Monday, July 16, 2007

Review: Spider-Man 3

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace
Director: Sam Raimi
Producer: Avi Arad, Stan Lee, Laura Ziskin, Grant Curtis
Release Date: May 1, 2007
Running time: 139 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: Sony Pictures

The Skinny:
The highly anticipated third chapter in the Spider-Man series.

The Review:
Anticipation is a funny thing, especially when it comes to movies. It is what specifically defines and drives the summer blockbuster. For some movies, your lowered expectation can actually contribute to your liking a movie more than you thought you would if it ends up being good. In others, heightened expectation can crush ones enjoyment of a movie if it falls flat or under delivers. In the case of Spider-Man 3, it was tough not to have high expectations after the masterpiece that was its predecessor. Spider-Man 2 set a new standard for not only comic book sequels, but action movies in general. I personally regard it as easily the best comic book movie ever made, and with such an improvement over the first one, it was that much more difficult not to fall into the trappings of heightened expectation this time around. The hype started as soon as the second sequel was announced. Then they upped the anti when the villains were announced. They could have put anybody they wanted in this one but as soon it was official that Venom would be a part of this chapter, comic book geeks, fanboys, and anyone who had even a limited exposure to the comic rejoiced. And the expectation continued to grow. Then the trailer was released. Everyone who was remotely interested was hooked (including myself). It all but guaranteed a monster, if not record breaking, opening weekend. The trouble with the movie business is that all the expectation in the world isn't even worth the ticket price if the movie doesn't deliver on the hype. With 3 years between the last movie and this one, Spider-Man 3 was supposed to break the mold. It did not. I could have handled a simple disappointment. But this was a collapse on a monumental scale. It reminded me of a science experiment I did in school once where everyone was supposed to build a bridge out of toothpicks to see which bridge would support the most weight. There were a couple of kids' bridges that looked fantastically elaborate in design but snapped like a Thanksgiving wishbone as soon as any weight was attached. That's a pretty good analogy for the whole mess.

Where do I begin? First, the plot is a convoluted mess. Far too many stories forced into the already too-long run time. A simple breakdown: We rejoin Peter Parker finally balancing his love for Mary Jane and his responsibility as Spider-Man. The city is starting to come around and show more appreciation, but the celebrity of being Spider-Man proves too great. On top of that, Flint Marko escapes from prison and during his escape is accidentally transformed into the shape shifting Sandman. Being around is apparently not enough story, so an "Oh by the way, THIS is your uncle's real killer" plot is contrived. Peter stakes his claim to revenge but gets hung up by finding an alien substance that darkens his suit and his personality. He becomes drunk with his newfound power and begins alienating his loved ones, including his best friend Harry Osborn; who happens to be simultaneously carrying on his father's torch by becoming the New Green Goblin. A new possible love interest for Parker is introduced in Gwen Stacy who happens to be the subject of Eddie Brocks obsession. Brock, who is also vying for a photography job at The Bugle, eventually gets a little symbiote on him as well and turns into Venom. Everyone is out to get Spidey; the villains, his girlfriend, etc, etc.

I have never been a huge fan of Kirsten Dunst in these movies but I have let it pass because the movies have been that good. It took a real pile of a movie like this to shine the spotlight on just how bad she is here. If that wasn't bad enough, she sings in the movie. Twice. Poorly. And cries. But I can't even hold that against her because everyone else in the movie cries too. A lot. I guess I misspoke earlier when I gave the "simple" plot summary. Here's my new one: Spider-Man fights some people. When he is not fighting with them, they are crying. Also when he is not fighting them, he is fighting with his girlfriend. When he is not fighting with his girlfriend, he is crying. Or she is crying. It was like watching a 250 million dollar episode of Oprah, or Extreme Makeover Home Edition with comic book characters. They should have just skipped the middle man and called the movie "Chicken Soup for the Superhero's soul". Aside from the sob fest, they completely wasted the impact of the Venom character. Miscast from the start, Topher Grace didn't even try to make it worthwhile. Eddie Brock was like Eric from That 70's Show with bad hair and an even worse costume. In the beginning of the movie, at least Sandman looked cool, but they even ruined that by movies end. The original Green Goblin was borderline cheesy. The new Goblin looked like Sharkboy in a Moutain Dew commercial. Some of the action sequences were pretty good (the first fight between Parker and Goblin and the subway fight between Spidey and Sandman), if not a little overdone. I dismissed the cartoony feel and excused them because, well, it is a comic book movie. But for all the good that was mounted by the early sequences, all was lost in the awful looking, overly long "climax". In the end, the movie took too long to get going because of all the story lines and when it finally did hit its stride, it had been stretched too thin to be worth a damn. Kind of like when you are wrapping a Christmas present and you misjudge the size of the paper and no matter how many ways you try to make it fit, it just wont work until you scrap it and start over or just slap a bow on it and hope for the best. They hoped for the best, but it never got there now matter how many times they tried to force it.

The Rub:
A disappointment in every sense of the word. Not only compared to Spider-Man 2 (whose genius is even more cemented by the stink of this sequel), but as a movie going experience as a whole. An even simpler summary: Everybody fights. Everybody cries. Especially me when I realized how much time I wasted being excited about this movie and being forced to go back and think about what might have been.

And there's the rub.

* of *****

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