It’s been often said that the “third time is a charm.” Last spring, the third installment of the “X-Men” series performed below expectations – and it’s not alone. “Spider-Man 3” has good intentions, but it tries to stuff 10 pounds of action into a five-pound bag.
Since we last saw Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), his fortunes have improved considerably. Where he was once misunderstood, he is now openly embraced as a hero. Like Rick James, he’s in love with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and planning to propose. Peter’s also feeling something foreign – himself – as he arrogantly walks the streets of Manhattan. Even as he saves the police chief’s daughter, Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard), from a crumbling skyscraper, the cocky Spider-Man/Peter knows that he’s the man and is comfortable with that fact.
While Peter is living in his world, hate is slowly welling up around him. His former best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), has now become the New Goblin, with designs on avenging his father’s death. Peter also has begun to take Mary Jane for granted, and we all know that if “mama ain’t happy . . ..” After a romantic evening “hangin’ out,” Peter is pursued by a dark, clingy, sticky substance, hmmm.
Meanwhile, criminal Flint Marko has escaped from prison. Authorities think that he may have a connection to the death of Peter’s uncle. While attempting to elude the police, Marko has an accident that transforms him into The Sandman. With an ailing daughter, he vows to steal enough money for her treatment.
Back at The Daily Planet, a new photographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), arrives, posing an immediate threat to Peter. It doesn’t help that his girlfriend, Gwen, is the same woman Spider-Man saved earlier in the film. Their friendship will disappoint Mary Jane and set Eddie on a vengeful course.
One night when Spider-Man is at his most vulnerable moment, the dark substance takes hold of him, transforming him, the mild-mannered nerdy Peter, into an aggressively mean and abusive new “dark” hero/villain. Turning his red and blue suit black, his new look gives him the feeling of additional power and control. You know we can’t have that! Before he sheds his alternate suit, he will give ammunition to another adversary, Venom.
There lies the film’s biggest problem. With a runtime of 140 minutes, there is too much action going on and as a result, the story suffers. The first two films brilliantly gave audiences a perfect balance of story and action, showing how Peter juggled the responsibilities of being a superhero and the demands of being a college student. This film skips the story and throws the audience, dragging and kicking, into one action sequence after another. While the earlier films in the series appealed to fans of the comic book, they also worked for those who didn’t know the story. This installment leaves both groups hanging, by not explaining/rushing through story elements for casual viewers and not making it believable enough for true fans.
Perhaps by subtracting one villain, that could have created more space to delve deeper into more character development. Nevertheless, this latest chapter falls short of the first two films, and if this is the last film together for Maguire, Dunst and director Sam Raimi, that truly would be a shame. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, and both Peter and Spiderman will suffer headaches as a result of this lackluster, underachieving attempt. With great power, comes great responsibility and, for “Spider-Man 3,” also great disappointment.