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The best that can be said of Spider-Man 3 is that it sheds some light on the whole skinny black jeans phenomenon. Rest easy Hedi Slimane and residents of the 11211, the origin of overpriced mantyhose may now be attributed to the nefarious agenda of intergalactic goo.
Canoodling under the stars one improbably clear night, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) fail to notice the nearby plummet of a tiny asteroid bearing immense sartorial implications. A peevish obsidian liquid leaks out on impact, oozing its way toward Parker’s moped, soon to transform the mild-mannered Forest Hills dork into a monochromatic hipster sporting asymmetrical bangs, black eyeliner, and calf-hugging trousers. Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has become . . . MisShaped!
Meanwhile, escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) flees from authorities in khakis and a green-striped T-shirt purchased on sale at Banana Republic circa 1996. Inadvertently stumbling into a “Particle Physics Test Facility,” Marko finds his molecular structure fused with a pile of sand. Beware the fearsome power of beige! Enter the Sandman and much overwrought CGI.
Elsewhere, Parker gets it into his head that Marko was responsible for his beloved uncle’s murder and goes all Turn to the Dark Side. This doesn’t sit well with Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). “Revenge is like a poison that can take us over,” she intones, ever more Yoda-like as the years go by. Meanwhile, pretty boy Harry Osborn (James Franco) revenges his father’s death by leaping on his tricked-out snowboard and chucking grenades at Spider-Man. Taking a fall, Harry goes unconscious only to wake up with plot-enabling amnesia.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, MJ suffers humiliating notices for her screeching debut in the Broadway production of Manhattan Memories and slumps off to wait tables at a jazz club only to be smacked in the face by the newly aggro Parker. Elsewhere, meanwhile, ambitious shutterbug Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) attempts to wrest a Daily Bugle staff gig away from Parker, Sandman is robbing banks, Osborn is getting his memory back, MJ is moping, Aunt May is intoning, Peter is wrestling with his demons, and Eddie gets infected with the goo. Meanwhile . . .
The 3 in Spider-Man 3 is no exaggeration. Everything’s been tripled—to diminishing effect. There are three times the villains, three times the backstories, three times the psychological baggage, three times the special effects, three times the soul-searching, three times the webslinging, three times the three-cheers-for-New York, three times the desperation to entertain. Given that Spider-Man 2 was twice as fun as the first, it’s triply disappointing what an overwrought bore S3 turns out to be.
Dunst now rivals Scarlett Johansson as the most useless ingenue in Hollywood. Maguire’s perky persona is wearing as thin as his lips. As for Grace, I couldn’t get past his queasy, Coppertone skin color and super-shellacked hair, though I dug his transformation into the snaggle-toothed arch-nemesis Venom. His unfortunate marginalization—Venom is the most underused villain since Darth Maul—may have been a by-product of the overstuffed plot, but there’s no excusing his climactic vanquishing by the impromptu manipulation of a tuning fork.
Three hundred million dollars—the rumored budget of this feeble monstrosity—buys an awful lot of special effects, but why are the ones here so awful? The hysterical more-is-more stylings of Spider-Man 3 extends to the action, fuzzing the geometric swing of its predecessors in a frenzied blur of obstacle-fraught, omnidirectional mayhem. With endless cash and infinite processing power at his disposal, director Sam Raimi has forgotten the economy of clean lines.
Raimi’s finest franchise moment was a throwaway flourish from Spiderman 2. Swooping up from a digital dip through the Manhattan canyons, Spidey lets out a gleeful yippie!, voicing the goofy kick shared by filmmakers, character, and audience alike. The corollary in Spider-Man 3 is a sad bit of meta-commentary offered up during one of the big set pieces (telling that I can’t remember which one), a reaction shot of two young boys gasping awesome! and wicked cool! I’m not sure what’s more pathetic—the desperate note of self-congratulation or the fact that the only circumstance in which a 10-year-old New Yorker would utter the phrase “wicked cool” is when prompted by the script of a clueless baby boomer. A certain twee anachronism has always been part of the Spider-Man tradition—ditto dexterous, old-fashioned fun. But this summer’s first obligatory blockbuster is all thumbs.