director: Sam Raimi
starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace
running time: 140 mins
The most worrying thing about the disappointing final instalment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is the fact that no one seems entirely sure exactly how much was dropped on producing it. It was estimated to be around $100 million over budget bringing the total to nearly $300 million. To put that in perspective it’s the cost of 6,500 Porsche Boxters, 4 million trips to Disney World or 60 million tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
The story regurgitates much of the love triangle we have already seen in the previous film between Peter [Tobey Maguire], Mary Jane [Kirsten Dunst] and Harry [James Franco]. Peter has discovered his uncle’s real killer is escaped convict Flint Marko [Thomas Haden Church] who has become Sandman after fleeing into a research site. Meanwhile Peter must deal with rival photographer Eddie Brock who is after his job. Finally he is also infected by an extra-terrestrial symbiot resulting in a new black suit that strengthens his powers but alters his personality.
Suffice to say there is a lot going on. Batman Begins felt crowded with only two villains and while previous Spider-Man films have intelligently settled for just one, the latest boasts three in the form of Sandman, Venom and Harry kitted out in his father’s Goblin gear. The extraneous melodrama serves little purpose as we have already been through it before. Gwen Stacy’s presence adds the only new ingredient, presumably as a nod to fans of the comics, but her character serves little purpose beyond highlighting just how dull Mary Jane has become. Lacking any sort of flow we have two unnecessary songs from Dunst, Maguire performs a dance routine in a bar (a sequence that, despite its energy, would feel more at home in The Mask), Harry seems drugged and even the cameos feel strained — Stan Lee’s single line is out of place and so hideously cheesy that even those who know it is him will find themselves cringing, while Bruce Campbell seems to be channelling John Cleese in his extended appearance as a French maître d’. Where Spider-Man 2 arguably had too little plot for its running time, here we find enough for at least two films, with the end result being that nothing is sufficiently fleshed out and none of the villains are really given a chance to breathe or shine.
Sandman is an impressive villain brought to life with some of the film’s best CG effects, rising from whirling sandstorms and growing to incredible sizes. In the limited time he has, Church is able to humanise him to a degree. However Venom suffers far more, as it becomes clear Raimi had no interest in the character at all. Despite being a favourite of comicbook fans the Venom on screen is a weak translation that lacks the size, scariness and sheer presence required. The action sequences are largely uninspired with the most satisfying being the fight between unmasked Peter and Harry in the mansion. There is nothing to match the gripping raised train sequence of the last film. The by the numbers final showdown lacks any energy, despite some interesting flourishes like superheating sand into glass or creating a resonance cage. These few moments were hardly enough to save it, evident from the fact it requires a news reporter to tell the audience how to feel, coupled with a cheering crowd and an utterly generic soundtrack that treads roughshod over Elfman’s refrains from the earlier films.
It seems that the Spider-Man trilogy has mirrored the arc of X-Men with a decent introduction to set the stage, a strong second film that really raises expectations, followed by an utterly underwhelming third instalment that makes viewers wish the filmmakers had stopped at two. The biggest insult to fans is the poorly realised Venom who deserved his own film, and the general lack of focus and insipid melodrama leaves little to dull the pain. Perhaps a victim of his own success, in attempting to best his previous outings Raimi has simply taken on too much. The end result is pretty, vacuous and dull.