Sunday, May 06, 2007

Third Times the Harm: Spider-Man 3

In order to cheer myself up after Spider-Man 3, the sequel to the best comic book film of all time, I've made a batch of cookies. It's probably dangerous to eat "Venom" but I'm gonna devour this whole plate.

I was film festivaling during the film's mammoth opening weekend but from the reviews I've glanced at post-screening today I don't think there's a strong reason to write another: the film's problems are obvious and familiar enough from other films that I figure even your average moviegoer can describe them with great accuracy (never mind the box office. That was a given). But I do have a couple of things I'd like to get off my chest before I put several of these into my belly.

As a huge supporter of this particular franchise and its inspired director, I'm inclined to disagree with the notion that the filmmaking team is entirely off their game or that the spirit has gone out of it. I think this film is pitched exactly the same as the others: it has the same unembarrassed beating heart and soapy broad strokes romance, the same visual flair and idiosyncratic comic beats... the same everything. What it's missing is the ability to turn itself off or add something new to justify the more! more! more! mode. The Watson / Parker romance, for instance, was so superbly handled in the first two that it needn't have been such a focus. We remember it well so there's no need to retread. Especially not when you've got so many new story threads to tell us about.

We've seen this before in sequels and would be blockbusters but in superhero films it's especially easy to spot the "more" problem. You can count the villains. If there's three or more you're almost always in trouble. Unless those three are essentially one (see: Superman 2). Batman Returns was an exceptional sequel in many ways but the movie got distracted enough with three Bat threats to forget its prize posession (Catwoman) for huge stretches at a time heading into the climax. Let's not even speak of the third X-Men film: so many characters that almost no one registered --and when your cast includes talent like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman that's not only a pity but a crying shame.

I should probably fess up to the fact that I've been nervous from the beginning but kept my mouth shut hoping for the best. Venom is a sensational looking villain but I've never been crazy of exploring duality issues with Spider-Man. That's Batman's bag, kids. Let Peter Parker do his own wonderful nerd/hero thing.

For what it's worth I'm confident that Spider-Man 3 will be more enjoyable in DVD form when you can watch little bits at a time. But as a stand-alone, it's very choppy and swings awkwardly from threat to threat and from crying jag to crying jag. It's so unwieldy they even have to throw in little inserts to remind you: Villain #? is still alive! Gwen Stacy is a complete dud but here she is again anyway! MJ is still sad!

My heart plummeted when I realized I was tired of the movie and Venom still hadn't appeared.

Still, as I bid goodbye to the series (I don't believe in the Spider-Man 4 rumors -especially not with this team) I want to say a warm but melancholy thank you to all involved: I love this huge colorful gift you gave us. I would've been thrilled had the finale topped or nearly matched the transcendent heights of the midsection but that rarely happens. For every Empire which strikes back, there seems to be a Jedi who returns.

Spider-Man 3 C+
(ftr: Spider-Man B+ and Spider-Man 2 A Both were on their respective years top ten lists: 2002 & 2004)
My Mood Right Now: D
These Cookies: B (pretty good but a little burnt at the edges --in the oven a bit too long)


WickedScorp said...

SPIDER-MAN 3... for anyone who ever wondered what would happen if LIFETIME produced a superhero film.

Anonymous said...

geeez..why am i the only person who thinks spiderman 2 was a piece of dreck!!it was horrible. i dont get the praise it received.

J.D. said...

Well Anon, you are apparently alone there. For traditional comic book movies, it's the best ever made. If you open that category up to manga and graphic novel, only Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind and V for Vendetta trump it for me.

I must see this for the sake of seeing. Hey, theres a chance I may kind of like it...?

adam k. said...

Those cookies look GOOD. I want one.

Glenn Dunks said...

I actually think the best comic-film ever made is Dick Tracy, but Spider-Man 2 is definitely #2 A work. Amazing.

Spider-Man 3 though? Ugh. I actually don't think that Nat's belief about everything being the same is right. Sam Raimi co-wrote this one, and it's his first go at writing since the early '90s if I remember correctly, and it shows. He doesn't know what scenes that superfluous, doesn't realise when scenes are going on too long, and doesn't realise what is necessary or not. Yes, too many villains, too many deus ex machinas to fill a sinking ship (what's that? a truck full of sand conveniently parked on a New York City street that Sandman can hide in? The butler who saw everything?) and the Gwen storyline is completely pointless. It was dropped almost as soon as it was getting developed (they just made Bryce Dallas disappear from the film too).

And that downright bizarre musical number? That was stupid.

I gave it a C- because I'm having trouble even remembering the action setpieces between all that nonstop incessant talking.

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh, and yes, I agree with Adam. Cookies look goood. Chocolate?

adam k. said...

They look like they might be gingerbread.

On the Gewn Stacy note, can we all just take a moment to laugh communally at Bryce Dallas Howard's continual failure to break into stardom in any significant way? Haha. Ron Howard's daughter. Workin' SO HARD with the nepotism. Yet never succeeding.

The Chemistry Guru said...

Absolutely agree with you, but you really think that Spidey 4 won't happen? Especially with the box office performance?


yeah i don't believe it will happen. box office will definitely make the studio want to continue but that doesn't necessarily mean the chips will fall into place. For one thing Tobey & Kirsten will be way too expensive (presumably their contracts are up right --people don't usually sign for sequels in perpetuity but a certain number of sequels... and surely Raimi will want to move on to other projects after spending this decade on spiderman.

just my firm hunch that if we see another... it'll be at least 2010 before we do and the cast and director will be different... and it'll be received like a Batman and Robin

Glenn Dunks said...

I hope they don't make a fourth. I'd rather they go out with a crappy movie but tonnes of box office than a crappy movie and crappy box office.


they'd have to dip into second tier villains at this point, too. plus catwoman ripoff 'the black cat'

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Maybe they can do the origin of the Hobgoblin. The trade paperback collection of that had a lot of good drama and narrative but it will take a whole new team plus step back in time as it requires not only Harry Osbourne but the Kingpin to be alive. Also has Blackcat. They have to use the Lizard soon though as well as Carnage with the things they left unexplored.

But after reading this cinematic expression of Nath's "Mourning for a Franchise," I say someone get Ingmar Bergman and tell him to shoot this particular film experience. :)

Kamila said...

I think I am the only person who liked "Spider-Man 3".

I liked the movie a lot. It is not the best of the series, but it is definetely the funniest one.

Even though many people complained about the large numbers of characters in "Spider-Man 3", I really thought the screenplay of the movie was not harmed by that.

I loved the action sequences and the fact that "Spider-Man 3" is a good movie with a beginning, middle and an end. Without those scenes that keep us waiting anxious for the next part.

Glenn Dunks said...

The same guy that said years in advance that Sandman and Venom were to be the villains is claiming that if they go ahead with a fourth then the villains will be Lizard and Carnage.

The Chemistry Guru said...

On the Gewn Stacy note, can we all just take a moment to laugh communally at Bryce Dallas Howard's continual failure to break into stardom in any significant way?

Aww, don't be too hard on her. I do like her, she's not, like, the worst actress ever and nepotism (of some form) gave us the Gyllenhaals. I ain't complaining.

PIPER said...

I wrote that I knew I was in trouble when my 9 year old asked me how much time was left and we still had half the movie left.

The truth is, I don't know that a franchise such as this should go on past a couple films and it will be interesting to see if Batman can hold up if it continues with Nolan.

There's just no where new to take it. I didn't think it was a bad film, as a matter of fact I thought that the way Raimi handled several parts of the film was very good, I just didn't like the material much. And I guess that goes back to Raimi again. I just think it was doomed from the beginning because there wasn't anything new to tell. Perhaps if it would have been all about Venom, that might have been something. But like you say, that's Batman's bag.

adam k. said...

I just find it funny that B.D. Howard tried to gain cred these obscure highbrow things - basically the polar opposite of what her dad does -and then they turned out to be crap. And then she finally goes populist, and even goes dishwater blonde to do it, and then THAT turns out to be crap, too. It's just funny. She can't catch a break.

I mean, I don't hate her either, but anyone who reads the script for Lady in the Water and agrees to do it deserves whatever she gets. Yeesh.

adam k. said...

Whoa, I just realized that I referred to Lady in the Water as "obscure and highbrow." Yikes. At least it's one of those things.

But yeah, nepotism is hit and miss. I don't mind it in general, and Bryce is not a bad actress, but it provides added ammunition when I feel like dissing her.


i believe we're talking platinum blonde rather than dishwater because how fake did that hair look?

given the direction they took this series in to begin with it was a mistake to bring gwen stacy in at all...

argh. i don't get so many choices in this movie. i wish the Lizard had been the villain. that would've made it more complete as a trilogy given the appearances in the earlier films.

Damian Arlyn said...

That's a fair response, Nate. Personally speaking, I quite liked Spider-man 3 and, as I say in my own reaction to it, I think that much of the disdain currently directed at it is unfair and unwarranted.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see reviews are starting to come out that basically are along the same lines as my opinion of the movie! (came out here May 1st, so for once I saw a movie without reading what other people think about it)

It was just spread WAY too thin... like they tried to go out with a bang by including as much pizzazz as possible, only to have it fizzle away. I very much enjoyed the first two films (reconciled me to the idea of movies based on comic boo heroes), but this one I just wanted to finish! Pity!

Anonymous said...

I must be missing something - maybe it's a gender thing? I thought S2 was good, but a bit over the top. When Tobey (as Pete) is standing at the window whispering "Why can't I have what I want?" it felt like he was confusing this movie with Shakespeare, or some great heightened drama. Dude, it's a superhero movie, lighten up.

And it quite irked me that MJ was reduced to a Perils of Pauline situation, chained up and at the mercy of the villian, waiting for the hero to save her. Hello, this is the 21st Century (in case no one's checked their calender lately); can we not leave such late-Victorian tripe back in the last century? Is an active, intelligent heroine who doesn't require saving STILL too much to ask?

And those moments when the movie stopped dead so Aunt May could deliver sermons on responsibility? Ugh. (Those unleashed a very pained reaction from my sweetie afterwards, who was just out of art school and struggling with notions of making a living at her art vs going back to a "real job" - which she eventually succumbed to. So perhaps my perception of the film is skewered by that, but only slightly I think.)

Please note I am talking about the last installment, not the current one. I have read Damien's reaction to S3 on his blog, and I have to say I agree with his premise quite a bit, even though I have not seen the current film and have no intention of doing so. I had completely forgotten about the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" sequence from the last film, but it did strike me as pretty corny. So when I read the descriptions of S3, it sounds pretty much the same as S2 to me.

That's not to deny anyone's love of it, and indeed it's obvious this produces strong feelings in people. I guess I just lack the self-identification with Peter Parker thing? Maybe then I'd "get" it?



see that's what i loved about 1 & 2 though. they're bold unironic confidence in themselves. that huge heart and serious drama without winking (except for the appropriate comedic bits)

and though this one has a similar tone it's conversations already thoroughly explored and resolved in the first two. they wen't nowhere NEW with it and just kept hitting those perfectly hit beats from 1 & 2.

i just think any movie is in trouble when it has so much in it that it has to keep flashing back to other films and its own lengthy self for fear of losing the audience.

as y'all know i love me some Kirsten Dunst too so it's sad to see her saddled with the worst developments --and thus, more audience blame. I liked her arc in #2 and especially the end moment when she finally uttered 'go get 'em, tiger' --but returning her to her pre-acceptance phase was a bad idea.

Unknown said...

lol, Nat, I kind of agree with you, but certainly Spiderman 3 has bigger problems than that. At moments is SO stupid and embarrassing that it hardly has any defense.

What is more painful is to remember that even Batman & Robin's horrible camp in the end was obviously made on purpouse (a suicidal "artistic" decission by Joel Schumacher) while in this one, the screenplay problems - and acting! - are SO obvious than I can't help thinking that Maguire, Raimi, Franco and Dunst are just there for the paycheck and have all secured NOT returning for a 4th one.

Anonymous said...

But seriously guys! I am an original Spidey fan and I have liked all three movies! Ok they aren't perfect - what is? Yes the timeline is way off the comics, but the essential events are good. There are still killer characters (the Dr who turns into a lizard) and several other villians to explore. We think Doc Oc is dead --
is venom really gone --? If all else fails, we'll team up spidey with F-4. Yes, three villians was a bit much, because we had to introduce two of them. We need three villians when we've seen them all and they are just oh my god they're here. See Kahn in ST-II. I will never forget they way my blood chilled by about 20 degrees when Checkov turned the belt buckle around. That's what we need in Spidey 4

Jack H. said...

I think spider-man 2 was highly overrated. Batman Begins rapes it in terms of being a good "comic book movie". My favorite comic book movie is either Akira or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. But both of those are cartoons, and apparently don't count as real movies.

Spider-Man 3 was very difficult to believe. I wouldn't even call it terrible. Just hard to believe. Like X-Men 3.

Anonymous said...

What's with all of this harping on Howard? I think she's a talented actress who deserves a shot. I'm crossing my fingers for her.