Oh, Spider-Man, Spider-Man, how I adore thee... You truly are Amazing and Spectacular, I know this because I was raised on books that told me so. The chronicles of boy next door, Peter Parker, representing his Friendly Neighbourhood of Forest Hills, were my fables, my mythology. What feeble sense of right and wrong I own is through the good graces of Messrs. Lee, Ditko, Buscema, et al. “With great power comes great responsibility”, indeed.
After many years watching various incarnations of Spidey in cartoon form and a live-action series on television (- Where have you gone, Nicholas Hammond? – Apparently to a cameo in the first film). It was with unbridled joy that I greeted news that for the long-awaited Spider Man feature, Sam Raimi of Evil Dead and (- the underrated) Darkman would direct. His style and artistic sense of interpreting the incredible were a perfect fit for the story of the young bookworm from Queens and his interaction with a cranky arachnid. Mr. Raimi’s handling of this origin story so important to the life of a young elephant was so superb that I could even forgive the god-awful Mighty Morphin Power Ranger suit he saddled the Green Goblin with. Both the original 2002 film and its sequel, cleverly named Spider-Man 2, captured the wonder and awe of the question of what if this one-dimensional fantasy could really happen? Superior special effects, brisk pacing, great performances, and a sharp literate script that gave us the pathos and humour that makes Peter Parker such a relatable character, and made the two films the greatest superhero films I’ve ever seen.
Faintly drooling at the tusk, I ran like my bum was on fyah to this latest installment in our local hero’s adventures. More please, thank you! How heartbroken was I to find that while still pure genius, Spider-Man 3 is my least favourite of the three films.
Elaborate, MG? Sure, only too happy to!
It certainly started off well enough. There’s the brilliant device started in Spidey 2 of using the opening credits to retell the story as we’ve seen thus far. This time as myriad spider webs crisscross over photo images (- sadly, no Alex Ross artwork, this time) of scenes from the last two films, there are mysterious black drops landing on and trailing down the webs. I love foreshadowing! The film opens with the very unusual turn of the world being right for Peter Parker. He’s a happy guy! He’s happily entangled (- Spider-Man, entangled, webs, geddit? Oy.) with his beloved Mary Jane, he’s steadily earning in his job as freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle, college is great, cos he’s smart, and best of all, the world is in love with Spider-Man! Yes! Finally the rest of New York City has come to embrace what we industrious comic book fans have known for a very long time; Spidey’s okay! What with the crime-fighting and the life-saving, seriously, not a bad dude. Watch Peter admire back-slapping articles of himself on all the newsrags, watch Peter stand in Times Square (- surrounded by gawjuss New Yorkers) watching news footage of himself on the giant E-Billboards. Why Spider-Man even gets the key to the city! It’s a beautiful life … uh-oh!
You know this can’t be good, all this goodness. There’s no such thing as Spidey having a good time without someone to rain on his parade. So it begins; there’s Mary Jane getting all A-type after losing her starring role on Broadway (- cos she sings like a cat getting spayed without benefit of anesthesia). Peter’s life being put in imminent danger by his former bud Harry Osborne, who’s been operating under the mistaken idea that Spider-Man killed his crackpot dad, the Green Goblin. Harry has decided to take up his old man’s vocation and built tons of nifty gadgets and weapons, including what looks like a flying snowboard. Oh! And Harry’s been messing with performance enhancing gizmos, too… all the better to see buffy James Franco saunter around in a pair of boxer briefs, so okay. Eddie Brock, new photog on the block, gives Peter a run for his money at the Bugle, and will do anything to one-up him. Add to this charming cake a cherry in the form of new information that there was a mistake made in the murder investigation of Pete’s Uncle Been; turns out the guy we all thought was responsible for killing him back in the first movie was merely the driver in the car-jacking, a newly escaped con named Flint Marko was the one who pulled the trigger. Lawd, can’t a brother get no peace?
Coincidentally, that Flint Marko dude has some aggro in his life as well; he’s on the run from Riker’s, his wife who doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and he has a terribly ill little girl (- played by the B.B Kiddo actress from Kill Bill 2! I so wanted her to ask her father to watch Shogun Assassin with her) who all his ill-gotten gain is meant to save. To top it all off for Mister Marko, the poor fool runs straight from the police, right into a not particularly well-secured science experiment that turns him into a living sand castle with the ability to turn his body into a grainy cloud, or make it solid as a rock. It also seems to rob Marko of his ability to speak because he spends nearly every second as Sandman grunting like Kong Kong.
It also seems that Peter has lost his tingly Spider-sense somewhere. His built-in early warning system against all comers doesn’t give him the heads-up on a meteorite falling about five feet away from him in a local park. This particular meteor is actually rapid intergalactic transit for an inky black little glob that attaches itself first to Peter Parker’s moped, then to Peter Parker. The glob becomes one with Pete; coating over his trusty red n’ blue Spidey suit, making it dark as Pete’s soul. The added extraterrestrial strength and attitude the inky alien symbiote gives our boy makes for a lot of fun in and out of the mask. I loved seeing Goth Spidey do the selfish thing for once, and Emo Peter Parker is just a hoot. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first Spider-Man movie musical sequence. It’s absurd and its fine, these scenes are a great distraction from the slog the rest of the film has become by this point. Ah, but you can’t keep a good man down, and eventually Pete shuns the love (- and power) of the symbiote, hating the jerk he’s become. The symbiote is a codependent little thing and chooses someone who will love it right back, and that choice adds another piece of heaven to Peter Parker’s sunny life.
Is it possible to have too much money to put toward a film? I dunno, but whatever money there was certainly made its way up on the screen. SFX galore! Effects up to your elbows! Flashier, faster, louder, but somehow not much better. The first thing to put me off was the videogame-like quality of some of the fight scenes. I could admire them for their technicality and the work that had clearly gone into them, but because they were so whiplash fast and bloody unlikely, I couldn’t relate. If I can’t for a second suspend my disbelief and say “that could happen”, then I’m not feeling what you’re giving me (- and I believe everything!). Those OTT fight scenes left me cold; the opening fight with Harry and Pete, and the big climaxy fight with everybody and their hamster – a great big meh. Quick note on that last fight: A particular setup reminded me so much of a similar sequence in the first Jurassic Park that I sat in the theatre straining to remember whether or not Kirsten Dunst had been in it (- she’s not). I was much more impressed with the hand to hand combat between Harry and Peter that comes later because, you know, that could happen! There were CGI moments I did love, the creation of the Sandman, the rendering of Venom, Tobey Maguire’s dancing skills, all fantastically realised though not remotely possible.
The pacing of the film was very odd. Spidey 3 chimes in a 2 hours and 20 minutes, yet feels longer. Not looking at my watch, I actually wondered how they would find the time to introduce certain major characters, since it felt like I had been watching this movie for so long. Maybe less crying scenes by every member of the cast would have tightened things up a touch - I swear I thought I even saw J. Jonah Jameson well up at one point.
A note on the acting, Tobey is so Peter Parker; the enormous puppy dog eyes, the utter nerdliness, the goofy smile for that millisecond when things are going right, the struggle between what he wants and what he must do. I can’t picture anyone else in the role.
However … I’ve had it with Kirsten Dunst. I’m through. I had no particular gripe against her at all– Bring It On means the world to me – but her failure to improve her acting or add any depth to the juicy role of Mary Jane Watson, vamp extraordinaire (- “Face it, Tiger …you just hit the jackpot”- One of the greatest lines in modern literature), has made me wash my hands of her. I truly wonder if her skills are limited, or is she just so tired of the role that she’s not even trying. I actually liked her in the first film, she was adorable and full of life, and also not in it overly much. As the series has gone on there’s been more scenes for her and more storyline, and KiKi has let me down, yo. When you compare the muck of Dunst’s performance here with the bright spark of Bryce Dallas Howard’s as Mary Jane’s rival for Peter’s affection, Gwen Stacy, you’d think Dunst would know to step up her game. She’s not the only chicken in the coop anymore. Howard was absolutely darling as Gwen, refreshing, alive, and filled out her character, who doesn’t have tons to do but giggle or scream, perfectly. “More Gwen, please.”
Topher Grace is perfect as the smarmy, desperate Eddie Brock. I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason he was cast was for his resemblance to T. Maguire. They play off each other really well, and the similarity in their features only accentuates their disparities. James Franco has a scene in a pair of boxer briefs – Nuff Said. (- Yeah, I know I mentioned it earlier, but it was worthy of a second coming). Thomas Haden Church is a sad, sad man in the film, that’s really all he has to be, and it’s boring. I prefer my Sandman to be an unrepentant bad guy. The skewing of the Uncle Ben’s death was unnecessary, mawkish, and overweening. The one thing this film didn’t lack for was waterworks; did you really have to go there? Rosemary Harris is again her theatrical best as the rock of stability in Pete’s crazy life, that very dramatic walking Fortune-Cookie, Aunt May. J.K. Simmons is a god; I’m just putting that out there. If they did a spinoff of this series it better be about J. Jonah Jameson. And one of the (- few) true high points of the movie is the extended Bruce Campbell bit. This time The Chin is a waiter in a fancy French restaurant, where Peter intends to pop the question to Mary Jane. Bruce Campbell + French accent = This is who you get to restart the Pink Panther franchise, fools!
So here’s where it is. I’m not going to say I was so disappointed in Spider-Man 3 that I’ll never watch another one again. Not at all. I honestly thought for all its shortcomings, the film was still a good, fun time. I contend it’s the Return of the Jedi of the Spider-Man trilogy for me, and even so, I had a blast. I still can’t picture anyone other than Sam Raimi helming these films, but I wonder if it isn’t time to step back and do something else for a bit, or maybe do nothing. Go home, Sam, take a break, you deserve it. Spend time with those adorable kids that make a cameo in the movie. These movies are such a massive undertaking that I can easily imagine how tired one must get while making them. I guess the trick is not to let it show.
~ Mighty Ganesha
May 8th, 2007
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