While Peter Parker is certainly no Michael Corleone, he might find himself repeating the same popular
phrase, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me right back in!" Because just when things seem to
be on the up and up for Peter, just when he experiences a moment of sheer contentment, something always
comes along to bring him right back down. This could not be more evident than in "Spider-Man 3," when
Parker, on the verge of romantic bliss with the lovely Mary Jane Watson and a city celebrating the heroism
of Spider-Man, has everything taken away. His girlfriend, his job, his life - all thrown upside down because
of a mysterious black alien substance that merges with his body and provokes his darkest desires. Add to that
an ongoing personal battle with his best friend, Harry Osborn, and the emergence of two formidable villains in
Sandman and Venom, and you have a Godfather-like saga. Made with a bigger budget, a bigger cast, bigger
effects, and bigger everything, "Spider-Man 3" attempts to be better than its predecessors. But in doing so,
falls prey to Hollywood sequel subterfuge - namely, that bigger is always better.
At long last, Peter Parker has found the right balance between his work and personal life, able to make
ample time for crime fighting, web crawling, and his aspiring actress, Mary Jane Watson. On top of it all,
Spider-Man has earned the respect of New York. In fact, the city has made plans to honor Spider-Man with a
celebration and a presentation -- a key to the city. Life is good. So good that Peter even makes special
arrangements to propose to Mary Jane.
But just like the sound of screeching tires, when things get too good for Peter Parker, they quickly begin
to unravel. Across town, an escaped convict named Flint Marko accidentally runs into a particle changer,
merging his body with sand. Now known as the Sandman, Marko begins to wreak havoc on the city. While at the
Daily Bugle, Parker finds himself in the midst of competition in the form of Eddie Brock, a rival
photographer. And let's not forget Harry Osborn, still miffed over his father's death, who takes on the
role of Green Goblin and seeks to put an end to Spider-Man. First and foremost, Harry convinces M.J. to
break up with Peter.
And thus, the downward spiral begins. Peter learns that Marko was involved in the death of his Uncle Ben. But before
he can take action, a mysterious alien life form attaches itself to Peter in a symbiotic relationship, inducing his dark
side. Not to mention a darker side for Spider-Man. Parker changes his hair, his mannerisms, and his personality. And
he uses this new attitude to exact revenge, taking away Brock's girlfriend Gwen Stacy, going out of his way to
humiliate M.J., throttling the Sandman, and scarring Harry for life. Doing so, Peter causes further harm to himself and
others, helping to create a new villain named Venom, and possibly leading to the end of everything he holds
sacred. Unless, of course, he can rediscover his self, his compassion, and his purpose.
"Spider-Man 3" is reportedly the most expensive movie ever made, with a budget dangling around $250 million. Easily
the most embellished, the most emotional, and the most action packed, the film is bursting at the seams, trying to
satisfy everyone. There are hysterical cameos from Bruce Campbell as a French Maitre'D and J.K. Simmons as the hard
ass, J. Jonah Jamison. There are sentimental and profound moments, delicately touched upon by Rosemary Harris' Aunt
May, Peter's moral compass, and magical chemistry between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. And then there are dramatic
rescue sequences as Spider-Man saves Gwen Stacy and M.J. from high rise contraptions out of Fear
Factor, wicked transformations as Sandman and Venom are born, and dark and surprising character turns as Peter embraces
his inner dark side and strolls the streets in Rat Pack fashion with dark locks and a dark suit, brimming with confidence.
The high price tag, however, is well worth the while if only for the special effects. Although John
Dykstra, the visual effects genius and Academy Award winner for "Spider-Man 2," declined to work on the
film, his partner, Scott Stokdyk, adequately fills the void. In particular, the way he and his team use
quantum physics to bring Sandman to life. Whether using 4,000 pounds of ground corncob in substitution for
sand or 50,000 gallons of water to simulate wet sand, Stodyk and crew spent two years developing a new
industry standard for manipulating billions of sand particles by computer.
The end result is an incredible triumph, as Marko's body flakes away, crumbling into individual grains and
re-emerging as a solid form. Tons of sand collapsing on police officers in a heist, a punch that goes right
through his sandy torso, and one gigantic sandy monster trying to pound Spider-Man. Additionally, the effects
used to transform the black liquid alien embryo into a living, breathing creature are fantastic, like strings
of salt-water taffee that attach themselves to a human host. And occasionally mutate to form a
snapping jaw of razor sharp teeth.
However, if there's one thing the original Batman franchise proved, it's that bigger doesn't always mean
better. Adding more villains, adding more character turns, adding more special effects, and upping the
emotional quotient with water works from everyone from Spidey to Sandman only complicates things. It requires
a lot of juggling, perhaps more so than necessary. And it's rather obvious at the film's conclusion. Because
even though it doesn't fracture the fun, it does dilute the story of its primal
purpose - which is to show Peter Parker's maturity into a responsible, compassionate adult.
Unlike "Spider-Man 2," which was a near perfect balance of story and character, with the right amount of
sentiment, conflict, and personal development, "Spider-Man 3" exaggerates and embellishes too much. Even
worse, for those who are staunch advocates of the comics, there are artistic changes that are somewhat hard
to take. Such is the far-reaching connection between Sandman and Uncle Ben. The all too quick rise and fall
of Venom, played expertly by Topher Grace. And the sad misuse of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's first love, who
supposedly dies at the hands of the Norman Osborn's Green Goblin, bringing maturity and compassion to Spider-Man.
But in the film, is a mere plot device used to create jealousy -- jealousy that never really existed in the
All creative differences aside, "Spider-Man 3" remains a fun ride. While not the best in the series, it is
fun to see familiar faces again, fun to see character arcs resolve, and fun to sit back and absorb. A bit
excessive, the film succeeds because of its characters. Whether new or returning, the characters pull you
in so that you know what they're thinking and feeling. Peter's darkness, M.J.'s dejectedness, Eddie Brock's
humiliation, and Flint Marko's unmistakable grief - all resonate with the viewer because of Raimi's
attentiveness. Says Mary Jane, "Everybody needs help. Even Spider-Man." A subtle reminder that with great
power, comes great responsibility, and in superhero films, the all-important need to let humanity shine.