STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And now, let's get a call on the latest Hollywood blockbuster, "Spider-Man 3." Our referee is Kenneth Turan.
KENNETH TURAN: Once upon a time, "Spider-Man" was just another movie hoping to be a hit — what a difference five years and more than $1.6 billion in worldwide theatrical revenue makes. All that money has turned "Spider-Man 3" into a film that commerce mandated, a marketing puzzle that insisted on a solution; its $250 million budget and sky-high expectations make it a master that must be served, a monster to be fed, an imperious creature with a will of its own.
In the face of those unbending commercial imperatives, it is encouraging that this "Spider-Man" attempts to bring some originality to the table — and disheartening that those attempts are not enough. "Spider-Man 3" is certainly acceptable as a sequel to a sequel, but it misses an opportunity to be a movie that could be whole-heartedly recommended to those not already ensnared in its web.
(Soundbite of scene from "Spider-Man")
Mr. MICHAEL PAPAJOHN (Actor): (As the carjacker) What do you want from me?
Mr. TOBEY MAGUIRE (Actor): (As Spider-Man/Peter Parker) Remember Ben Parker -the old man you shot down in cold blood?
Mr. PAPAJOHN: (As the carjacker) What does it matter to you anyway?
(Soundbite of truck honking)
Mr. MAGUIRE: (As Spider-Man/Peter Parker): Everything.
TURAN: Though stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are trying to be genuine, the film's emotional component — the strength of the original Spider-Man — feels unmistakably pro forma. Even supplying both protagonists with potential new love interests doesn't stop the romantic parts of the film from feeling like they're running on fumes.
(Soundbite of scene from "Spider-Man 3")
Ms. KIRSTEN DUNST (Actress): Tell me you love me.
Mr. MAGUIRE: (As Spider-Man/Peter Parker): I love you. I love you so much. I always have.
TURAN: To their credit, director Sam Raimi and his team seem to be aware of this problem, and they've come up with a potentially effective new kind of opponent for Spider-Man. That opponent would be himself.
As anyone who's heard anything about "Spider-Man 3" knows, Peter Parker's bright-red spider-suit eventually turns a dazzling black as his character gives in to his dark side. But rather than take the adventurous route of having a superhero with a legitimate nervous breakdown, the movie opts to lay it all at the feet of some nasty substance from outer space.
Though aspects of it are entertaining, "Spider-Man 3" has an ungainly, cumbersome feeling, as if its plot elements came from competing contractors who didn't see the need to cooperate on a coherent final product. We always have a choice, Peter Parker says at one point in the film. Here's hoping that the choice about whether or not to make yet another "Spider-Man" is based on more than the almighty bottom line.
INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. And there's a preview of "Spider-Man 3" at npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
INKEEP: This is NPR News.
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