Black Magic

The superhero gets a new look, spinning his web through mayhem, madness and drippy goo. Spider-Man 3 would be the perfect ending for the franchise.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published May 3, 2007

A spider's bite didn't create Spider-Man; Marvel Comics mentor Stan Lee did.

Now, after three exciting screen incarnations, it's time to invoke Lee's signature sign-off to his editorial columns:

"'Nuff said."

Spider-Man 3 accomplishes what a fantasy franchise wrap-up should: It brings characters to fruition and juices the action standard to giddy new levels. That isn't surprising since Peter Parker's friends and enemies aren't deep thinkers, and a record $250-million budget buys a lot of movie magic.

Director Sam Raimi certainly works as if this is his final go-around, filling the screen with uncommonly beautiful mayhem and almost too much conflict for one popcorn movie.

Four villains, three personality disorders, two love triangles and lingering revenge would be a tangled web for a trilogy, and this is one movie.

Raimi establishes Peter (Tobey Maguire) as someone with the world on a string. The world idolizes his superhero alter ego, and he's planning to propose to Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who is debuting in a Broadway musical.

The first reel would be skimming material in a comic book: Peter and Mary Jane lie on a web hammock under the stars, Dunst sings and Peter's Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) offers Peter a family heirloom ring.

It's certainly not a slam-bang beginning.

Then action erupts so abruptly that Peter doesn't have time to don his Spidey suit; street clothes add freshness to his amazing feats.

Lifelong friend/deranged rival Harry Osborn (James Franco) zooms in on a jet-board, slamming Peter through cringe-inducing collisions and cleverly narrow Manhattan passageways. It's the first of several brilliant set pieces that turn Raimi's neo-myth exposition into chances to catch your breath.

A meteor shower unleashes a slithering black goo that unlocks Peter's dark side and matching wardrobe. Harry and Peter make nice, then they don't again. Escaped criminal Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) undergoes a graceful molecular mutation into Sandman, a super-villain with sympathetic motives.

Peter's job as a Daily Bugle photographer is challenged by smarmy Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), whose girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), has a thing for Spider-Man. Eddie, meet the goo and join the fight club.

Raimi covers everything and still has room for clobbering time. Not everything is tied neatly, but there are interesting knots:

It's hard to imagine that a fourth Spider-Man screenplay would add anything without getting silly and redundant. It's unlikely Maguire and Dunst would return for such a project; they're already hinting as much to the media.

Retiring Spider-Man after a trilogy makes sense from a creative standpoint, if not financially. The series steadily matured in characterization and special effects pizzazz since the 1999 original, preserving Lee's vision of teen angst turned heroically flawed, while showcasing the most memorable super-villains.

Among superhero movie franchises, Spider-Man ranks only behind the socially allegorical X-Men trilogy for consistency and emotional depth (although the new Batman has similar potential).

A fourth in the series would mean either repetition or straining for excuses to exist, as other superheroes did simply for profit. After Spider-Man 3, there's nowhere for the franchise to go except down to Batman and Robin or Superman IV: The Quest for Peace levels of disappointment.

Better to end the saga with a bang, before those webs Spidey slings become a creative shroud.

'Nuff said.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or persall@sptimes.com.