May 4, 2007

Spider-Man 3 (05/04/07)

Lettergrade: F

Wow, what a pile of shit. I thought the first Spider-Man was kinda okay bordering on generic. The second was something of an improvement: It was quite decent and well-made, despite having a couple minor issues. This one... I just don't know what the hell happened. So much of it is so awkward and messy. There are way too many characters and plot-lines knocking around, and the story threads are introduced and revisited pretty much at random. Sitting here now, I'm trying to think through the movie chronologically and I simply cannot do so. I can't recall what happened when, to whom, and why. Such behavior would be somewhat acceptable if the movie had a strong heart and an over-all thematic point. Since it has neither of those things, the picture lumbers from scene to scene, feeling painfully long at 140 minutes.

Allow me to elaborate on what exactly goes on in this movie: As the picture starts, things are going atypically well for Spider-Man / Peter Parker. The general public likes him, and he's about to propose to Mary Jane.

Enter James Franco (as Harry Osborne), who I will insist is a strong, nuanced actor despite there being no evidence of that here. You may remember that he's the son of Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin from the first movie. At the end of the second movie, Harry vows revenge after discovering that Peter is Spider-Man and might have killed his father. As 3 starts, it's unclear how much time has passed between this revelation and now, to say nothing of what exactly Harry's plan is. Harry's main form of revenge seems to be sending larger floral arrangements to Mary Jane than Peter can afford. There is a scene very early in the picture where Franco casually walks out of a retro-futuristic steam room while Green Goblin equipment stands by. Perhaps he's subjected himself to the same performance enhancing gas that made his father go insane in the first movie? If so, there's no real explanation for why Franco himself doesn't have similar psychotic episodes, but what the hell.

Anyway, while all this is going on some futuristic space goo lands, and attaches itself to the back of Peter's motorcycle. What the fuck is it? Who knows. We won't see it again for an hour, so you can sort of forget about it for a while.

Then Flint Marko (played by Lowell from Wings) breaks out of prison. He visits his daughter who's apparently sick or something. Later, he falls into a completely unexplained top-secret science experiment that's happening in a field in the middle of nowhere. Why Flint happens to be out in that field is also completely unexplained. Anyway, from that point on he's part man, part sand - or the "Sandman" - and decides to use his newfound power to remain inarticulate and rob banks occasionally.

Eventually, the black goo from way earlier in the movie takes over Peter and turns him into Dark Spider-Man, much like the bad Kryptonite did to Superman in Superman III... except no Richard Prior. After a painful section of the film where Peter somewhat resembles an Emo-ed out Adoplh Hitler, Spider-Man rips the black suit off, and it lands on Topher Grace (a rival photographer at the Daily Bugle), turning him into Venom, yet another under-nourished villain.

Still with me? There's a lot of soap opera and bad laugher as the movie proceeds and all these plot lines begin to interweave. Most critically, however, a central thrust is missing that at least made the second picture move forward in a reasonably exciting way. In that movie, Doc Ock builds a large fusion doo-hickey that might destroy the city if it is not stopped. Nothing of the sort happens in this one: No ticking time-bomb, no impending doom, nothing. Just a ton of vaguely drawn characters who are introduced and occasionally revisited, but never given much to do. Harry has amnesia for most of the movie, and Peter begins a vague, non-defined flirtation with Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard) that never amounts to anything. It's all just maddeningly aimless.

My solution to this unholy clusterfuck would simply be to remove Sandman from the movie altogether. Although his inclusion supplied the movie with its one good scene (the one where Sandman tries to pull himself together for the first time), it pissed me off that they retroactively shoehorned him into the storyline of first movie... suggesting he actually killed Uncle Ben while Peter was wrestling the Macho Man Randy Savage. Making the space goo / Dark Spidey / Venom storyline front and center might at least allow the movie to proceed in a direct line toward its conclusion. And we are told that Sandman has turned to crime to buy medicine for his sick daughter. Well, we see him knock over an armored car and several banks during the flick... how goddamn sick is this kid?

In any case, I must say that I don't know if I can take many more comic book / super-hero movies. I thought last summer's Superman Returns was labored and painful, and I'm rarely interested in the genré anymore apart from the occasional X-Men movie or something like Ang Lee's Hulk, which I _did_ like despite the fact that the general public hated it passionately.

As with all movies, utter realism isn't as important to me as a concept that at least makes me think. During Spider-Man 3, I was mostly thinking about what I wanted to eat after the movie was over, and how I could most efficiently get my laundry done before work on Monday. Perhaps that's what Sam Raimi wanted me to be thinking about, but more likely than not, I would guess that he started making the movie without having a clear idea of what he wanted to do with it.

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