Friday, January 15, 2010

“If it's a woman you're calling, then you say: You're good woman. I'm good man.”

Spider-Man was two for two going into the 2007 release of Spider-Man 3. Then 3 was released and fanboys raged across the globe. Let’s take a look at why, shall we?

Peter Parker’s life is looking up. After saving New York from Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man is lauded as a hero, he’s getting ready to propose to his girlfriend, Mary Jane, he’s doing all right, he’s got good grades, his future’s so bright that he’s got to wear shades. All of this starts going to his head and he starts turning into an neglectful jerk. Then Harry Osborne decides he’s had enough, takes his dad’s Green Goblin serum and some equipment, picks a high flying fight with Peter, loses and gets a nasty bump on the head that is entirely Peter’s fault and gets amnesia.

Meanwhile, an escaped con who’s trying to get some money for his sick daughter gets caught in a SCIENCE experiment in the middle of the night and gets atomized (he gets better) and reforms himself from sand (told you). Turns out he was the guy who actually shot Uncle Ben (yeah, I know, it’s a pretty lame retcon) and once Spidey finds this out, he wants to take the guy down permanently.

Meanwhile(er), a little black glob of glue from a meteorite latches onto Peter’s backpack and follows him home. Turns out it’s a symbiotic alien life form that ends up taking the form of a new black costume for Spider-Man, granting him even greater strength and giving his already inflated ego an even bigger, nastier boost. This leads to trouble with a new freelance photographer at the Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock and Parker basically ruins Brock’s career (which comes back to bite Spidey in the ass later). Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane also hit’s the skids because he’s a negligent, self-centered prick (before the symbiote, actually).

And THEN things get complicated.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire got a lot of flack for “emo Peter Parker,” and yeah, I can see that. However, Parker’s transformation into a douche bag takes place before he actually gets the symbiote. He almost kills Harry during their fight and he’s so smitten with his own newfound glory that he can’t recognize the fact that Mary Jane is having a really difficult time with her career and he’s all like “gee, ain’t my life great?” all the time. And besides, Peter’s always been kind of on the cusp of becoming an asshole during all three films, the symbiote just makes it official when he wears it.

Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst actually goes through a lot in this movie. From starting out optimistic about her relationship and an acting gig, to understandably depressed about getting booted off the gig then really angry at Peter for being too self-absorbed to realize that she’s in need of comforting to being comforted by Harry to being utterly devastated by Peter’s infamous “Dancing scene.” She handles it quite well (oh yeah, and there’s another damsel in distress scene for her. Again.)

Harry Osborne/New Goblin (seriously? New Goblin?): James Franco gets some…odd stuff in this movie. First, we get Harry in his dad’s secret stash, kits himself out in a modified version of the Green Goblin gear and a brutal fight scene where he chases Spider-Man through the skyscrapers of New York, then he gets a bump on the head, almost dies, suffers some amnesia (like forgetting how his dad died or who Spider-Man really is) and his life starts improving. I actually really liked the whole “Mary Jane goes to Harry when Peter acts like an ass” subplot because it could lead to interesting story places down the road, but then Harry’s memories and hatred of Spidey comes back and he just turns into a generic bad guy who uses Mary Jane in an evil plot to “destroy Peter’s life,” then he & Pete fight it out, Pete scars his face and, well, let’s just say that by the end of the movie, the Harry subplot is no longer an issue. I’ve gotta admit, the whole Harry plot felt really forced in this and not as well developed as it could have been.

Flint Marko/Sandman: Thomas Hayden Church kind of gets the shaft in this movie. On the one hand, he does a fantastic job as a rather tormented escaped con who just wants to be able to help his sick daughter, but he made the mistake of turning to crime to do that and that leads to him becoming the Sandman and then becoming our Villain du jour. There’s some great potential for exploring the nature of good and evil, and Church is the spiting image of Flint Marko in this film, but all of that early potential gets kind of cast aside and he disappears from the movie for a while we focus on the other two villains populating the screen, both of whom are more connected to Peter Parker. Which is kind of a shame, since Sandman is a really well realized character in this movie, nuanced and sympathetic while still a credible threat to our hero. The only real issue I had (aside from the plot shoving him out of the spotlight) was the retcon of having him be the guy who shot Uncle Ben in that carjacking all those years ago. It kind of forces a connection between him and Spidey, and it also has the unfortunate implication of Peter Parker being guilty of criminal negligence (thanks, Wikipedia!) in letting the hood he thought killed Uncle Ben fall to his death.

Eddie Brock/Venom: Topher Grace has an odd job of being a character who’s in the movie throughout but only becoming a villain near the end. At first, he’s another photographer and actually a lot like Peter, a little hard on his luck, but dating a model and on his way up in the world. He’s a little bit more of a fast talker than Parker and slightly more lecherous, but there’s no indication of him being a bad guy. Then Peter, in the black costume, throws a hissy fit at Brock and breaks his camera and calls him a chump. Then Eddie does something desperate: he doctors photos of Spider-Man to get the scoop. Peter finds out about this, they have it out in the Daily Bugle and Parker does what every fifth grader knows not to: he tattles, getting Brock fired and essentially blacklisting him from any other newspaper. Long story short, a desperate and depressed Brock gets the black symbiote when Peter ditches it, becoming the revenge-obsessed Venom. This in itself isn’t a bad plotline, but considering everything else that’s going on in the film, its just too damn busy and the Brock storyline just feels rushed. It probably would’ve worked better if they spread it out over two movies, but, well, Venom was hella popular with the kids in the ‘90s and is still really recognizable today, so here you go, have some Venom. Now, Venom in the comics is a big dude, but here he’s maybe slightly bigger than Peter, so it loses some of the menacing effect.

Gwen Stacy: Bryce Dallas Howard (yes, yes, I know its ironic that a natural redhead is playing a blonde alongside a natural blond who’s playing a redhead) plays the famous Gwen Stacy, in comics, the “other girlfriend” who (well, its not really a spoiler since it happened back in the 70s) was infamously killed in a fight with the Green Goblin. She’s decidedly less dead in this movie, and is a generally nice girl who also happens to take a liking to Spider-Man after he rescues her from falling out of a building during a construction crane accident. She was dating Eddie Brock, but after Peter ruined his career, that seems to have fallen apart and Peter hooked up with Gwen for a while, but thanks to all the plots being juggled, she feels like a tertiary (Tertiary!!) character.

J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons is STILL awesome in this series, only now he’s gotten some character development/new gag with Betty Brant (still Elizabeth Banks) constantly reminding him of his blood pressure and not to get too excited/angry/shout loudly at Hoffman (Ted Raimi). While he doesn’t get that much screen time in this, he is easily the film’s most consistent badass.

Sam Raimi still brings a great visual style to things, (montages, transitions, etc) though there is that whole “Dancing Emo Peter Parker” scene that is either intentionally cheesy or unbearably campy. I shall withhold judgment. The action scenes remain inventive, though, and the CGI work still looks very good. The scene where Flint Marko is trying to reform his body from grains of sand and has difficulty doing so until he focuses on a locket with his daughter’s photograph is both convincingly done and incredibly touching. Poor guy just can’t get a break.

Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi & Alvin Sargent do have a grasp on the characters, but all of the above points to the biggest flaw of the film: Too much plot. We’ve got Peter & Mary Jane’s courtship troubles, Peter trying to avenge Uncle Ben, Sandman’s subplot, Harry Osborne’s yo-yo of sanity, Gwen Stacy’s introduction, Peter dealing with the symbiote, Eddie Brock’s career ruin and then gaining the symbiote, and J. Jonah’s heart rate gags. Individually, these elements are fine, but there’s just too much of them in the air at once to get the attention they deserve, like the symbiote storyline could’ve been extended across two movies just fine.

Christopher Young replaces Danny Elfman on the score, and does a good job of things. The standard alternative/pop songs are also fine.

Ok. Spider-Man 3 is definitely a flawed film. Very flawed, come to think of it. Too many villains and an outright surfeit of plot threads to keep track of bog the film down, but its not actually an epic failure of a movie (its better than Supermans II, III, & IV combined, and I am willing to stand by that assertion). Compared to those, its actually quite watchable, largely enjoyable on the whole and there are some truly great scenes in it, so I’m going to invite a bit of flack from fellow fanboys by saying that I liked it. 2 and 1 are definitely better (in that order), but it doesn’t deserve the hatewagon its managed to pick up.

Still here?

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