Spider-Man 3  (2007)

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Okay, this time, they pile on the monsters. A new Green Goblin shows up, so does The Sandman, but most importantly, Venom, the symbiotic organism that takes over Spider-Man’s costume.

And not surprisingly, it turns out that three villains is one too many. Which begs the question of which one is the “too many” one, and the answer is clear: Sandman. It’s a guy made of magic self-propelled sand grains that aren’t even attached to each other half the time! I’m sorry, the idea is just too dumb to fly in a context where everything else has at least a halfway plausible veneer of pseudoscience to explain it. The Sandman idea is pure kid-stuff, while everything else in this film series at least manages to be adolescent. And the plot device they use to tie the character to Peter Parker? Muy bogus. Gallingly contrived. Retroactively harmful to the first film. And it becomes the basis of a forced sappy ending that’s genuinely offensive.

Which is a shame, because Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko / The Sandman is the best actor in the film. (Next best? James Franco as Harry Osborne / Mini-Goblin.)

My reaction to the film as a whole was, “How can a movie with so much righteous stuff in it be so annoying?” Make no mistake, a lot of individual pieces are terrific. There are no less than five major super-fights, and every one of them can stand next to the best such yet made. And a lot of the time, the ways they intertwine the separate plot threads is smooth and successful — a surprising accomplishment given what a contrived patchwork the plot as a whole is. But they just keep throwing in these irritating mistakes and missteps.

The biggest misstep is the amount of soap-opera they try to set up between our romantic leads, Peter and Mary Jane. In fact at one point, I turned off the DVD in disgust at the “soap opera plotting”. And then I started to think about what I meant by that. And I came to the conclusion that bad soap operas work essentially the same way as bad horror movies: they depend on having the characters do improbably stupid things in order to put themselves in situations of conflict and loss. In bad horror movies, people get really stupid about self-preservation (“There’s a killer in the house, let’s split up and look for him!”). In soap operas, they’re stupid about things like communication and paying attention to other people, thereby creating relationship conflicts that have dramatic consequences, but which a sensible person would simply avoid. In a bad case, the script makes the characters really sweat and work hard at the job of keeping the miscommunication going so that they don’t accidentally straighten everything out. Want an example of that? Spidey 3. Feh.

The Venom story gets short shrift amid all this. The whole thing feels a lot more rushed and trite than it deserves to be.

If you enjoyed the first two Spidey movies, this one is worth seeing for the action scenes. But the whole thing is a perfect example of how no amount of filmmaking talent can undo the effect of having your plot designed by a committee of suits who approach storytelling as a matter of business investment and marketing.