Wednesday, May 02, 2007

 

What a tangled web they wove

By Edward Copeland
The first Spider-Man didn't do much for me. The visual effects seemed particularly fake and I just didn't get into it. Then along came Spider-Man 2 and I enjoyed the hell out of it. However, the third time is not the charm, namely because so many villains are piled on and the running time gets extended to such an unnatural extent, that the end result left me dissatisfied.


Not that there isn't a lot to like in Spider-Man 3, particularly in the comic (as in comedic) scenes involving J.K. Simmons as newspaper editor Jameson, a brief cameo by longtime Sam Raimi cohort Bruce Campbell and some great sequences involving the "bad" Peter Parker, infected by some type of organism from outer space.

Peter's college professor tells him that the organism seems to accentuate the attributes of the host it attaches itself to, and Parker already was beginning to have ego problems before his infection. He's enjoying being the toast of the town as Spider-Man, so much so that he fails to notice the career problems of his faithful girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). (Aside: I know that the New York portrayed in Spider-Man 3 bears only a cursory resemblance to the real city and I shouldn't expect it to follow the rules but Mary Jane's firing from her Broadway show after a slew of bad opening night reviews took me out of the film's reality. There are contracts to consider and surely the show's producers and director would have known there was a problem before opening night and I've never heard of a performer being replaced because of bad reviews while the show kept marching on.)

Peter's self-absorption eventually threatens his relationship with Mary Jane, but he's got plenty of other things to keep him occupied. Harry (James Franco) still blames him for the death of his Green Goblin father (Willem Dafoe) and is trying to repeat his father's experiments.

Meanwhile, a common criminal seeking to help his ailing daughter (a beefed-up Thomas Haden Church) becomes a dangerous adversary thanks to a strange scientific accident. (As Peter asks after his first encounter with the Sandman, "Where do all these guys come from?")

If that weren't enough, the aforementioned outer space goo turns Spidey into a dark-suited megalomaniac, which further alienates him from a rival photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who has an imaginary relationship with the model daughter (Bryce Dallas Howard) of a city police captain (James Cromwell). Later, once Peter frees himself of the organism, it unfortunately lands on Eddie, turning him into another archvillain named Venom.

As you can imagine from a brief synopsis this complicated, that's exactly how the film plays as well. It's just too much and with so many subplots and subtext (I forgot to mention that Sandman may be the person who killed Peter's uncle in the first film), the film ultimately proves more exhausting than entertaining. It's a shame, because there is a lot to like.

Tobey Maguire actually does some of his best work when Peter transforms from nice guy geek into the epitome of narcissistic self love. Raimi moves some scenes, particularly the funny ones, along well, but the rest get tiresome, especially some of the action sequences.

It's also worth noting that when you see out-of-control cranes bringing down tall New York buildings and clouds of Sandman dust flowing through the streets, the echoes of 9/11 are inescapable and uncomfortable. The script also has some fine ideas lurking beneath the surface involving bad luck versus bad choices and whether it's ever too late to make a new choice, but they get lost in the noise.

By the end, even though the climax telegraphs its payoff, you can see why they may have thought it necessary to include so many characters and elements, but I still think that Spider-Man 3 could have worked much better if the entire Sandman story had been jettisoned.

In the end, I liked Spider-Man 3 better than the first one, but Spider-Man 2 remains the best installment as far as I'm concerned.


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Comments:
Interesting review, Ed. I am planning to see Spider-man 3 opening night with my little brother (already have our tickets) and am very much looking forward to it. I loved the other two and was actually one of the few people who thought the first one was slightly better than the second. Anyway, I'll keep your sentiments in mind as I watch it. I'm so jealous you got to see it early!
 
thanks for sharing your thoughts.

i too loved s-m 2 but not 1.

did you find x-men 2 better than 1 & 3 as well?

How curious that the 2nd installment of these super hero movies would be better.

is there any explination?
 
I knew Spidey 3 was in trouble when I saw a recent trailer and it had so much stuff in it, it didn't even feature The Sandman. That was a big red flag for me.

I'm still taking my son to it. He'll enjoy it and I probably won't. We will see.

Spiderman 2 is among my favorite comic book movies. I thought it was excellent.
 
I liked both of the first two X-Men films about equally (and a lot) but the third installment was a huge letdown.
 
You confirmed my fears about the movie, EC. I kept feeling that this one was turning into the Batman franchise, with its multiple villains and bloated screen time. Still, I'm going to go see it.

I liked the first Spider-Man and loved the second, which is the same way I felt about X-Men. I gave the third X-Men the benefit of the doubt with a B- (way too preachy! gay tolerance--WE GET IT ALREADY). I expect Spidey 3 to be a B- too.

As an aside: when I was in Canada, I got to watch the old cheap ass Spidey cartoon on the French channel. You haven't lived until you've heard that theme song ("Spider-Man! Spider-Man! Does whatever a spider can...") in French!
 
Good review Ed. I intentionally avoided your site before seeing the movie because this is what I feared. I am a huge comic book fan and a Spiderman fan. I thought both 1 and 2 were admirable and the second was a particularly astonishing transformation from paneled page to screen.

But this one?

The only way I can sum it up is there was a really good movie in there somewhere and Sam Raimi just didn't find it.
 
Now that I've seen it, my fears have been confirmed. The Sandman story pretty much put me to sleep. His plotline was a complete waste and drags down the movie. Bryce Dallas Howard's last name is the only reason she gets any acting gigs whatsoever. She's a horrible actress, and I was glad the film completely forgot about her.

I liked the bad Peter Parker stuff, especially when he's doing his bad Saturday Night Fever imitation. Schillinger from Oz was great as usual, and Bruce Campbell brought the house down with his cameo.

Kirsten Dunst sings the worst musical number since Lauren Bacall croaked out "Hearts, Not Diamonds" in The Fan. I didn't think she was bad enough to get fired, so I agree with you on that plot point, EC.

The scenes with the crane were unnerving, but the Sandman floating through the air did not make me think of 9/11. I was there on 9/11. The Sandman looked too fake to evoke that kind of memory for me.

My screening was noisier than usual, and not with the good talk-to-the-screen noise either (though one woman correctly stated "there are some crybaby men in this movie!"). There was a Japanese couple sitting next to me, and the woman would not shut the hell up. Her boyfriend told her numerous times "SHUT UP!" in Japanese, but she wouldn't. She talked the entire goddamn movie. I hope she gets food poisoning for being an inconsiderate ass. (You should have read what it said BEFORE I changed it to "I hope she gets food poisoning." No one can state I have no restraint.)

I said B- before. I was wrong. This is a C+ movie.
 
I didn't look into it, but was I the only one who didn't think it looked like it was really Dunst singing in that opening number?
 
I thought she was Marni Nixoned too, but apparently it's really her. She's singing on one of the soundtrack tracks, from what I read.
 
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