Sunday, May 6, 2007

Movie review: 'Spider-Man 3'

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket"Part III" movies don't usually fare too well with folks – I'm thinking "The Godfather Part III," "Superman III," "Batman Forever," et cetera. "Spider-Man 3" is certainly coming in for a surprisingly strong amount of bashing, but y'know what – forget the pundits and fanboy nitpickers. While not quite in the same league as the first two movies, maybe, this dyed-in-the-wool webhead fan found "Spider-Man 3" an action-packed summer movie romp that still keeps the characters in mind at center stage. If it tries to do a little too much with its triple villain storyline, it mostly pulls it off – in its very excess, "Spider-Man 3" is consistently entertaining.

I think what keeps "Spider-Man 3" afloat is the same steady hand of director (and co-writer) Sam Raimi, who's helmed the entire trilogy, and the returning cast. It makes all three movies feel like a single story to have this consistency.

Is it perfect? No – there is an awful lot going on. Sure, the Venom plot could've been an entire movie on its own, but I kind of liked the pack everything in go-for-broke feeling of this flick, as Peter Parker's entire life careens out of control. Raimi pulls this chaos off a lot better than, say, the godawful "Batman Forever," which also crammed in several villains, a new sidekick, love affairs, etc., but came off as pop-colored cornball kitsch. Character is king in these movies, despite some great action sequences and special effects.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMy random thoughts (SPOILERS ahoy, of course):
The good:
All right, so the movie is balancing three major plotlines at least (and that's just the villains) – yet for most of its running time, Raimi is a master juggler as he zips around the tales. The final act is a bit rushed (and you can practically feel the strain where, rumor has it, the studio forced Raimi to include Venom in the film), but it really does all tie together pretty nicely in the end.

OK, so this movie is basically about Peter Parker's ego and its rise, fall and redemption. And thanks to a plot device that introduces his "dark side," Tobey Maguire has a heck of a lot of fun with "evil" (or perhaps "ego") Peter Parker. Raimi balances the nasty acts of Parker with the silly, pushing the envelope in how over-the-top he can go with his behavior. Was the "disco Peter" stuff ridiculous? Of course – that was the point! Parker's a nerd, so when he becomes cool he's still going to be a cool nerd, isn't he? I had fun watching Maguire break out of the "noble suffering Parker" mode for a few scenes, and thought he brought a nice barely-contained rage to these sequences.

I loved James Franco's Harry Osborn in this movie (the underrated Franco has also been a bright spot in the previous flicks). The arc of his character is a tragic one, and in lesser hands might strain credulity, but Franco really sells the character's personality changes throughout.

Thomas Haden Church is a terrific Sandman – in that silly striped shirt, he looks exactly like the comic character. While he turned into too much of a muddy King Kong ripoff in the final act, I thought the effects used to bring Sandman to life were remarkable (particularly in the "birth" sequence, which attained a haunting beauty).

The not great:
Unlike some, I do think Topher Grace gave a mighty good show as Eddie Brock/Venom, and think the movie script considerably bettered the character's tangled comic origins (some of the disappointment by fans seems to be that Venom isn't precisely like he was in the comics; having never considered him one of my favorite foes, I don't mind that he is a little underused). I love Brock here as Peter Parker's twisted mirror, a Spider-Man without soul or conscience; as opposed to the steroid freak, inconsistently motivated comic goon Venom became (the superb Madgoblin has a two-part essay series looking at how the comic Venom's potential was lost, by the way).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAll that said, it was just too long in the movie until Venom appears, and his story feels very rushed. Grace packs as much scenery-chewing as he can into his limited time, but another 15 minutes or so could've fleshed this arc out and kept the same action-filled four-way battle at the end. There are some very awkward transitions into the final act (The overwrought television camera crew narration, very lazy storytelling, was my least favorite part of the film). Venom and Sandman's abrupt alliance also feels very forced.

I kinda fell in love with Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane in the first two movies (the final shot of her in "Spider-Man 2" might just be one of my favorite movie moments), yet it felt like she phoned it in on this one. Her conflicts with Peter Parker weren't as organic as they might have been, and she often seems glaringly self-absorbed. Although she was really a minor role in this movie, Bryce Dallas Howard's Gwen Stacy was enjoyable eye candy – fans shouldn't go in expecting anything much like the comic character, though.

The ugly:
Isn't it a little absurd that the climax of all three of these movies revolves around Mary Jane getting kidnapped?

There's no real elegant way to do an "alien symbiote" entrance into what's been a kind of earthbound series, but the meteor from the sky was clumsy – if a nice nod to old-school monster flicks like "The Blob." I might've liked to see the symbiote be the result of a science experiment instead, though.

So why does Peter Parker spend half these movies without a mask on? It got rather ridiculous in "Spider-Man 3," but y'know, I thought about it, and actually, it makes a lot of sense from a moviemaking angle. That mask is hardly very emotive, and even Marlon Brando couldn't deliver a great performance shackled by it. While it looks awesome in the comics, there's a reason that Maguire keeps ripping it off in the films – it's the only way he can really act in a scene (I know some folks think he's a little too stoic an actor, but he works for me). There was an awful scene in the first "Spider-Man" with Spider-Man and "Power Ranger" Green Goblin having a heart-to-heart talk, yet you didn't see a single mouth move during the scene. So awkward as it can get, I can understand the "Amazing Mask-less Spider-Man" being so prominent in these movies.

Like I said, though, quibbles aside, I had a fine time at "Spider-Man 3," which I'd give a strong "A-/B+." I'd have to say these three together make the finest superhero trilogy we've yet seen (with "X-Men" following close behind, I think). A "Spider-Man 4" is probably inevitable, but part of me wishes they wouldn't think about it without Raimi, Maguire and even Dunst. Through the highs and lows, they have defined Spider-Man on screen, and without 'em, I'm not sure I'd like what I'd see.

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