The first film succeeded in laying the foundations for the franchise without dulling it's own effect. It was an exciting, fresh film that for the first time took you web swinging through Manhattan and showed you a spiders eye view of New York. The second built on this by developing the regular characters themes and also retelling the sad tale of Otto Octavius; it achieved these aims with aplomb and resulted in an exciting, breathtaking film that quickly joined the limited ranks of sequels that surpass their predecessors.
Anticipation for Spider-Man 3 has been high indeed, particularly in my household. It is sad to report then that this latest venture was, while not a failure, certainly not a qualified success. The problem is that the film gives itself too much hard work to do; and in this perhaps Raimi and co's enthusiasm has back-fired. It takes as it's subject matter not just Peter's love triangle with MJ and Gwen Stacy, but also the rivalry with Eddie Brock, the creation of Venom and Flint Marko, and the culmination of the ongoing story of Harry Osborn's obsession with destroying Spider-man; who he believes to be responsible for his fathers death. If that reads like a long list it's because it is. Juggling so many strands it's surprising that it manages to *ahem* spin them together effectively largely without showing the authors hand. Indeed it is only in the climactic yet improbable team-up of villains that events seem contrived.
What is less surprising however is that none of the listed plots are explored in the depth they deserve. Gwen Stacy is superfluous and the inclusion of her father, a cruel tease for fanboys, is entirely pointless. Mary Jane, at the centre of events and pivotal to the plot, is given less to do than in preceding films and comes across as selfish and whiney. Whilst these can be traits of the character it does seem unfair on Kirsten Dunst after two strong turns.
The Sandman, here with an added sob story tacked on and then forgotten, is a great character who is used only for visual effect and in the already mentioned unlikely team-up with Venom. Eddie Brock is one dimensional, and his fusion with the symbiote suit will make sense only to those who fill in the blanks with their knowledge of the source text. As for the alien itself it appears to be named only in the end credits and apart from some, staggeringly accurate, guesses from Dr Connors (another continued fanboy tease) nothing more is learned about it. A further irritation is that it is destroyed at the end meaning either an awkward resurrection or no return appearances.
Harry Osborn on the other hand is given a chance to shine in this outing. Having discovered his fathers secret lair at the close of Spidey 2 he has familiarised himself with it's contents by the time we rejoin him. His subsequent memory loss after a Spider induced head injury allows James Franco to be freed from the dull brooding frown-fest of his last appearance. The scenes where he is painting and making omelette's with Mary Jane are touching even if you know it can never last. Sure enough the memory of his father has him back to his evil ways before long. His story and his ultimate redemption are well handled though and probably the most satisfying element of the film. Sadly they do reduce the impact of his final moments by playing them out too long.
Tobey Maguire is as sympathetic as ever as trouble laden Peter Parker. He really comes to life though in his bad-Peter stint. The jazz cafe dance sequence and his Travolta-ish strutting are hilarious as Emo-Parker shows his moves under the spell of the black suit. Maguire can convey more emotion with a look, a stance or a smile than many of his contemporaries could with a monologue.
J. Jonah Jameson, The Bugle Staff, Dr Connors, Mr Ditkovitch, Ursula and Bruce Campbell all get beefier appearances than previously while Aunt May seems a little poorly served. Stan Lee's obligatory appearance is perhaps a little more distracting than usual; 'Nuff said.
In summary the film is very enjoyable. Throughout it's mighty running time it holds the interest. They succeed in tying up most of the threads that have run through the preceding films yet the ending is underwhelming as Peter is once again left alone while MJ walks away. With the news that Sony intend at least another three films ringing in our ears there is still plenty of time for Peter and Mary Jane to get married, seperated, cloned and retconned but it would have been nice to see this trilogy end with these actors playing the parts and their characters united. Sony shouldn't assume that Raimi, Maguire, Dunst or their supporting cast and crew will stick around forever.