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Spider-Man 3 – A Superhero Movie Done Right

By Bob Garver

            Since 2002, the Spider-Man franchise has been one of the hottest properties in the film world.  Twice director Sam Raimi has taken the Marvel superhero to over $350 million domestic.  Now comes Spider-Man 3, and there is every reason to believe that it will be just as successful commercially because it is just as successful creatively. 

          As the film begins, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is on cloud nine.  His career as a photographer is taking off, he’s ready to propose to his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and New York is thankful for the services of his alter-ego Spider-Man. 

           Some wrench has to be thrown into the works, and that wrench is an extraterrestrial slime called Venom.  The Venom crash lands on Earth, and chooses Peter as its human host.  It’s never clear what the Venom wants exactly, but once it infects Peter, it causes him to nearly throw away everything that helps him live with himself.

 The Spider-Man films are known for their use as morality tales.  In the first film, the lesson was about taking responsibility (Peter had to learn to use his powers for a purpose greater than himself).  In the second, courage (Peter had to do good without his superpowers).  And now for this film, humility and forgiveness.  In other words, everything that is the opposite of the Venom. 


          For humility, Peter gets a swelled head that can’t be blamed entirely on the Venom.  The city loves Spider-Man, and Peter basks in their admiration.  He is too busy basking to notice that his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is miserable, being panned and eventually fired from her first starring role on Broadway.  Every time she tries to get some comforting words out of him, he changes the subject back to Spider-Man.

         As the Venom takes effect, Peter gets cockier and cockier.  Spider-Man accepts the key to the city, as well as a kiss from police commissioner’s daughter Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard).  This further upsets Mary Jane, who eventually leaves Peter.  He’s distraught at first, until he realizes that Spider-Man can get any girl he wants.  This leads to a montage where he morphs into an arrogant “playa.”

            The forgiveness theme comes from both sides of the tracks.  Peter debates whether or not to hunt down Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), the man who killed his uncle in the first film.  Since Marko is now a shapeshifting supervillain called The Sandman, there’s a chance that Spider-Man will be able to justifiably kill him and satisfy the need for revenge while still doing a good deed. 

           Spider-Man needs forgiveness from Harry Osborne (James Franco), the son of the Green Goblin, who blames him for his father’s death in the first film.  Since Harry has gotten into his father’s secret closet of Goblin toys, he may be able to get bloody vengeance unless Peter convinces him that it won’t do him any good. 

         Initially, rival photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) needs forgiveness from Peter as Peter catches him plagiarizing photos.  Peter’s filled with Venom at the time, and his anger causes him to ruin Brock’s career.  Eventually the Venom leaves Peter and infects Brock, and then it’s Peter who needs forgiveness as Brock gains superpowers and morphs into a villain eerily similar to Spider-Man. 

         It’s nice that the Spider-Man films care enough to deliver the whole package:  not just action sequences, but strong acting and decent scripts.  Too many superhero franchises focus on the eye candy and think that a few one-liners in between are acceptable filler.  But the Spider-Man films get it right, and the series only tightens things up as it goes along.  Spider-Man 3 moves along at a brisk pace, the actors know what they’re doing, the script has plenty of legitimately funny and powerful scenes, and yes, there are some great action sequences.  It’s one of the tightest superhero movies of the decade. 

Robert Garver is a guest columnist who lives in Palmyra.  He is a junior in the Cinema Studies department at New York University.  He spends his weekends working at the Cinema Center of Palmyra so he can be closer to the movies.