Use that Spidey sense

Director Sam Raimi makes audiences think in Spider-Man 3

THE DARK SIDE<br>Spider-Man takes a long, hard look at himself and realizes that, indeed, he is black.

Spider-Man takes a long, hard look at himself and realizes that, indeed, he is black.

Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace. Directed by Sam Raimi.
Rated 3.0

When a popcorn movie ends up costing about half a billion dollars to produce and market, expectations can run high—but, realistically, how can any 2 1/2-hour movie deliver on that kind of expenditure? So it comes as no surprise that there is more than a little negative nattering (online and from the critics) about how Spider-Man 3 is a failure … which it’s not, by any stretch of the imagination.

Granted, the plot tries to cram a bit too much into the running time: Peter Parker is on top of his world, about to pop the question to love-of-his-life Mary Jane, who has just scored a gig in a Broadway musical. But storm clouds loom on all horizons and roll in for a very disharmonic convergence for Spidey. The dude who whacked his uncle gets shape-shifted, his rival for a post at the paper stumbles across a very useful tool, and erstwhile friend Harry still has some serious issues … and the means to make Parker’s life suddenly more miserable. Then there’s a nasty blob from outer space that begins to amplify Parker’s dark side. It all comes together in a series of CGI extravaganzas that seem to serve the narrative, not the other way around.

But a lot of folks still seem unhappy.

Raimi’s biggest offense to this community seems to be an over-reliance on coincidence and an indulgence in subtext and metaphor. Oddly enough, the latter is a fading memory when it comes to Hollywood entertainment. Apparently, folks don’t like to put a lot of thinking into their CGI cartoons.

A major point of contention seems to be that when Parker begins to be controlled by his dark side, he begins to get all emo. Which is odd, because Parker has always been an emo mope, short of wearing MJ’s lowcut pants and an ironic T-shirt, painting his nails black and listening to Sunny Day Real Estate. Here, all he does is flop his bangs down.

The unhappiness with the abundance of coincidence in the film also reads a little goofy, in that that’s the nature of this particular genre. Here’s a world in which some guy in red Spandex swings around the city slinging webs, a man gets turned into a walking sandbox and reedy-voiced Dunst can get cast in a Broadway musical without sleeping with the producer … and people are more concerned about recurring coincidence? Go figure.

What bumps the film up a notch is Raimi’s use of the alien symbiote to draw a parallel to the allure and power of substance abuse, albeit not exactly subtly.

But then, that’s probably what works against the film for the target demographic: Here, Raimi isn’t afraid to include adult themes and musings to his comic-book material. Some of what he explores is either going to be missed or met with outright resentment by the folks who still live in the basement of their parents’ houses.