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Spider-Man 3 (2007): ***

Directed by Sam Raimi

Easily the weakest of the three Spider-Man films, Spider-Man 3 suffers from the same problem that plagued the Batman franchise in the 90s. No, not Joel Schumacher. I'm talking about the too many villains syndrome.

Spider-Man 3 has three full-fledged villains fighting for screen time with Spider-Man and his relationship with Mary Jane. There's Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osborne as the new Green Goblin. And after watching the film I very quickly realized that Sandman serves absolutely no purpose in the movie that Harry couldn't have served, and served better because of his personal relationship with Peter Parker.

I'll do a quick re-cap to show you what I mean. In the end of the last film Harry learned that Peter was Spider-Man, and thinks that Peter killed his dad Norman. So in Spider-Man 3 Harry dons a modified, streamlined set of Green Goblin gear and sets out for revenge. Peter defeats him with a staggering blow to the head that makes Harry forget the last several years. Then the Sandman gets created and goes on a spree of robberies. And an alien symbiote randomly attaches itself to Peter and creates the Black Suit.

The purpose that Sandman has in the movie is to show just how bad the Black Suit has made Spider-Man go. Spider-Man seemingly purposefully kills Sandman. He's gone bad! But then he also seemingly tries to kill Harry (he callously lets an explosive blow up right next to Harry's head). He's gone bad! Why did we have to see it twice, though? If they'd just cut Sandman completely out of this movie and made it all about Harry & Peter it would have been a lot stronger. Sandman later resurfaces and teams up with Venom (after Spidey shakes him off), which sets up the ending team-up of Peter and Harry 'cause Peter couldn't take them both on at once. But couldn't they just have made Venom so powerful that Spidey couldn't defeat him without Harry's help? The answer is yes.

But despite this big problem, the movie was very enjoyable. And very Sam Raimi. Raimi did some really interesting things with drama and comedy. Scenes that could have been very dramatic were played off for comic effect (the scene with Bruce Campbell's obligatory cameo, for instance).

Most fascinating of all is the fact that when Peter fully embraces Venom's influence and goes all-the-way bad, the movie, instead of becoming deadly dark and serious, turns into an absolutely rip-roaring comedy and goes wacky, wacky, wacky! So wacky, in fact, that my wife leaned over to me and asked in all seriousness, "Am I asleep? Am I just dreaming this?" The montage of "evil" Peter becoming more and more like a sleazy disco dancer, culminating in the absolutely insane dance scene with Gwen Stacy, are pound for pound some of the most purely entertaining parts of any Spider-Man film, for sheer gleeful audacity and bizarreness alone.

The film does have a good heart. The Peter & MJ plot is probably the most coherent and effective thing about it. Its action scenes are exciting and well-done, and I did enjoy it despite it's tendency to over-complicate itself and lose focus.

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