Does evil fall into the world like a rock from outer space? Does it spring from within us? Or is it merely the residue of our blunders–our trespasses, literally–which we commit while coping with circumstance? These are large questions for a comic-book movie to raise, especially when it’s the sequel to a sequel. But whatever faults I can uncover in Spider-Man 3 (just give me a minute), lack of ambition isn’t one of them.
Not content to end this trilogy by having the superhero fight a bad guy, or even three, director and co-writer Sam Raimi has given Spider-Man the grandest possible send-off by making him struggle against evil itself. If you have not yet bought your ticket, please be advised that the outcome will not be conclusive. Don’t even expect coherence. Like a CGI-crazed billionaire reshooting the funhouse scene in The Lady From Shanghai, Raimi has addressed his subject by multiplying and mirroring and fragmenting it, so that representative evils crash and splinter around a hero who never locates the definitive source of the threat. All that can be said for sure is that the proposed sources of evil, in aggregate, seem comprehensive, and that one of them may be discovered in the hero’s own moral failings.
As we know from the earlier films, young, mutated Peter Parker was always apt to be self-involved and vengeful. Now, in Spider-Man 3, these faults begin to dominate his personality. Peter grows infatuated with celebrity, pursues a personal vendetta and ignores the feelings of his beloved Mary Jane. The result is further mutation, as he changes into jerk Peter, floppy-haired Peter, Peter with a ladies’ man swagger and a sense of entitlement. You may judge the nature of the transformation by its critical site: a men’s discount clothing store. But if personal emotion should seem too weak a cause for the existence of evil, Spider-Man 3 offers a more elaborate explanation, in which Peter is a victim of malevolent goo from a meteorite. In this scheme–alternative to the first as an idea but simultaneous with it on the screen–Peter’s worst traits would have been nothing more than weaknesses, had they not left him vulnerable to an alien intruder: some black, bloblike stuff, with a texture that’s reminiscent of a fetishist’s vinyl.
Despite its kinky sci-fi trappings, this is the metaphysical evil of old-time religion: an uncanny force beyond our power to comprehend, which may mimic its victim (as the space goo sometimes imitates a spider’s scurrying) but comes from outside him. The opportunistic blob has a will of its own, and like Satan goes to and fro in the earth, walking up and down in it. Here again, mutation occurs and reveals its nature by its critical site: a church steeple.
The third major site of mutation–yes, there’s still another, the most impressive of all–looks like a huge concrete mixing bowl, overhung by a glowing electronic eggbeater. The sign posted on the fence outside claims this apparatus is an experimental physics station; but it’s more like the place where bad luck, poverty and common ignorance get stirred into a threat to society. A poor brute named Flint Marko stumbles into this installation, wearing the most baffled expression that Thomas Haden Church can give him, and an outfit apparently copied from a 1930s French movie about the poetry of the lower depths. Marko enters the mixing bowl as an escaped convict, already presumed to be a danger to the public. He exits as a shape-shifting mass of sand: an invisible man, ground down by a world he doesn’t understand, but newly capable of living outside the law.