A Great Big Bang-Up

10-May-07 3:53 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 11 comments.

Spider-Man 3 was to fans like honey to flies. Having contributed to that success, I now offer this perspective on a film that I very much enjoyed, but nowhere near as much as I did its predecessors.

I skimped on the previews for this third adaptation of the Marvel superhero: trailers are unnecessary selling points for a movie that had me at "hello". I'm glad I abstained, as the trailers contained multiple spoilers, including the presence of a major character whom I did not expect to see in this movie (despite all the clues being there). It was fun to watch all these icons come to life and duke it out, even if the first fight was my favorite and the rest seemed too frenetic and CGI-ish to follow.

But ultimately, that character's appearance contributed to the film's greatest flaw. I didn't have to see Batman & Robin to know that it was a victim to (among other things) its own ambition: introducing Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Batgirl was too much for one film to handle. Spider-Man 3 suffers similarly (if perhaps not as severely). Who will Spider-Man fight next: Sandman? The son of the Green Goblin? Or the black suit? Is he preoccupied by reliving the night his uncle was killed, not giving Maryjane the attention she deserves? Is she the love interest, or is Gwen Stacy?

Though I felt Sandman was used effectively in this film, I nonetheless opt to vote him off the island as the film's weakest — or at least most expendable — link. That's not an easy decision to make, as Sandman is here for a reason: he provides a necessary counterpoint to the symbiote. As Peter observes, "You always have a choice", and in this film, that choice is between vengeance or forgiveness; destruction or redemption. The suit and Sandman are the physical manifestation of that battle, the external embodiment of an internal decision. In that context, Sandman could not be eliminated without a major reworking of the story… but such a reworked story would ultimately produce a leaner and more manageable vehicle for our hero.

Speaking of which, more focus on the title character would also have behooved Spider-Man 3. In the first two films, I was seeing Peter Parker struggling to be Spider-Man; in this film, I watched Peter Parker struggling to be Peter Parker (including several drawn-out dance numbers). Though the vulnerable, human side of this superhero has always constituted a strong part of his character and his appeal, I felt in this installment that it was overwhelming.

Films sometimes drop off with the third entry: observe X-Men or Terminator. I'd hoped having a consistent director throughout the Spider-Man series would do it well, and certainly there's much to like about this latest film; I encourage everyone who liked the first two to run, not walk, to the third. It's just a bit more gluttonous a final hurrah than we were hoping for.

(And to end on a sour note: This was also the only film in the trilogy to not feature the original theme song anywhere — not even in the closing credits! Way to tick off the true believers!)

11 Responses to “A Great Big Bang-Up”

  1. GeneD adds:

    Ken, thanks again for organizing the group viewing of "Spider-Man 3" at the IMAX theater in Framingham, Massachusetts, this past weekend! I'm glad that I got to see the superhero sequel with you, co-worker Mark H., and friends including Thomas K.Y.

    I mostly agree with your review. The computer-generated imagery and fight choreography were generally well-done, the actors did the best they could with the script/plot, and New York City looked as good as ever.

    Unfortunately, like other comic book adaptations before it, sequel bloat did set in with a drawn-out romantic subplot (including the over-the-top dance sequences you mentioned), too many villains, some continuity flaws, and not enough to make our protagonist sympathetic despite a long run time.

    I'd have to watch the movie again, but I thought I heard snippets of the old television theme song–perhaps during one of the aforementioned dance scenes? As I told another friend, even Raimi's weaker "Spider-Man" is better than many other superhero flicks! I liked the second one the best, since it had the best hero/villain dynamic.

    As I mentioned to Brian F., I think the latest craze for the genre may already have peaked, despite the number of similar movies in the works.

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  2. Brian F. adds:

    *** SPOILERS FOLLOW ***

    A very good synopsis and assessment, Ken.

    I agree with a lot of your points — albeit I differ upon Sandman getting voted "off the island."

    His characterization was handled well by Raimi and put an interesting twist on the Spider-Man villan, e.g., one without a specific vendetta against the wall-crawler but rather a super-powered being whom is more neutral (an homage to the eventual about-face Flint Marko performs in the comics and eventually joins the Avengers??).

    To me, the symbiont was handled very poorly. You are correct stating the black suit personified Parker's struggle with responsibility for Ben's death vs. ability to live a normal life and submissive repression in favor of overt personality expression (or in this case, over the top dancing sequences and chick magnet portrayal played for laughs with casual fans and drawing snickers from devout Spidey followers).

    I was very disappointed in Topher Grace's 'hip, smart alec, fast-talking, wiseguy' Eddie Brock rendition. He was more annoying than he was sympathetic, or better yet, an imposing fear the black suit could make perhaps Spidey's deadliest enemy.

    Gene and I discussed this at the off site, but I think Raimi really 'pulled a Singer' here. He took liberties with Spider-man canon and history (aside from Sandman) and really twisted things to his own end. Goblin Jr. on a jet ski?? The Black Suit making Parker uber-evil and an A-hole rather than simply aggressive? The butler suddenly puling a mea culpa to come clean about Norman's death?

    No mas, no mas.

    Begs the question: For whom are these movies being made for these days?

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  3. GeneD adds:

    Brian and Ken, knowing that director Sam Raimi added Venom because the studio wanted a more recently popular villain than the mostly 1960s ones used thus far, I would have preferred to move him to a later sequel.

    Yeah, the wiseguy Brock is a far cry from the jock thug in the comic books, making his physical transformation harder to explain. By the same token, making all of the villains sympathetic undercuts their struggles with Peter Parker/Spider-Man, whose secret identity must be as difficult as ever to maintain after being unmasked during a battle in front of spotlights and news copters!

    If anything, I think that "New Goblin" Harry Osborn got short shrift in this movie, since his redemption was short-lived… On the other hand, I still think James Franco would have been a better Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" prequels (with Keira Knightly instead of Natalie Portman)….

    I agree with Brian that the later sequels tend to aim wide for mainstream success and forget the qualities that drew us fans in the first place.

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  4. Brian F. adds:

    While Franco and Knightly may have been better casting, perhaps not even that could have saved numerous holes in Lucas' prequel scripts…

    Far as Spidey 3, the Black Suit/Venom storyline probably deserved an entire movie to unfold and developed. You're right Gene, Raimi initally didn't want to include him but had his arm twisted by Arad to satisfy 'younger fans.'

    Maybe that's why the actual 'Venom' character was handled so sloppy.

    Yeah the CGI Venom had big teeth, but did he really scare the bejeebies out of anyone? Yawn.

    Without question Venom is the most significant Spider-Man villian to come from the non-Lee/Ditko Golden era — and he was mostly relegated to a CGI circus performer around the screen.

    In a movie littered with weak points, that was probably the most brittle regarding on-screen presence, continuity, and overall coolness.

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  5. peterw adds:

    Ken wrote:

    (And to end on a sour note: This was also the only film in the trilogy to not feature the original theme song anywhere — not even in the closing credits! Way to tick off the true believers!)

    I just saw the movie tonight, and the original theme song music was used as background music during the "Keys to the city" scene. I don't recall if it was used at any other time such as the dance scenes that GeneD mentioned.

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  6. Ken Gagne adds:

    Peter,

    Ah, you're right (of course!). I remember that vividly. I guess it escaped me while writing the post, as I think Spider-Man 3 was still the only film in the series to not use the original theme song (as opposed to a variation thereon)… or at least to apply lyrics to it. :-)

    What did you think of the rest of the film?

    -Ken

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  7. peterw adds:

    Overall I liked more than I disliked about the film. I was expecting there to be too many villains, but that made more sense for the finale. The special effects were pretty good for the most part, although I could perhaps have done with a little less of the 3-D fight scenes near the start (which tended to leave me feeling more dizzy than impressed). I certainly would have preferred the song and dance scenes to have moved along a bit faster — it was quite a long movie.

    Disclaimer: I had neglible Spider-Man history before the movies. I couldn't have named a Spidey bad guy if my life depended on it! So it's difficult for me to comment on how appropriate the portrayals of the bad guys were.

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  8. Ken Gagne adds:

    I don't have as much comic book knowledge as the other commentators on this thread, but I agree with Gene when he wrote:

    the wiseguy Brock is a far cry from the jock thug in the comic books, making his physical transformation harder to explain.

    I always thought of Brock as more of a Flash Thompson-type jerk of a character. In this movie, he was just a pretty boy who didn't understand what it was he'd gotten his hands on. We saw very little of the potential of what Venom could be.

    So if Sandman is the one who killed Uncle Ben… does that mean Peter is not responsible, by letting that thief escape into the elevator?

    I wonder how much cut footage from the dance scenes will be re-inserted for the Spider-Man 3.1 DVD special edition? ;-)

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  9. Ken Gagne adds:

    Look for this film on DVD on October 30th.

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  10. Ken Gagne adds:

    RiffTrax has now riffed this film!

    Buy it here.

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  11. hiphopguy23 adds:

    Hiphopguy23 liked Spider-Man 3. The problems Hiphopguy23 had with it were 1) There were too many callbacks to the preceding movies, which Hiphopguy23 did not remember as well as others might; and 2) It was about 15-20 minutes over-long which Hiphopguy23 expects is necessary because they tried to fit three villians in. The good news: 1) A tight script kept the action moving; and 2) Good acting, especially by Topher Grace who IMO stole the show.

    Overall, the good outweighed the bad by quite a bit. One trend that Hiphopguy23 is starting to notice is that these superhero movies (and Harry Potter series) try to fit way too much in. Spider- Man not only had three villians but three love interests?!? Everything has to move quick, quick, quick. No wonder today's kids have ADD. Hiphopguy23 recently watched Planet of the Apes for the first time. Hiphopguy23 was just captivated at how the slow pacing kept Hiphopguy23 completely entranced, giving Hiphopguy23 time to think and wonder what would happen next. M. Night Shamalayan is a master of this sort of pacing. Unbreakable is one of the best superhero movies of all time.

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