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2006 films

SpidermanSpiderman III
a review by Tom Condon, OP (St. Martin)

A Vocation Story

Among all the recent superhero movies the two previous Spiderman movies have a special place.  They are well liked, not only because of their exciting action sequences and special effects, but because the emphasis was on the human characters and the choices they made.  Spiderman’s relationship with his aspiring actress girlfriend Mary Jane (MJ) Watson (Kirsten Dunst) was always more interesting than saving the world.  Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman, (played by Tobey Maguire) had some choices to make with his life..

The first two Spiderman films are easily vocation stories.  Peter wants to be both Spiderman and an ordinary young man, watching out for his elderly Aunt May, going to school, and, of course, pursuing a relationship with MJ.   He discovers that he can’t have it all.  If he’s going to have a vocation as a superhero, he has to make choices along the way. The first two Spiderman films are great vehicles for discussion with young people about what they want in life (“vocation”) and what these choices require.  Peter learns the hard way that being a superhero is not just fun and games:  “With great power comes great responsibility.”

SpidermanA woman in the parish told me that I had to see Spiderman III and talk to teens about it, because it was all about church.  So I went to check out III, despite the fact that I had heard that it wasn’t up to par.  I discovered that the woman had a point:  III has many good messages for teens:  forgiveness, friendship, and self-sacrifice are values to be upheld.  The choices we make shape us into the people we become. The most startling message I heard was from wise Aunt May.  She derives no pleasure or peace of mind when Peter tells her that the man who killed her beloved husband had been killed by Spiderman.  “Spiderman doesn’t kill people,” Aunt May says disapprovingly.  The fact that wisdom-figure Aunt May speaks out against death and revenge, even in the case of the man who killed her husband, is in itself almost worth the price of admission. 

Despite the good messages, III suffers from the Star Wars syndrome:  I was good, II was even better, but III disappoints.  Director Sam Raimi certainly makes it bigger:  III is reportedly the most expensive movie ever made.  Yet, there are too many fights, too many special effects, too many villains, and a plot which is too full of pop-psychology.  As Luke in Star Wars was tempted to go over to the “dark side,” so is Peter.  Peter even dons a black Spiderman costume!  But Peter’s descent to the dark side is never believable at all; there’s never any doubt that he’ll trash the black suit in favor of the red and blue.  And what’s a good superhero movie without a great villain?  Appropriately, III has three villains, but none of them can hold a candle to Alfred Molina’s great tragic villain “Doctor Octopus” in II.

Ultimately, Spiderman III is a mixed bag.  I’m sure it won’t be the worst of the summer blockbusters, and probably will have more food for thought for young minds than most.  But, it’s still a disappointment after the success of I and II:  bigger doesn’t mean better.      

Tom Condon, OP


The choices we make shape us into the people we become.

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults.

The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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