BETHANY HALFORD, C&EN WASHINGTON, D.C.
As "Spider-Man 3" opens, life is sweet for both Peter Parker and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Maguire). The city loves its arachnid protector; Parker has finally won the heart of Mary Jane (Dunst); and on top of all that, he's acing quantum mechanics. But by the end of the film's two-hour-20-minute running time, a series of unlucky coincidences will have Spidey fighting three supervillains.
Reel Science is happy to suspend its scientific skepticism for most comic-book transformations. We found the genetically modified spider bite that transformed Parker from high school geek into muscle-bound webslinger completely believable. And the supervillains of "Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man 2"—scientists turned evil by their own creations—were convincing albeit a little cliché.
But we had a harder time with the transformative coincidences in "Spider-Man 3." To begin with, there's the meteorite that coincidentally crashes a few feet away from Spidey one night. It oozes lively black goo that hitches a ride home with the superhero, only to transform itself into a stylish, yet menacing black Spider-Man costume with superpowers of its own. Talk about your space-age polymers.
With the dark suit comes a dark mood, and Parker gives a sample of the goo to his physics professor, Dr. Conners (Baker). Conners, in the mold of the best kind of science professor, discovers the polymer is symbiotic and might not be so easy to shed. When Spidey does manage to rid himself of the sticky suit, it coincidentally gloms onto Parker's nearby nemesis, photographer Eddie Brock (Grace), who becomes the spidery villain Venom.
"Spider-Man 3" also brings us the supervillain Sandman, whose special effects cost moviemakers $100 million more than they budgeted for. Escaped convict Flint Marko (Church) literally stumbles into a "demolecularizer" one night in what must be the most unsecure national lab anywhere. The demolecularizer looks benign—sort of like the lights on an amusement park ride. Unluckily for Marko, it turns his inner molecular structures to sand.
Not to nitpick, but Reel Science can't help but think a demolecularizer would turn a person into carbon dust, not sand, which is silica, or SiO2. Then again, we suppose Sandman sounds cooler than Dustman or Carbonman.
Finally, speaking of coincidences, Spidey's love interest, Mary Jane, gets kidnapped and flung from the heights of New York City, just as she did in the previous two films. This makes Reel Science wonder if perhaps Miss Watson should consider wearing less revealing clothing when she goes out, say a tasteful pair of trousers, rather than the short skirts she favors. But perhaps we're forgetting the target demographic.
If the first installment in the "Spider-Man" series taught us anything, it's that "with great power comes great responsibility." The lessons of "Spider-Man 3" are somewhat more subtle but ultimately boil down to this: The third film in a comic-book franchise is inevitably disappointing.