No Web of Intrigue

'Spidey 3' is full of bugs.

By Steve Burgess 4 May 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess reviews films for The Tyee every second Friday.

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Spidey, the swinger.

As the witching hour approaches, Katie and Anika are in a very long line at the Paramount theatre in Vancouver. "The energy's usually good at these midnight showings," Katie says. "But where are all the costumes?"

It's true -- the Spider-Man crowd doesn't seem to have quite the geek quotient of some other film franchises. "At Lord of the Rings people brought bows and arrows, dressed like elves...."

Finally, as the line starts to move, one guy shows up in full red-and-blue Spidey gear. Now we're ready to web-swing. As it turns out, we will get a lot more swinging than we bargained for.

Piling on the web

The third installment of what has become the top superhero film series going reunites all the old gang -- director Sam Raimi, stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and even a touch of good old Willem Dafoe. Spider-Man 3 then piles on more, and more, and God knows what else in a wildly uneven 140 minute farrago of action, bathos and kitsch. I'd love to tell you what kind of movie Spider-Man 3 is. As soon as Raimi figures it out, I'll ask him.

It's certainly not short of villains. In Spidey the Third, Peter Parker battles the son of his defeated foe the Green Goblin (James Franco, who unlike Daddy does not sound like Gilbert Gottfried). Then an escaped con named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) falls into some sort of particle whozits -- because it's always something -- and becomes The Sandman. Although it's important to note that his ears looked like that even before the accident.

Then there's the Black Suit. In the comic books, the black suit was like an NHL third uniform -- a way to freshen up the franchise, introduce another merchandise line. It was also a rather ingenious superhero twist -- the costume as living entity. The Black Suit takes over Spider-Man and later leaves him for another stooge, who is transformed by the evil, living suit into a baddie called Venom.

Goo of love

In the movie, the black, suit-making goo comes from outer space. It would have been far more plausible to have it generated naturally by Peter Parker's bachelor apartment, but never mind. It attacks Parker, makes him, stronger, angrier, more aggressive and more inclined to wear his hair in his eyes. Girls love that, as it turns out. Which is one reason why another green monster attacks Peter's girlfriend, Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst). She's all jealous and stuff. Soon Spider-Man will learn that the most evil super-villain is the one who plans to swipe your girl.

Spider-Man 3 has all the requisite action sequences and special effects. It also has more abrupt shifts than a Japanese seismograph. Raimi veers all over the road here. He starts with the standard set-up, heads into action mode, touches base with the essential Peter-Parker-as-sensitive-geek theme -- and then before you can say "Austin Powers" he drives his movie into wacky spoof territory. A long sequence in which the malevolent power of the suit transforms Peter from Spider-Man into Lounge Lizard is genuinely funny, except that it leaves you wondering just what kind of movie you're supposed to be watching. Is Raimi giving a middle finger to the whole super-hero shtick? Are we supposed to stop caring? This is the Sam Raimi who made Darkman, about a tormented hero who suddenly goes nuts over a teddy bear at a shooting arcade.

Just as you've decided that Raimi wants the whole thing to be goofy fun he makes more neck-snapping tonal shifts, into treacly sentiment and then on into sanctimony. In one truly bizarre moment, he has Spidey swing in front of a massive, flapping Stars and Stripes while the music crashes in a patriotic crescendo. The midnight crowd howled, but surely that cannot be Raimi's intent -- American movies do not laugh at Old Glory.

In the end, Spider-Man 3 feels confused and frantic. Too bad. Spidey is a great hero, and Tobey Maguire is one of the most inspired casting choices ever to don costume and sail through the air. If there's going to be a 4, give some other director a turn.

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