I read a lot of comic books during my childhood but my favorite was Spider-Man. Peter Parker, the teenager who became Spider-Man when he was bitten by a radioactive spider, was shy and bookwormish; he was thus someone with whom I could identify. Spider-Man not only fought crime; he did so in style, wisecracking his way through one life-threatening situation after another. How could you not like a super-hero who referred to himself as “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”?
The Spider-Man movie franchise has proven to be very successful. The third installment is now in theatres and is making a ton of money; it took in $148 million in its first weekend of release. Spidey 3, like its predecessors, is a lot of fun to watch. The special effects are excellent, the action sequences are appropriately exciting, and the story is interesting.
There are some negatives. Toby McGuire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson seem comfortable—maybe a little too comfortable—in their roles. The film has three bad guys—the New Goblin, Sandman, and Venom—and that’s at least one and maybe two too many. There’s almost too much going on to keep up with. The most enjoyable villain is, as in all the films, J. K. Simmons as newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson. There is some humor in the film, particularly during the part when Peter is under the influence of the material that almost turns him to the dark side, to steal another film series’ terminology. Unfortunately, during that sequence McGuire basically channels Jerry Lewis doing the Nutty Professor and doesn’t do it very effectively. Also, and this is rather amazing, by the end of the movie I really didn’t care if Peter and Mary Jane stayed together or not. I didn’t think that was possible.
The movie does, however, as a good super-hero movie should do, delve into some aspects of life that are shared by all human beings, be they super-heroes or the not-so-super heroes that the rest of us are. The inevitability factor is at play, since Peter and Mary Jane are trying to make it on their own and are trying to grow up just like any other young people have to do. At the beginning of the film, while they hardly have it made, the two young lovers are wrapped up in their youthful, the world is our oyster, love conquers all idealism. Soon, though, they have to deal with the consequences of shattered dreams, unfulfilled expectations, personal failure, and plain old human selfishness. They have to face the fact that neither they nor their relationship is perfect. They must, in other words, face the fact that they are human.
The movie’s treatment of that theme thankfully moves well beyond teen angst into the realities of human frustration and disappointment. The questions for Peter and Mary Jane, as for all of us, are whether to assimilate those realities in a way that leads to a mature relationship and if so, how.
As an action movie based on a comic book, Spider-Man 3 is as good as any and better than most. Its real strength, though, is in its human drama.
One caution for parents: Venom may be a little scary for young children. He was a little scary for at least one forty-eight year old man.
Spiderman 3, which is directed by Sam Raimi, stars Toby McGuire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, and Topher Grace. It is in theatrical release and may be until Jesus comes back.