Joking among friends about the impending release of Spider-Man 3, someone – it may have been me – started talking about "Spider-Man Friday" – suggesting it was like Good Friday, but for dorks. And like most jokes, it had a kernel of truth. This film was going to be a finale of sorts, and a celebration of the work director Sam Raimi and his cast and crew had done to capture on film the superhero, his secret identity and nearly 50 years of comic-book history – the spider, the man and the franchise's spirit, if you will. And there was no reason to worry – hadn't Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 both been excellent? And wasn't the continued participation of Raimi, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and the return of Spider-Man 2 scribe Alvin Sargent a good thing, in an age when directors and stars drop off (or get killed out of) repeated installments of comic-book material? Sure, the film had not one, not two, but three separate villains – a worrying sign of excess -- but surely Raimi and his cast and crew would pull it off.
Watching Spider-Man 3 is different from hoping about it, though. And watching Spider-Man 3, I was amazed – and appalled – that the people who had given us two of the best comic-book movies ever made could wind up giving us something as lazy, as slip-shod, as tedious as Spider-Man 3 actually is. It's not like you have to wait for the bad news, either. As anyone who's seen a trailer, a bus ad, or one of the thousand merchandising tie-ins knows, much of Spider-Man 3 revolves around one of the comic's '80s story lines – with a fluid alien life form finding Spider-Man, literally becoming his costume and enhancing his abilities while degrading his spirit, making him more powerful as a super-hero, but less noble as a man. And how do the writers – the screenplay credit names Ivan and Sam Raimi, as well as Sargent – introduce this concept to the film? By literally dropping it from the sky in a meteor, which happens to land with 20 meters of Peter Parker (Maguire) as he's spending some time in the park with his girlfriend Mary-Jane (Dunst). Sitting in the theater, I think I may have actually thrown my hands up – the universal movie-watcher's sign language for "Really? That's all you got?"