend’s life.
Thomas Haden Church is a perfect fit for the Marko / Sandman role but the character is fairly uninteresting, particularly the clichéd sob story concerning his critically ill daughter. I thought that it was a serious mistake and ultimately rather pointless to retcon Uncle Ben’s death so that Marko and not his carjacker accomplice was the culprit. To a certain extent, it detracted from the first film’s storyline in a way that a sequel never should. Topher Grace is likewise fine but he does not have much to do as the obnoxious, sleazy and dishonest freelance photographer Eddie Brock who bonds with the symbiote after Peter frees himself from it, becoming Venom. I was pretty disappointed that Venom only had a few major scenes as he was always my favourite villain from the 1990s animated series. I would have been perfectly happy if they had saved Venom for a later installment and jettisoned Sandman altogether so that that the film would have involved a one- on-one confrontation between Peter and Harry, which the end of the second film seemed to be hinting at. I liked the redemption story arc towards the end but more of it would have been nice.
As in the previous films, I was very impressed by J.K. Simmons as Jameson and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. Although his appearance as Uncle Ben is disappointingly brief, the film is notable as being Cliff Robertson’s final acting role before his death in 2011. Willem Dafoe’s cameo as Norman Osborn was even more evocative of “Hamlet” than in the second film, considering that he uses the phrase “Remember me” as did the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father. Had “Spider-Man 4” been produced, I assume that Bryce Dallas Howard would have reprised her role as Gwen Stacy and the character would have been killed off, in line with the comics. James Cromwell was wasted in his brief appearances as her father Captain George Stacy but they probably had plans for him too. As the maître d’, Bruce Campbell actually got to be a nice guy to Peter Parker for the only film in the series.
Overall, this is an enjoyable film in spite of its flaws but it could have been so much better
7 out of 10 stars