Sam Raimi's third (final?) Spider-film is a fun and frenetic thrill ride, with amazing action set pieces and sensational special effects. It's chock full of heroes and villains, humor and angst, falls from grace and emotional redemptions. In fact, it's full of so much plot, it might be just a tad bit too much.
When I first heard that Spider-Man 3 was going to have three villains (the Sandman, Venom and a new Goblin), I was skeptical. I thought, "Isn't that an awful lot to fit into a two-plus hour long movie?" And it would appear that my fears were well-founded. It's not that this is a bad movie. Far from it. It's just that characterization seems to have gotten lost amongst all the action and plot. Juggling all the story arcs in this film must have been a difficult task for Raimi and his fellow screenwriters, and I can't help but wonder why they felt they needed so much.
The movie is just ... it's kind of bogged down because of all the characters and plot points, which is not to say it's confusing or convoluted. There's just A LOT going on and two hours and 20 minutes simply isn't enough time for that much story. Maybe they could've dropped a villain or expanded the stories into a third and fourth films, filmed them back to back like the Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.
For instance, in Spider-Man 2, we're introduced to Dr. Otto Octavius, who quickly becomes a friend and mentor to our young hero, Peter Parker. We get to know him and his wife, we get to like them, which makes her death and his grief-stricken crime spree all the more painful and sympathetic. We get no such characterization for either of our new villains in the new film. We barely get to know them before they're locked in mortal combat with Spider-Man. We learn enough, I suppose, to service the plot, but it feels like there could have been so much more to them and we barely scraped the surface.
And I didn't like how they retconned (retroactive continuity; a fanboy term) Thomas Haden Church's Sandman into the first film's plot. The criminal who Peter let get away in the first movie, the lowlife who murdered Uncle Ben and started Peter on his journey to becoming a hero, well, he apparently had an accomplice, Flint Marko (Church). And it was Marko who actually shot Uncle Ben, not the thief who Peter chased down and watched as he fell to his death at the pier, thus negating the entire reason Peter became Spider-Man in the first place. I just can't buy it.
I know why they put it in there. They needed a plot point that would get Peter all emotional and full of rage so that he would be more susceptible to the black goop from outer space (Venom), a symbiote that feeds off its hosts aggression. But it simply doesn't fit. It's like putting a square peg in a round hole. What, all of a sudden, years later, the police have witnesses that make another guy the shooter? How could they not have known about this guy right from the start? It's just ... it's a stretch, all right?
Topher Grace's Venom, however, was pretty fuckin' cool, though he didn't really show up until the last 20 minutes or so.
I was disappointed with Bryce Dallas Howard's Gwen Stacy (Peter's first girlfriend in the original comics), who makes little more than a starry-eyed cameo. She was written in such a way that she could have been any character. There was no need for her to be the Gwen Stacy, who was such an important part of Peter's comic book life.
I like how they handled Harry Osborn (James Franco)'s arc, aside from the ever-popular deus ex machina known as selective amnesia. That's always kind of a cheat. But Harry really came full circle from the first film to this one. He had as much of an emotional journey as anyone over the course of the three films.
The acting is great all around (Bruce Campbell's cameo as a French maitre d' is hilarious) and the camera work is mostly wonderful, with a few aerial acrobatic scenes in which it was a little difficult to follow the action. The movie has a nice sense of closure (in case this is the last film by Raimi, Maguire and Dunst), but also has an optimistic, if weary, eye toward the future, as there are always more Spider-Man tales to be spun.
All that being said, Spider-Man 3 is a lot of fun, even if it's slightly overflowing with ideas. I would have preferred either a slimmed down version or, like I said above, two films to encompass everything that Raimi wanted to show us. The second film is still my favorite, but I really did enjoy this one. I just wanted to enjoy it so much more than I did, and I couldn't.