Swing high, swing low

Spi­der-Man 3 is good, clean fun, even if the plot is a tan­gled web, writes Don­ald Clarke SPI­DER-MAN 3 Di­rected by Sam Raimi. Star­ring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, To­pher Grace, Bryce Dal­las Howard, Rose­mary Har­ris, Jame

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews Film -

DRUNK on piz­zazz and pri­mary colours, Sam Raimi’s first two Spi­der-Man pic­tures went some way to­wards per­suad­ing film­go­ers that the suc­cess­ful comic-book adap­ta­tion did not have to be an ex­er­cise in low-cal ex­is­ten­tial­ism. Peter Parker, the teenage nerd who gained the pow­ers of a god af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a ra­dioac­tive spi­der, may never have got over his in­di­rect role in the death of his un­cle, but that didn’t mean he had to spend his days skulk­ing in damp caves like that pe­cu­liar mil­lion­aire from Gotham City.

Whereas Tim Bur­ton brought the solem­nity of Ing­mar Bergman to Bat­man, Raimi’s glo­ri­ously en­ter­tain­ing Spidey movies – with Guillermo del Toro’s Hell­boy, the best ever su­per­hero flicks – crack­led and buzzed with the same class of en­ergy that il­lu­mi­nated Sin­gin’ in the Rain and Dumbo.

That op­ti­mistic vi­tal­ity is on tri­umphant dis­play in the first 20 min­utes of Spi­der-Man 3. Mov­ing, once again, through a New York that, though nom­i­nally con­tem­po­rary, doesn’t seem to have es­caped the Kennedy pres­i­dency, the pic­ture finds Tobey Maguire’s Parker bliss­fully con­tent with work, love, and the re­ward­ing tri­als of su­per­heroics. Mary Jane (Kirstin Dunst), his squeaky girl­friend, has landed a role in the sort of stair­case-heavy Broad­way show not seen since Ethel Mer­man was a star. And Spi­der-Man, once vil­i­fied, has been adopted as a mas­cot by the city’s tourism author­ity. Ly­ing to­gether on a great web, gaz­ing at twin­kling con­stel­la­tions, Mary Jane and Peter ap­pear des­tined to live their lives in a shared sto­ry­book idyll.

Their bliss is, how­ever, short­lived. The som­bre posters have, some­what wor­ry­ingly, al­ready alerted us that this is to be (oh, not again) a darker su­per­hero romp.

While the two lovers are dis­tracted, a me­te­orite lands be­hind them and emits a sin­is­ter inky en­tity. Later, the be­ing will blacken Spi­der-Man’s suit and am­plify its wearer’s ten­den­cies to­wards ar­ro­gance and in­sen­si­tiv­ity. Will we be stuck with a Bergman Spidey af­ter all?

Hap­pily, no. The scenes fol­low­ing Peter’s pas­sage into hubris­tic ego­tism – more Satur­day Night Fever than Sev­enth Seal – are among the fun­ni­est in the en­tire se­ries. Adopt­ing the swag­ger­ing gait of a juiced-up cock­erel, he flings him­self into dance moves and flashes his teeth with an in­sane con­fi­dence that sits com­i­cally against Maguire’s re­li­ably sat-upon de­meanour.

If we were al­lowed the room to en­joy Parker’s trans­for­ma­tion, then Spi­der-Man 3 might, in­deed, prove a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to the first two episodes. But Raimi, per­haps aware that this will likely be his last out­ing at the helm, has made it his busi­ness to pack in suf­fi­cient beloved el­e­ments of the orig­i­nal comic book to fuel a dozen fea­tures.

Not only do we en­counter the darker Spi­der-Man, but we also get to see Ed­die Brock, a pro­fes­sional ri­val of Peter’s, played well by To­pher Grace, don the black suit and be­come the sav­agely ma­li­cious Venom. Thomas Haden Church es­says the role of Sand­man, a shapeshift­ing vil­lain with the ca­pac­ity to drift about the city in gran­ules. James Franco is on hand to con­tinue the evil work his fa­ther, the late Green Goblin, be­gan with those colour­ful grenades and that suave fly­ing tea tray.

Mean­while, Gwen Stacy – once the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of early 1970s groovi­ness, now the icily blonde Bryce Dal­las Howard – floats about the place, ready to cause fric­tion be­tween Mary Jane and Peter.

There is, even for a film that stretches to 140 min­utes, far too much go­ing on here. Sand­man’s trans­for­ma­tions are spooky, and the slaver­ing, toothy Venom is al­most as un­nerv­ing as he is in the comics. And, yes, the rapidly ac­cu­mu­lat­ing char­ac­ters are bril­liantly cast. But with all th­ese plots jostling nois­ily against one an­other, the pic­ture never finds suf­fi­cient space to sat­is­fac­to­rily de­velop any of the sto­ries.

That said, Spi­der-Man 3 still ex­udes just enough magic to jus­tify its ex­is­tence (if not its run­ning time). Bar­ring mir­a­cles, a fourth episode would, how­ever, al­most cer­tainly con­sti­tute a step too far.

Marvel cre­ator Stan Lee, who ap­pears here in a cameo, might well sum it up in his favourite two syl­la­bles: ’Nuff said.

Come to the dark side: Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is all hung up in Spi­der-Man 3

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