Monday, May 21, 2007

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

dir. Sam Raimi
Viewed on 2007-05-12
Rating: 5.5

The subtitle for Spider-Man 3 should've been "Spidey Sells Out" because it's applicable to both the character in the movie and to the movie itself. While I didn't have high expectations, I wanted to like Spidey 3, and I hoped it would be close to as good as the first two. Now I'm hoping it doesn't match the overall box office success of the first two films so that the franchise (which is pretty damn likely to continue) will undergo some necessary revision. Still, the $282M it has so far grossed domestically (at the time of this writing) isn't chump change, $258M budget or no. So, I guess I'm hoping for a steep drop-off once the other blockbusters come out (Shrek 3, Pirates 3).

Reminiscent of Batmans 2, 3, and especially 4, Spidey 3 suffers from surplus-villain syndrome and character-developmentophobia, both of which are common symptoms of sequelitis.(1) Here we get Green Goblin, Jr., Sandman, and Venom, whose main functions are to distract us from the mish-mashed plot, which in turn seems only held together by the action. I don't want to sound like the typical whiny, unsatisfied fanboy, but the movie probably should have paid more attention to the comics, in which the Goblin (first father, then son) and Venom are arguably at the top of Spidey's all-time enemy list, not the annoying villains du jour.

Instead, the film focuses more on the Peter-Parker-as-his-own-worst-enemy theme which could have worked had more time been spent building it up. But with all the villains buzzing around, the writers had to move things along and chose to make Peter Parker almost instantly turn into the Spectacular Spider-Jerk so that he can first confront himself, then take care of business with the external villains. In a nutshell, Peter starts acting like a self-absorbed, fame-seeking creep, happens to come in contact with an alien symbiont that enjoys being bad, and presto: becomes the Unfriendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. The dark Parker scenes were mostly physical humor and sight gags, and actually worked on a humor level--even when he's a badass, Peter Parker is still a dork. But this took away any chance that the movie was going to be anything more than another spectacle-driven comic book movie. That's exactly the kind of thing the first two Spider-Man movies, which had more emotional hooks and less epic action, seemed to rebel against -- in as much as a big-budget summer blockbuster can "rebel" against anything. (I'll leave it to Slate to explain more of the problems with Emo Spider-Man.)

At least if the villains were going to be a distraction, they could have been tougher or scarier. The Goblin story had the makings of a pure tragedy, but ends up as a tragically heroic redemption story. Same with the Sandman story, but to a lesser extent on both points. Also, a lot of money was, in my opinion, wasted on the Sandman special effects which, despite their novelty, were way overused. I liked Thomas Hayden Church's performance, but he had to cede too much of his screen time to the repetitive Sandman effects.(2) Finally, Venom was too easy to dispatch, and for a villain of his stature in the printed Spidey universe, the ridiculously compacted storyline for him turned the character into mostly a joke. It didn't help that Topher Grace isn't the least bit scary, either.
Tobey Maguire put the franchise into perspective in a recent USA Today article: "'s hard to imagine continuously coming up with stories that deserve to be told. I'm not sure if there are more stories for this character that are interesting enough to be excited about doing more." Not with the current creative team, anyway. If there's any truth in this source, it looks like more of the same for future films.

Great. Spin us a new web, Spidey.

'Nuff said.

(1) Characterized perfectly by the line in Spaceballs: "God willing we'll all meet in Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money."

(2) Of course the whole thing is far-fetched, but the Sandman is one of those characters that seems to belong solely to the realm of comic books. The science behind him is absurdly implausible when you take even a second to think about it. How could every molecule of a man be turned into sand? And, even if that were achieved, how could those grains of sand then re-coalesce and have any intelligence whatsoever, let alone the memories of the man?

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