I liked it. The special effects get better with each film, and Kirsten Dunst actually seemed like she wasn't annoyed just to be there in this movie. She was actually acting, which was a nice change of pace. I'm one of those people who tends to like Tobey Maguire as Peter, so I thought he was as good as he has been. James Franco turned in a nice performance, up until he thought "amnesia" meant "turn into Goofy."
Oh, it had its problems. In fact, it had a lot of the same problems as X-Men 3, namely trying to cram too much movie into too little space. I could understand the logic that went into it: a movie that had just New Goblin or just Venom or just Sandman wouldn't have really held up (okay, maybe a just-Venom one would). But all three turned out to be way, way too much. The whole film felt rushed, especially the big fight scene in the end. There weren't really any chances for the story to breathe.
The biggest casualty of the "rushed" story, though, is in the villains. One of the main things that made Spider-Man 2 such a great film, and the best of the three so far (and the best of all the films Marvel has released so far) was the characterization of Doctor Octopus. We got to know Otto as a person, we got to watch his ambition and his unfortunate descent. He got a fill character arc--rise, fall, and redemption--in that one film. We felt for Otto Octavius, we identified with him.
Not so with the villains of Spider-Man 3. Sandman's story was cliché on top of cliché in rapid fire. I mean, having the Tiny Tim daughter with the anonymous disease was bad enough, but for him to actually go and say "I'm not a bad guy; I just had bad luck" was...well, what do you have to say about that, Robot Devil?
That will not be the last time I use that clip on this blog, I guarantee. Anyway, rather than letting us spend some time with Flint Marko, letting us see him as a person (as we did with Doc Ock), the movie just took every available shortcut to sympathy. It felt artificial and unnecessarily rushed, which really hurt what could have been a very interesting character.
Then, there's Eddie Brock, with whom we're kind of supposed to sympathize after Peter goes all emo and steals his girlfriend, but throughout the whole thing, Eddie is a complete douchebag. It's hard to empathize with someone who has such a high and obnoxious opinion of himself. 4thletter had a list of scenes that were in the novelization but didn't make it into the movie, and I kind of wish they'd left in the ones where it's implied that Eddie Brock is stalking Gwen, and that he's basically constructed their relationship out of nothing. It would have added a creepiness and a delusion to Eddie's character that would have nicely replaced empathy, and would have added to his intimidation factor later on. We would have seen that Eddie is the center of his own world, so everyone either revolves around him or is out to get him.
Harry's story arc wrapped up nicely, although I'm not entirely sure what purpose the amnesia served. He could have just developed his father's brand of schizophrenia, where Norman doesn't always remember what the Goblin did. I did end up liking the New Goblin costume, especially compared to its predecessor.
But like I said, the whole movie suffered from compression, and that was a result, I imagine, of the primary actors and their continued inability to decide whether or not they're going to stick with the franchise. Picture, if you will, a world in which Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco are all contractually bound to do a fourth film. This means that the third film can take its time, give Sandman and Gwen Stacy and Eddie Brock the development they deserve, and maybe avoid the soap opera amnesia cliché with Harry (replaced with the Goblin schizophrenia, at least).
So the movie proceeds more or less as we saw, though with a little more attention to the new characters and the supporting cast. We approach the end: MJ and Peter have broken up, and MJ is singing a melancholy song at her Jazz club. With her singing as the background music, we scroll-fade to see the Sandman pulling himself out of the muck and mud outside the sewer grate. We continue toward Harry Osborn, sitting contemplatively with a glass of brandy, when he suddenly hears his father's voice exhorting him to kill his friends. He suddenly remembers all that has happened, and we pan away from his wickedly grinning face (or something). Then we see Peter, up in the bell tower, screaming as he tears the symbiote away from his skin. We pan down in the chapel to see Eddie Brock, staring up. "Parker" he hisses, and the first drop of the symbiote falls onto his shoulder. Fade to black.
"Spider-Man 3" could have ended on an awesome cliffhanger, in which all the villains are in the right positions and Peter's at the end of his rope. Then, #4 could have done justice to the three-villain plot and Harry's redemption, rather than being crammed into the last 25 minutes of this film. Would that not have been awesome?
I hold out hope for the fourth film, and I don't doubt that we'll see Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst again. I just hope they take a more leisurely spin on the next one, and remember that they don't need to top the previous films in terms of plot threads and number of new characters. While X-Men III collapsed under the weight of its many plotlines, Spider-Man 3 only buckled and bent, and I think that's got a lot to do with Sam Raimi's direction and love of the franchise. He's a strong, talented director, in ways that Brett Ratner simply isn't.
My ideal plot for the next movie would bring Venom back (I didn't see a body, did you? Ashes don't count) and would introduce the Lizard (which I've been waiting for since #2), as well as setting up some kind of behind-the-scenes new villain. I'd say it should be the Master Planner, and it'd sure be a kick in the pants for Doc Ock to show up, alive and well, but I think the Chameleon or Kraven the Hunter might be a better choice. If they introduced two villains in #4 (including the behind-the-scenes manipulator) and did maybe the Vulture and Electro in #5, we'd be well on our way to "Spider-Man: Sinister Six," and that would make my heart explode with geek-love.