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Friday, April 27, 2007

IT'S COMIC, IT'S CLASS

'Spider-Man 3'

Spinning into the dark side


It's been three years since our favorite geeky superhero left us with a promise for a climactic battle with his best friend and a final obstacle for his relationship with the love of his life.

Spider-Man 3 Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Spider-Man 3
Tobey Maguire in "Spider-Man 3" (c)2007 SONY PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Director: Sam Raimi
Running time: 140 minutes
Language: English
Opens May 1, 2007
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Everything was set up for the third installment in the "Spider-Man" series to be the best, and it is.

The third installment of the Spider-Man series, based on the classic Marvel Comics hero created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, had its world premiere in Tokyo, the first time a major Hollywood film has debuted outside the United States. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) returns to the big screen smug and happy: New York is heralding the sticky-fingered stranger as the city's latest celebrity, and Peter Parker, his nerdy alter-ego, is about to propose to Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst).

But alas, happiness is brief in the life of a superhero, and Spider-Man and Peter Parker together gain not one, not two, but three enemies. Peter's best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) continues to wrongly accuse Peter for his father's death, while Peter's work colleague Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is consumed by jealousy and turns into Venom, one of Spider-Man's best-known villains in the comics. The third enemy is one on whom Peter himself desires revenge. Flint Marco (Thomas Hayden Church) is the real killer of Peter's uncle Ben, whose death Peter had blamed himself for. By getting accidentally mixed up in a scientific experiment, Marco gains supernatural powers to become Spider-Man's toughest rival so far, Sand-Man. Meanwhile, the introduction of a new girl Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) vying for Peter's affections and his insensitivity drives Mary-Jane away. Spider-Man is soon alone with an enraged and broken heart -- a perfect moment for him to be taken over by a mysterious black substance that turns his Spider-Man outfit black, and puts him in touch with his dark side.

The best superhero movies have as much comedy and drama as action, and Sam Raimi, director of all the Spider-Man movies, has delivered the most satisfying mix yet. Spider-Man 2 lacked in drama because the metal-armed bad guy Dr. Otto Octavius had nothing intrinsic to do with the two main plots (the Osborns' revenge on Spider-Man and Peter's relationship with Mary-Jane). Mainly due to that, though, the romance plot was able to flourish. But in Spider-Man 3, the appeal lies in Spider-Man's ferocious battles with his enemies and Peter Parker's unassuming comedic touches. The first action scene between Spider-Man and Harry, now fully adorned in an updated version of his late father's Green Goblin outfit, is thrilling. With punching, wrestling and banging each other against walls, this is not a fight between two comic creations with magical powers but the bittersweet battle between two best friends who have somehow crossed each other.

Indeed, through events that continue to kick Spider-Man when he is down, Raimi allows the audience to fondly laugh at Peter for sequences at a time. After all, we know from the previous movies that it is when Peter Parker is not being Spider-Man that Maguire is at his most endearing and that's when his talent shines. Remember, in Spider-Man 2, when Peter becomes fed up of sacrificing his own life to save others, gives up being Spider-Man and returns to his geeky world of physics and bumbles happily along to the Bacharach-David song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" In this third installment, a similar treat awaits, quietly poignant and openly hilarious, as Peter, having killed off all three of his enemies (or so he thinks) and devastated about losing Mary-Jane, sways his hips on the street, eyes up the ladies, and flaunts his new dark image, complete with black eyeliner.

The only weakness of the movie comes from Raimi's attempt to deepen the philosophy and poignancy further to what's been naturally implemented by the preceding storyline and the great acting of the three main characters. Flint Marco has his own reasons for killing Uncle Ben that try to invite sympathy, but the cliched dialogue and Church's one-expression performance do not deserve it.

And there's a disappointment in the final portrayal of Spider-Man himself. By now, it has been established that Peter is to first fail, then finally act on the wise words of his uncle and aunt. In the previous two installments, he has Uncle Ben's words that "with great power, comes great responsibility" ringing in his ears as he repeatedly returns to face his destiny as the city's superhero. But in Spider-Man 3, when Aunt May delivers somewhat archaic advice about self-sacrifice in love, the final climax does not show Peter/Spider-Man acting on it. Having ill-treated Mary-Jane throughout the film, he merely (if such a word is allowed) saves her from yet another near-tragedy in which his own enemies have taken her as innocent hostage. The one who really passes the test of self-sacrificial love is best friend Harry, whose sub-plot trials strike the genuine poignant note, and Franco's sensitive performance rings it home.

Yet the film as a whole is finely designed and highly entertaining. J.K. Simmons returns funnier than ever as The Daily Bugle's ranting editor in chief, while the soundtrack serves not just to accompany but to empower a scene (such as the expansive eeriness created when Sand-Man first rises). The action is varied in style and location, and the Christian connotation in Peter's battle with the strange black substance is even given dramatic visualization. The film ends on a classy, unusually understated note which, together with Maguire's colorful resurrection of the loveable geek-turned-smug-superhero-turned-tortured-avenger whose charm will be greatly missed, begs for a fourth installment.



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