When Tobey Maguire announced that after Spider-Man 3 he’d be hanging up his tights, those behind the franchise appear to have decided they had to cram as many sequels as possible into this last movie. How else to explain the half-dozen or so story lines, the five Spider-Man nemeses, a conveniently intermittent case of amnesia, at least two evil alter egos, and an overall pattern of half-baked narratives that start, stop, restart, and are abandoned?
Or maybe the narrative overload reflects the hero’s burgeoning hubris and megalomania. Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) now seems about to enjoy the full embrace of his fellow Gothamites. Adulatory headlines are blazoned across newspapers (the Daily Bugle excepted), a Spidey action loop runs in Times Square, and a Spider-Man Appreciation Day is even in the works.
His private life is flourishing as well: sweetheart Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) seems set to begin her dreamed-of career as a Broadway star, and all she wants is to sing on stage with her beloved Peter in the first row! What better time for him to pop the question and present her with the heirloom ring entrusted to him by his tiresome Aunt May (Rosemary Harris)?
In other words, perhaps the biggest misfit in the superhero pantheon is about to become a total conformist. Shouldn’t his spider sense be tingling? Especially when he and M.J. are spooning on a web built for two in the moonlight and a meteorite tears through the underbrush just a few yards away. But they remain blissfully unaware as a tarry, spidery something skitters from the bolide and onto Peter’s scooter.
The alien creature is a Metaphor for Spidey’s Dark Side. It morphs into a black rubbery spandex unitard that intensifies Peter’s delusion that he’s one wild and crazy guy — a sequence in which he struts down the street glad-eyeing the chicks is hilarious. But before the film gets that far, it’s already resurrected the tedious Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of the first film’s Green Goblin and an aspiring Goblin himself. He’s still seeking vengeance — what a bore. We do get 10 minutes of so-so action as the pair engage in a perfunctory aerial battle. But to me it’s just some of the dusty cobwebs cluttering a decent 90-minute movie. Clear it away, and while you’re at it take a broom to the alien black ooze and Aunt May and weasely would-be Daily Bugle photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) and “Venom” and lots more besides.
That should let in a little light on the only worthwhile addition, Flint Marko, a/k/a the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), perhaps the best film representative of the oppressed proletariat unchained since King Kong. His origins are preposterous (the wacky effects of radiation that these comic books propose are enough to inspire a whole new Iranian nuclear program) but cinematically arresting. Watching him strive to retain his human form as he dissolves into grains of sand is like a visual demonstration of Being and Nothingness. His gathering into himself the assorted dust, gravel, cinderblocks, and other detritus of the city to assume the dimensions of a colossus is like an image from Odilon Redon.
Or maybe The Mummy. But Sam Raimi and company should have stuck with him and made a movie and not an f/x tapas plate. Spidey’s new mantra? “You always have a choice.” Too bad the filmmakers didn’t make one.