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Spider-Man 3

Directed by: Sam Raimi

Written by: Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent

Starring: Tobey Maguire, James Franco, and Kirsten Dunst

Rated PG-13

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Watching Spider-Man 3 is like dating a hermaphrodite: no matter what you’re into, you’re bound to find something that you like. The Spider-Man franchise has been mostly based on cheesy romance and violence, and this third installment is no exception, delivering all of the 3-D panning fight scenes and life lessons that one could ever want. Throughout the film, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) fights with his best friend Harry (James Franco), evil villains, his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and the demons in his own soul, which, as Dr. Phil could tell you, are the hardest to excise. The Spider has obviously bitten again.

The movie focuses on the complexities of the more emotional and introspective side of life as a crime fighting superhero. While Batman spends the entirety of his movies kicking ass and taking names, followed by kicking more ass and then recopying names in case he missed a few, Spider-Man continues to be a more thoughtful protagonist. As in the two previous films, Parker is driven to fight crime because of the death of his uncle. He is constantly torn between doing good deeds and his personal life, particularly his relationship with Mary Jane. The film also resumes the sub-story of how Parker is forced to contend with the fact that his extremely well-armed best friend blames him for the death of his father. The themes of morality and duty recur often throughout the film, while Parker and Mary Jane’s romance is developed and challenged at the same time.

As usual, the Spider-Man series does about a B+ job in its treatment of “softer” topics like love, revenge, and morality. This one explores the downside of being a superhero as the combination of fame and an evil alien life form corrupt Peter Parker and strain his relationship with his girlfriend. The alien force has a number of extremely bizarre effects on Maguire’s character as it infects him with some decidedly hand-wavy science. It first changes his haircut (because we all know that side-swept bangs embody all that is evil — just look at the Olsen twins) then makes him act like a typical fourteen year old: moody, a terrible dancer, and annoyingly horny. At one point, the audience is treated to an extended sequence which boils down to watching Toby Maguire perform the air-humping motion popularized in “Wayne’s World,” before the entire film descends into something resembling the demonic love-child of High School Musical and the South Park movie.

While not overly contrived — just watch the third Matrix to see how bad things can get — the sheer number of sappy scenes in the film eventually becomes difficult to watch. If I fired a cruise missile at a Cheetos factory, the crater would still be less cheesy than the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Parker’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) soon becomes exhausting as she spews out life lessons like Oprah hopped up on methamphetamines. She’s essentially a lame version of Yoda: she doesn’t bust a move at the end of the movie and cut anybody in half with a sword, but she does make vague comments about good and evil, have the acting abilities of a muppet, all while looking about 900 years old. Still, Spider-Man 3 does a better job than most in dealing with a challenging subject while keeping the groan-factor to below that of late night Cinemax, and the more introspective moments are a decent counterbalance to the more action-oriented segments.

In more superficial terms, Spider-Man 3 continues the tradition of dramatic fight sequences. The series has always been known for its epic CGI fight scenes, and this newest sequel delivers. Spider-Man faces two new villains, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace), both of whom present truckloads of opportunities for dazzling special effects. Sandman is, obviously, made of sand, and looks like the result of letting your little brother make action figures out of kitty litter — albeit twice as awesome and half as gross. Venom is the aforementioned alien life form, and resembles that gunk left on a grill after you cook a cheeseburger, although hopefully nothing from your grill has ever tried to murder your girlfriend. Without a hint of exception, the action scenes are simply breathtaking. My only complaint is that I had trouble concentrating on some parts as I couldn’t help but hear the silent wail of pain from the 10,000 Course VI’ers who had to program things like “Fireball #17” or “Sand fist #67.”

Overall, Spider-man 3 finds, hits, and brutalizes all of the goals that it sets out to accomplish, and I would definitely recommend seeing it. If you don’t like the action, enjoy the multitude of romantic scenes and the Sesame-Street-style life lessons scattered liberally throughout. If you don’t like the sappiness, revel in the grenade-launching flame-throwing skateboards and the fact that trains are used as weapons, which is pretty much the most bad-ass thing to happen since the last pirate went extinct. If you like both, wear a ski mask because this movie will blow your face off.