2007-05-09 / Movie Review

'Spider-Man 3' Spins A Fun Tale

BY EDWARD J. URBANOWSKI

Peter Parker is very much a Queens character. The first two installments of the ever-popular Spider Man franchise had a decided Queens feel. Director Sam Raimi wisely shoots these epics on location and as a result, the character of the locales is preserved (and at times, digitally enhanced).

Fans of this series will not be disappointed in the third outing, although the quality has slipped somewhat. All the villains are impressive; Thomas Hayden Church is the first to show up. Escaped convict Flint Marko is a desperate man. His daughter has an illness. (What it is, we have no idea. Is it terminal? No clue.) His wife wants no part of him. The police are after him. He eludes them, hiding in a machine called a "particle atomizer". No sooner does he breathe a sigh of relief than the machine pops on. He is changed into a shape-shifting mass of sand ("Sandman"), a creation reminiscent of the remade "Mummy" films. Ironically, Church brings a tragic sadness to Marko that harkens back to Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman alter ego, Larry Talbott. This character alone could have carried the film.

Sequels mean multiple villains and that means the Green Goblin is back. James Franco, carrying on for Willem Dafoe, deftly steals some scenes. Of the many bad guys, Franco as Harry Osborne/Green Goblin has the most depth. Franco is superb.

The third baddie, a black goo from space, drops by early on. It looks like a puddle of oil that's alive. The goo (fans refer to it as Venom) a "symbiote", lives off a host and basically makes him or her bad. Peter Parker/Spider- Man (Tobey Maguire) makes contact and becomes one, well, make that two, bad dudes. Maguire is a hoot in the scenes where he gets to cut loose as the usually reserved Parker. In the process, he hurts his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and helps turn the public away from Spider-Man. The Spider-Man suit does have a sleeker look in black. Maybe Batman is on to something, after all.

The black goo eventually finds Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a rival photographer of Parker at the Daily Bugle newspaper. Brock goes way bad and goes out for Spider-Man.

A lot is squeezed into the two plus hours running time and there are shortcomings. Unlike the antagonists of the first two films, Raimi's new creations are underwritten and lack dimension. The performers do such a good job that one wants to know more. Sandman is an intriguing character and Church is engaging, but since we don't see enough back story the emotional payoff is lessened (with the exception of Franco's characters). Questions abound: Was Sandman always a criminal? Did he fall on bad times and panic? What drove him to murder? Likewise, Brock/Venom are two characters who are onenote in nature. Grace, however, does a magnificent job.

Raimi's strength is in the quiet moments. Maguire and Dunst work so well together and the bonds they formed in the prior films are an asset. Dunst has some of the film's best moments. Secondary characters get wonderful bits. The stalwart Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) still acts as Peter's conscience. J.K. Simmons is hilarious as J. Jonah Jameson, blowhard editor of the Bugle. Even the smallest roles resonate nicely.

Raimi excels at pacing, so the scenes of dramatic interplay are never too long and the same is true of the action scenes, which are superlative. The visual effects are top notch, as are the sets and locations. The dialogue is crisp and there are no lines that induce cringing.

While this film suffers in comparison with its predecessors, it's still a top-flight entertainment. "Spider-Man 3" adds up to two hours of Hollywood doing what it does best, and it's not to be missed.

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