The last time Sam Raimi wrapped a trilogy – 1992’s Army Of Darkness, aka Evil Dead 3 – he veered in a lighter direction; with Spider-Man 3, he skews dark. Yet both films end up in roughly the same place: as charged-up, knockabout-filled fun-rides that somehow still feel like drop-offs from their predecessors.
Spider-Man 3’s unevenness isn’t for want of trying. It’s clear from the extras what everyone was straining for: the grander chase, the higher swing, the bigger waterpipe (see the piece on the Spidey/Sandman sewer-fight). But this more-is-more approach (three supervillains!) is the film’s major folly. Picking and mixing its way through decades of comic-book history, the over-egged script can only scratch at the surface of vintage characters from bad boy Venom (the alien-parasite/ Topher Grace hybrid who turns up lamentably late to the party) to good girl Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, almost as underused as Theresa Russell’s Mrs Sandman).
You’d expect more finesse from Raimi, who stumbles over plot-crack-papering coincidences, ill-advised cutaways (that wretched British reporter) and his own screwy sense of humour. Brain-warped by his new space-sent duds, the transformation of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) into a finger-popping, chauvinist Spider-pig will either have you chortling indulgently or chewing your fist. Either way, it’s a distraction from the (terrific) action, pimped with more swoops, spills and thrills than any summer ’buster bar Bourne. And it’s not all sky-scraping blow-outs; best of the battles is the mean, messy indoor scrap between Parker and Harry Osborn/ New Goblin ( James Franco), who emerges as the film’s – and franchise’s – most complex nemesis: angry, angsty and amnesiac. Then there’s the quieter astonishment of Sandman’s ‘birth’, an oddly moving, CGI-with-soul spectacle that’s doted on amid the featurette frenzy which occupies most of this package’s second disc. Though the behind-the-scenes info-dump sprawls on and on, there’s nothing revelatory, unless you count the copious plot spoilers. So set the bonus spinner aside until you’ve air-punched and eye-rolled through the main feature, a popcorn marvel by anyone’s standards except webhead’s own.