Tears of the Black Spider
Directed by Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Thomas Hayden Church
Remember the classic line from A League of Their Own: “There’s no crying in baseball!” Well, until very recently, there wasn’t any crying in superhero movies either. But thanks to the release of Spider-Man 3, all that’s changed. For all its explosive action and multimillion dollar special effects, Spider-Man 3 is memorable mostly for its soulful weeping, its emotional cry jags and its manic depressive mood swings.
The third time is supposed to be a charm, but things are not looking bright for our superfriend Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). He’s about to lose his job to a scheming upstart (Topher Grace). His best pal (James Franco) is trying to kill him. He’s dealing with the freshly minted threat of the shapeshifting Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church). He’s recently been possessed by an evil alien symbiote. Oh, and he’s thinking of getting married--but since this is Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) we’re talking about, she inevitably breaks up with him forcing him to mope around until he rescues her from supervillains for the third time in as many movies.
Like 1997’s Batman & Robin, Spider-Man 3 is a tad overstuffed. There are three entire villains for our hero to battle (including fan-fave Venom, who shows up late in the game). There are several romantic leads to choose from (including new gal on the block Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy). And then there’s that whole thing with the alien symbiote.
For this go-around, director Sam Raimi dispenses with the screenwriters and pens the whole thing himself (with an assist from bro Ivan Raimi), loosely adapting the popular “black costume” story arc from the Spider-Man comic books. Raimi’s script does away with subtleties like setup, backstory and logic. Instead, things happen is a sort of willy-nilly fashion. One night, for example, an unexplained meteorite simply crash-lands right next to Peter Parker and—bam!—he’s got a shiny new black costume that just happens to be composed of 100 percent pure evil alien entity. This new black costume gives our hero a welcome power boost. Nice timing, as he’s currently embroiled in a revenge plot against escaped convict Flint Marko (who, as it turns out, is the actual actual guy who killed his Uncle Ben). Marko has just been transformed into a shapeshifting sand-powered monster (again, for reasons barely explained), giving Peter’s web-spinning powers a run for their money.
As Peter Parker draws more and more power from his addictive new suit, he turns into some sort of radioactively powered, alien-boosted emo kid (a transformation signaled by the symbolic combing of his greasy bangs over his left eye). This causes him to dress in black, humiliate his girlfriend, mope around his apartment and generally display behavior that would cause most parents to prescribe Ritalin. Bizarrely enough, it also causes him to engage in several dance numbers designed—I guess—to signal our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’s transition from gee-whiz hero to moody bad boy. Whatever, dude. Eventually, of course, he learns some sort of lesson about how with great power comes great responsibility. (Jeez, hasn’t this kid leaned that lesson a couple times already?)
The film does have its impressive moments. The Peter Parker/Harry Osborn storyline is finally wrapped up in a more or less satisfactory manner. The action is exciting enough to keep kids cheering. The cast, as in previous outings, is solid. Unfortunately, Thomas Hayden Church—buffed up and looking just like his comic book counterpart—only has a couple minutes of drama in the entire two-and-a-half-hour film. That leaves the script plenty of time to wallow in teary-eyed, self-pitying Mary Jane and mopey, pre-goth Peter Parker. For a film series that’s gotten such good drama out of such great villains (The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus), this outing has got to rate as a letdown. Frankly, it might be time for a Batman Begins/Casino Royale-style reboot for this franchise. Please, Sony Pictures, stop Spider-Man before he emotes again!
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