May 7, 2007

This really, really hurts. I'm kind of a big fan of the comic, the character, and, thus far, the movies. So it is with a heavy heart that I have to confess I wasn't really impressed by the latest one.
Spiderman 3 has some noble aspirations, I think. I suspect that Sam Raimi had some really specific plans for this movie, incorporating a lot of characters and elements - specific plot details as well as storyline and development arcs - into one movie.
However, whether it's just a continuation of the "Trilogy Curse" or just poor planning, this one just didn't work for me.
The basic plot is simple enough: the birth of a new villian, Flint Marko (who shares his last name with an Xmen villain, Juggernaut - Cain Marko - yet no one ever asks if the two are actually related), a petty thief who, on the run from the police, falls victim to a particle acceleration experiment which disintegrates him; though permitting him the ability to re-integrate himself as a silicon-based being. He retains his mind, though he possesses the ability to control his body in a sand-like state - thus, Sandman.
The transformation sequence where he first returns to life is genuinely one of the most dramatic CGI scenes I've witnessed on film; the struggle is painfully displayed, and between the filming and score, you really feel for the man, and witness his determination to survive. Honestly, it's one of the best single scenes in the movie.
But we also encounter the first big flaw of this movie: they make Sandman FAR too sympathetic a villain. The man's just trying to get money to take care of his sick daughter, and he's had some bad luck. Most of the time Spidey's beating on him, I just wanted to tell Spiderman to back off the man. Leave him be, he's just trying to get help for his child, man.
He never really leaves this state, either, because at every possible opportunity, we are shown him looking at the locket that holds his daughter's picture. Oh, yeah. His daughter's sick. He's doing this for her. We got it. Moving on.
In one of the more spectacular fight scenes, we are re-introduced to Spidey's arch-enemy and best friend, Kid Goblin. Okay, they never call him that, but now he rides a snowboard and has cool goggles, and his mask doesn't look as silly as his dad's did. Okay, it's still silly, but for different reasons. I noticed that he protects his face but not his head. I guess the idea of moving 200 mph on a jet-propelled skateboard means you just want to have the wind move through your hair and keep the bugs out of your eyes and mouth, but you're determined not to have helmet hair. Can't see a problem with that, so long as you don't hit anything... oh wait. Yeah, that might be a problem.
This ends up being the most interesting story arc in the movie, the issues between Peter and Harry. They were best friends, now they're not. A girlfriend (MJ) and Harry's dad's death both keep them on opposite sides of the law. It's a bittersweet arc here, full of triumphs and I feel they wrap it up too clean, too soon for us to enjoy it as much as I would've liked.
The MJ/Peter issues reach a new level of annoyance with MJ feeling threatened by Spiderman's public success versus her own struggles with fame and celebrity. I think I can see what they were going for here, but in the end, she just comes off as whiny. I'm still shocked that Peter has a job at the Daily Bugle, by the way, since he did steal away his boss' son's fiancee. Apparently JJ Jamison is a lot more forgiving a man than he comes across. I would've expected him to have canned Pete the day his son got left at the altar.
By the end of the movie, I'm really surprised MJ wants anything to do with Pete. This part left me really disappointed. The ending feels DRAMATICALLY forced and superficial. It was almost like they made the characters think, "hey, this is the end of a movie, we better get along now."
They made several changes to MJ's character for the movies, patterning her more after another character from the books, Gwen Stacy. And then they brought the Gwen Stacy character into this movie, which for me, means only one thing: someone's gotta die.
See, in the comics, Peter becomes spiderman, and starts by using his powers for personal gain, until that greed inadvertently leads to his uncle's death. This death was what made him decide to use his powers for good.
Years later, his girlfriend - Gwen Stacy - was killed by the Green Goblin. This made Spiderman confront the Goblin, during which battle the goblin was killed by his own glider stabbing him through the chest (just like in the first movie). But this whole situation stuck with Spidey and made him question whether his choice to be a "superhero" was in fact a bad idea, as the people around him were constantly in danger.
Basically, Ben's death led him to start on the path, Gwen's death nearly took him off it. It also kept him from having meaningful relationships for several years.
He and MJ had a lot of problems just because she KNEW about him being spiderman and figured if he wasn't comfortable enough with her to tell her, then apparently they didn't have a strong enough relationship.
Anyway, that's the comics. In the movies, they kind of took that whole element of Gwen Stacy out. In this movie, she's here, but she's dating a guy named Eddie Brock, who also works at the Bugle and apparently has a lot of Peter Parker envy.
Now, when I say Gwen and Eddie are dating, apparently what I really mean is that he dated her once - they went for coffee - and he's just totally stuck on that idea.
When they first introduce him, he makes the comment that they're dating, and I actually thought it was an interesting choice (they never even met in the comics, Gwen having died YEARS before the arrival of Eddie Brock). But, speaking of "interesting choices", let's go right from this to the arrival of the "alien symbiote."
The black costume. Ugh. Now, while I think the black costume and what it represents to spidey (his darker years and his current dark times as a rebel against the law in the comics right now) is a really interesting plot device, I always HATED that it was actually an alien being that drained his energy and had a mind of its own. It was kind of... I dunno, silly. Yes, I said silly within a comic book storyline, as if the whole thing was somehow a higher form of literature.
They recently started a new line of comics, called the "Ultimate" universe, where they've kind of re-told the spiderman stories, taking the best elements and congealing them into a solid continuity, removing little silliness like how he was actually a clone for about 2 years' worth of titles and has had to battle against the Spider Gods to keep his powers, blah blah blah. Yes, I'm not making that up.
Anyway, in this "Ultimate Spiderman", they had the Venom character, but it was actually made by a mad scientist's (Doctor Octopus) efforts to create another spiderman in a lab. The dna, mixed with one of their test subjects, led to a creature called venom, who had such unstable cellular structure that he was like liquid, changing and morphing in the Big Gnashing Teeth scary thing we almost saw on the screen in this movie.
I would've liked a better tie in to that origin. I know, it would've been two genetically altered supervillians (3, if you count Harry Osborn), and maybe they were worried that people'd think they were just harping on Genetic experimentation, and not telling a superhero movie.
Anyway, this black ooze takes Spidey over, and before you can spell "Excelsior" (btw, Stan Lee finally gets a good cameo in this one), Pete's walking down the street in a really bad impression of 70's cool, and we are forced to watch the painful primping as we share the neighborhood's discomfort as Peter acts like he owns the world.
Complete with Emo hairdo.
The problem is, this whole event, this transformation into that which he hates most, the realization of this and the attempt to get it out of his life, and the repercussions of where the black outfit goes next happen in the end of the second act of the movie. It's too late for us to even care about that at this point, I actually looked for a watch to look at so I could ask myself "do we have time for a new villain? Isn't this almost over by now??"
The last act is even worse, though. Aside from a few very necessary scenes with Pete and Harry (Spiderman and the new Goblin), we're thrown into a completely forced "final battle" with the Sandman and Venom versus Spidey, with MJ in the middle.
They never really explain why Venom/Eddie Brock figures out that MJ is even hostage material, so we're kind of dragged along with the assumption that the alien symbiote told Eddie at some point, or else the villains just have been passing around that little tidbit off-screen. Either way, it has never been more clear that MJ really needs to move to LA to work on her movie career. They try to make her break out of her "helpless victim" category by having her get into the fight a bit - calling out "look out!" and throwing concrete blocks at appropriate times, even though you'd think Spiderman's "Spidey Sense" would've tipped him off once or twice.
Speaking of which, I don't even think he has that spider sense anymore. It didn't tip him off ONE SINGLE TIME during this movie.
(note: yes, in the comics, his spidey sense doesn't work against Venom, but if that's the case in this movie, they really should've mentioned it; my point is that it didn't seem to work AT ALL.)
I also hated the very ending.
I like to have my spidey movies end with him being spiderman. Swinging, the whole thing.
Not only does it NOT end like that, there was precious little spiderman-ness going on during the whole movie. It felt, overall, less like a Spiderman movie, and more like a Peter Parker movie.
Which we kind of had in the first one. Tobey Macguire must have demanded more face time in this one, and if that's the case, shame on him. I don't really want to see him in the movies. I want to see spiderman.
And speaking of not seeing Spiderman, why does he always seem so Emo in these movies? Spiderman cracks wise, man! That's his trademark - forget the red/blue tights, the wall-crawling, the web-slinging - he's the guy who usually wins by pissing off his enemies to the point where he can stop them with a few well-aimed webs and a couple heavy punches. but here... he's just so..... depressing.
Okay, but not to say it's all a lost cause. I'm sure the movie can be saved by a really effective Director's Cut (though, Mr Raimi? If you've got the holy grail for this movie on the editing room floor, then SHAME ON YOU!) that has more action and more Spidey-time.
It also had a GREAT scene with Bruce Campbell in a restaurant, which is really very well done (and counters what would have otherwise been an unbearably horrible scene), and some great short bits with JK Simmons (plays JJ Jamison, the cranky editor in chief). Also, the aforementioned origin scene with the Sandman is absolutely fantastic.
My advice? go ahead, check out the movie. It's not crap. It's decent. I probably expected too much.
Overall, it felt like the director was trying to make two movies at once. I think if he could've found a way to combine just the Harry Osborne and Sandman plots and then just leave the black costume/alien symbiote/Eddie Brock/Gwen Stacy bits for the next movie (or maybe leave the movie ending with the arrival of the black suit), it would've left this as more of a solid movie and not the hodgepodge it felt like to me.
Doing so could've left this as a good piece of the franchise and yet still leave people wanting more from a Spiderman 4. As it stands, I have a bad feeling this is going to do for the spiderman movies what Joel Schumacher did for the Batman movies.
Evidently, the Trilogy Curse may be alive and well. :(