While I would never knowingly recommend either of the two Joel Schumacher Batman movies to you, gentle readers, I think either of these two brain-dead cinematic exercises would be instructive to those responsible for Spider-Man 3. It could have helped them avoid that dread affliction known as elephantiasis of your villain roster. It’s what happens when you have three (or more) antagonists for your comic book hero to fight, fatally diluting the threat that any one of them poses. A quick review of Superman Returns might have also warned them of the dangers of dwelling too much on your hero’s girl troubles. Yes, Peter Parker’s relationship with Mary Jane is major part of the Spider-Man mythos, but there is such a thing as balance and this movie does not achieve it.
The movie opens to find Peter/Spidey (Tobey Maguire) in a place he’s not accustomed to, namely contented with life. Spider-Man is universally beloved by his fellow New Yorkers. His relationship with MJ (Kirsten Dunst) is happily moving ahead. School and work seem to be under control. He doesn’t realize that his old best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), is still plotting revenge for the death of his father in the first movie. Also, the man who actually killed his Uncle Ben, a low rent hood named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) has escaped from jail. Fleeing the police, he stumbles into the middle of a particle physics experiment that turns him into a creature that can turn himself into a cloud of sand. Seriously, nuclear mishaps have created villains in all three Spider-Man movies. Haven’t these morons heard of OSHA?
Meanwhile, Peter and MJ’s relationship starts to head south after her Broadway career suffers a serious setback. At much the same time, Peter is infected with an alien parasite that turns Spider-Man from a do-gooder into an amoral avenger, further alienating MJ. This new Peter Parker has no problem with humiliating a rival photographer (Topher Grace) who faked incriminating photos of Spider-Man. Just by completely implausible coincidence, Peter is able to rid himself of the parasite just as his rival is plotting his own revenge, and this guy is himself infected, turning him into a new bad guy known as Venom.
There is also a hopelessly underdeveloped romantic rival for MJ in the person of Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of the police captain (James Cromwell) who just happens to be pursuing Flint Marko.
There are enough storylines in the movie for an entire trilogy of Spider-Man movies and they should have parceled them out a little more judiciously over at least of couple of movies. After a pair of well-developed, almost empathetic bad guys in the first two movies, neither of two main villains manages to step out from amidst the white noise. Flint Marko is obviously meant to be a sad, tragic figure, turning to crime to help to pay the medical bills for a sick daughter. Unfortunately, we are told this rather than allowed to see it develop dramatically, undermining any pathos the character might have possessed. Eddie Brock, the rival photographer, is also barely allowed to register as a character before being turned into Venom.
Peter and MJ’s rocky relationship is about the only storyline that is allowed to have enough space to breathe, so much so that Peter’s problems with the bad guys almost seem like an annoying distraction. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is on hand only to dispense pearls of wisdom to nudge Peter back onto the right path in his love life. She’s less of a character than Yoda with an AARP card.
There’s so much talent behind the images in this movie and millions of dollars up on the screen that it’s a shame they couldn’t have thrown a few extra thousands of those dollars at a screenwriter, who could have pared down this mess until it became more manageable as a story.