For several years it seemed a given that the best comic-movie franchise going was Spider-Man. The colossal disappointment of Spider-Man 3 evens the field. It would be better suited as a Fantastic Four sequel.
Using most of the same creative talent as Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi (whose career now consists entirely of making these films) gets sloppy. The last film gave the romantic hardship between Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) the young doomed romanticism of pop song lyrics. Spider-Man 2 brought to the social "normality" of falling in love, the teenage unrest that real love seems impossible. Its significance is that it's the first (and only) emo superhero movie.
In Spider-Man 3, Parker gets an emo haircut as soon as he indulges the narcissistic side of Spidey's fame. But it's a small good joke in a movie that piles up characters and story threads until it's no longer about anything. Parker/Spider-Man continues his fling with Mary-Jane, this time wishing to propose. Convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) is turned into the Sandman. A new photojournalist at the Daily Bugle (Topher Grace) is infringing on Parker's territory—a subplot that's clever only because Maguire and Grace occupy the same screen space in their physical similarity. He also turns into something bad. So does Parker, with the aid of a mysterious black ooze that allows him to live off his celebrity id.
Rather than aim to bring the franchise to another level, it amounts to the next episode in a primetime soap opera. Raimi's filmmaking has become stagnant in shot/reverse-shot conversation scenes, and the comedic timing is way off. Even the visual effects are a let down. The propensity of airbound chases around Manhattan skyscrapers just look like zero-gravity Playstation graphics.
The only surprising direction Spider-Man 3 takes is in making what could be the darkest of this series into the lightest. There's an Old Hollywood naivety to the handling of Mary-Jane's showtune dreams, and an ensuing, corny song-and-dance number. The fireball that falls from the sky, bringing with it a transforming alien life form, recalls the George Pal-produced The War of the Worlds (1953).
But where the first two films elevated their goofiness with inspired wit, Spider-Man 3's laziness negates spirit. It's another run around the track, with everyone now exhausted and not trying.
Lucky You is a character piece without huge character moments. It follows professional gambler Huck Cheever's (Eric Bana) eventual embracing of lifestyle concerns through the dramatics of his poker game. Curtis Hanson makes Vegas addiction so intimate that the wealth of gambling scenes doesn't break for the usual City of Lights tourist amazement. It's a small film, but a rewarding one.
Huck's ambition to win the Poker World Series runs into static with his competitive relationship with his father LC Cheever (Robert Duvall). When also gambling on a relationship with Drew Barrymore's Billie, her character and their romance exist only to help define Huck. Hanson had the same reductive use of a love interest with Brittany Murphy in 8 Mile. It's a studious, slow-moving portrait that knows its subject and (courtesy of a sharp script by Hanson and Munich scribe Eric Roth) its destination—paving the journey of a man built on compulsion to where he starts caring.
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