Monday, May 07, 2007

Spiderman 3 (MAJOR SPOILERS)

[We can have a debate about spoilers on Friday if you like. For now I want to talk about this movie freely while it still matters to people, and before my energy for this subject fades. Major spoilers follow.]

Though we love Romeo and Juliet today, it was considered a bad tragedy for hundreds of years. The point of tragedy, as it was originally conceived, is that there should be something inevitable about the fall of the hero; something intrinsic in his nature is his downfall. Centuries ago people objected that it is just dumb luck that Romeo does not find out about the potion Juliet takes, and so believes she is really dead and kills himself.

Those people would have hated Spiderman 3. At the beginning of the film Marko says "I am not a bad man. I have just had bad luck." At the end Peter gives him the moral: we have choices and we have to make the right ones-- we cannot let luck run our lives. But the film gives the lie to his moral, as the entire plot is driven by the most absurd luck. It is a coincidence that the asteroid lands right next to Peter. That is just bad writing: surely you have the asteroid land, Peter the science nerd goes to the teacher's lab to see it, and it bonds to him because it is attracted to his super-powers; the film suggests it could have just as easily have created a dark Mary Jane. It is a coincidence that Uncle Ben's killer runs into a particle physics experiment just as they fire up the machines. It is a coincidence that Brock is in the church at the exact moment Peter rejects the symbiote; we are lucky it was not Aunt May praying, or she would have been Venom. It is a coincidence Harry gets amnesia until his character is needed for the finale. It is a coincidence that Stacy is Brock's girlfriend, the daughter of the police commissioner, a genius girl in Peter's class AND a supermodel who happens to be in danger from the swinging crane so Spiderman can save her. The proximity of the church bell and and the aluminum rods are a coincidence. Luck may be realistic -- sometimes life just has dumb luck -- but in a film it is just lazy writing.

Because this movie had as much that I liked as I did not like, as much A and B material as D and F material, I think it deserves a C, the mid point between an A and an F. Here is what I am talking about:

Good: That scene with the Sandman forming himself is hauntingly beautiful -- a lesser director would have had him rise like a god; Rami has him rise and crumble, rise and crumble. A pool of sand lit by sunlight. Simple. Lovely.

Bad: Venom needs more screen time -- he should be the center point of the film, not the fourth man in a four man smashup. Obviously the film is overlong and has too many bad guys, which means less time with all the characters. Comparisons to Batman 3 and 4 have been made; it is not that bad, but it is still a big mistake. Peter attempts to kill one early on; that should have stuck. Then you would not have needed amnesia to delay the plot of the other one until you are ready to deal with it.

Good: Parker becomes a jerk on the street. Parker is the perennial loser, the schlemiel; even when he goes bad he is an idiot kind of bad (rather than an evil kind of bad) all black jeans and finger guns. Women look at him like, "Who is this schmuck?" Poor Peter, you have to love him, even when he goes bad.

Bad: But then in the jazz club it all changes; now the audience loves him and you have ruined your tone. Also, Peter Parker does. not. play. piano. He does not know on his own (he is a science guy and a nerd; musicians are cool); Venom did not teach him (because that would be too stupid by half).

Good: Since Peter Parker is the perennial loser, you have to do something different the third time around, so the film addresses the dangers of the opposite, becoming popular. He was well on his way to being a jerk before Venom found him. Mary Jane is right when she accuses him of betraying their moment (the upside-down kiss) for a photo op. The symbiote only exacerbated the existing conflict. We see internal conflict through external conflict. Nice. Also nice were the parallels between Brock and Peter, which work well with the dark side theme.

Bad: Peter and Mary were on their way to a break-up. What on earth is the point of having Harry force it. Just have him overhear and use what he overheard. Stupid.

Good: Flint Marko's little girl is BB from Kill Bill!

Bad: You cannot introduce a dying little girl and then not resolve her plot in the film. Have Peter help her, get money for the operation, SOMETHING. Sand blowing away is not an ending. (Thank you Brad for emphasizing what a mistake this is).

Good: Topher Grace is always fun, and Kirsten Dunst is always a cutie. When she got hit, my whole audience was stunned. Powerful.

Bad: Movies are artificial. Rami used real friends, family, contest winners, boy-scout troops, and fanboys as extras. These felt shoehorned in, badly edited and wrong -- real people such as the kids who say "Cool" "Wicked Cool" and the girl who sells J.J. Jameson a camera (a Rami family member) stand out badly and break the tone.

Good: Making the ring the emotional center of the first fight was wonderful. As an audience member I am PRAYING he does not lose that ring.

Bad: The old people. Stan Lee is dumb, the Village Voice noted that Aunt May sounds more and more like Yoda as the years go by, and Harry has a very convenient butler.

Good: Bruce Campbell as a waiter and the gag with JJ Jameson taking his pills were very funny I thought. Silly, but I laughed all the way through. Spot on fun. Brad noted that what makes Bruce Cambell so funny is that he is such a big cartoon -- he is just bursting at the seams as the waiter and you can feel the pent up energy.

Bad: Flashing back to the bells at the end. I just saw that. I do not need a reminder. I am not addle minded.

Good: Topher Grace praying for the death of Peter Parker. You get his character right there. Also, in my favorite moment in the film, the symbiote arches Topher Grace's eyebrow for him, so he looks extra evil. Hilarious and fun. (Sara pointed this out. Also, she would like to add that Topher needed more screen time.)

Bad: no information about this symbiote beyond, "it came from outer space." If you had less bad guys you would have more time to learn about them, and thus care more.

Good: They fixed the problem from Spiderman 1 and kept the masks off as much as possible.

Bad: Not one but two musical numbers. And a dance number.

Good: The ghost of Harry' father returns to spur his son's revenge of his death with the word's "remember me." I am teaching Hamlet this semester, and cannot wait to see if my students noticed that those words, which I lecture on as a key moment in act one, are the same words that the ghost of Hamlet's father uses before sending his son to revenge his death.

See how I started and ended with Shakespeare.

24 comments:

sara d. reiss said...

because you wouldn't let me add this to the review:

Topher Grace is a cutie. More so than Dunst. So there.

brad said...

Where was Venom's snarling, drooling tongue? It's like taking the S off of Superman's chest.

TonPo said...

Although I agree that Venom should have been the main villain of the piece, and therefore gotten more screen time, I would have been happy with more concentration on Sandman. Raimi's visual sense of how to frame the character was simply striking every time. Like popping out of an old EC comic or something. What I would really like to see is Raimi tackle something like Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend with a character like Flint Marko.

You're assessment of the movie's mechanics is totally on the spot. Almost all problems I had with the film (and there were quite a few) can be attributed to sloppy writing or sloppy editing/pacing.

To read about how upset this movie left me, read this.

Mitch said...

What a great suggestion about the asteroid, Geoff.

From my perspective:

1. Though the ring pays off in the scene on the bridge, I felt a little cheated that it doesn't play into the ending at all. Most of the movie is about Peter asking MJ to marry him, and it ends with them... dancing?

2. Franco was particularly great, I thought. Even with amnesia.

3. I love Gwen Stacy and Bryce Dallas Howard (perhaps equally, now that I think of it!), but the character has no point being in this movie. If anything, it should have been Betty Brant, who has flirted with Parker in both previous movies AND has more of a reason for being Eddie Brock's girlfriend, since they work together at the Bugle.

4. I really could have done without Sandman's story altogether, if we're getting rid of villains. Not that I didn't love Church- I just feel like he really deserved his own movie. His story is the only one that wasn't connected to Peter intrinsically. Also, I hated that he turned in to a roaring rock monster.

Jason Powell said...

Your comment about the coincidence regarding the asteroid reminds me of a similar problem I had with the plotting of Superman Returns, and the fact that I had thought of a similar sort of solution.

Problem: Lex Luthor is launching his scheme at more or less the exact same second at which Superman's asteroid has returned after a five-year absence. This is a complete coincidence, and it's idiotic.

Solution: In e-mailing with a friend about this, I said, "How about this: Lex Luthor and his cronies have actually been camped outside the Fortress of Solitude for the last two years trying and failing to break in -- but when the fortress detects Superman's presence within our atmosphere again, a mechanism unlocks and Luthor is able to capitalize on it and gain entry."

It's not like it's even that good a solution, but I came up with it five minutes after recognizing that flaw in the script. The writers of the movie probably had considerably longer than that, but relied on lame coincidence anyway.

James Christopher said...

Geoff,

Finally a voice of reason...i walked out of the film with a "eh," not a "wow."

i thought the movie was poor and for every good moment, there was one and a half bad ones.

I went to a midnight show...no applause. That said it all, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, sorry I can't master this blogger thing. My dyspraxia goes into overdrive with most IT applications.

I thought all the comments above were insightful, particularly Mitch's observation about Betty Brant and tonpo's thoughts on fandom.

In the end, I thought it was silly and far too long.

Dougie

Darius Kazemi said...

Was that a Benny Profane reference I found tucked into that review?

liam said...

spot on assessment, g. the crap negated the gold.

pat moler said...

I felt the same way about the coincedences in all 3 movies. twice is okay, but having all 4 villians know peter personally, and end up with superpowers. Not to mention the Symbiote landing in the proximity of the friendly nieghborhood superhero. Other than that I thought it was good.

Eric (APredator) Bloxsom said...

Funny someone brings up superman returns here, I liked that one, reasons beyond this comment. Actually this review, having seen the movie, was on the dot. It is hard to say something with a character I know and love is bad, but you do point out quiet a few points worth wondering about. Just a few things though I thought was that, why do we want Spiderman's mask off so much? Secret identity doesn't mean what it used to? The pace of the movie did feel to rushed but that is where i say extend a story if need be to three hours. I hate the feeling of a rush, as if the people that sit and watch tv for endless amounts of hours, we can't watch a three hour movie? If that extra hour means a smoother plot, i'm willing to get on that boat. The problem there is that three hours means it has to be good, or else people get cranky. Waste of time/money, that kinda of thing. I think Mr. Klock's review actually hit this one on the head, and all I can say is, I sit and read comics for more then three hours, why can't I watch them for that long too? I won't even get up to potty.

hcduvall said...

I think Mageina Tovah (Ursula) was the cutest of all. And in this entry, in a scene with a point.

The flashbacks to scenes ten minutes before and cameos I regard as studio concessions and self-indulgences, which Raimi built enough favor with me to ignore. A lot of me liking the movie comes from how they dealt with what Pat mentioned--that villians are always personal enemies (in movies). Look how hollywood treats Batman's origin, it's never just crime, it's the Joker. Heck, Ra's al Ghul even created the recession! Given it was a retcon, Sandman worked well, and that was my biggest concern. I still wish they hadn't messed with the origin.
And it's Spider-Man, everybody and his son knows who he is. Except maybe Rhino, he's dumb.

The symbiote I can't excuse, (and I'm surprised no one's mentioned the inexplicable Butler scene), but there's a payoff with the sick girl that was apparently filmed, but clearly not included in the theatrical edit. Director's cut maybe? But who knows, that scene might have the kickline.

The lack of the Spider Sense as a tension builing device (since Venom doesn't set it off in comicdom) is pretty criminal though.

Kenney said...

The only things I don't agree with in your write up are:

Stan Lee being a bad thing, and the masks off being good. Stan Lee was,is, and will forever be awesome. Glad he got to speak in this like he did in Fantastic Four.

Spidey taking his mask off so much didn't work. I liked how it was torn at the end of the film so we can see parts of his face, but for the most part I feel he should keep it on when fighting. It think they did a neat job with the symbiote pulling back to show Brock's face though. It showed how he had control of the suit which showed how much Brock gave himself to "the dark side". Now if only they could have taken those stupid vampire teeth out of his mouth during those moments.

Dante Kleinberg said...

Stan Lee was terrible in this movie. Wasn't he in the last two? I appreciate that he created the characters but his presence in every movie is becoming terrible. It's one thing to cast Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell because they're your buddies -- they're also GOOD and USEFUL and FUNNY. Stan's presence in this movie was a distraction.

There may be no distractions in a quality work of fiction!! ACK!! Why would you take us out of the movie ON PURPOSE???

Anyway. I could have a 1000 more comments but I'll stop here...

James said...

I wanted to have a tight and well-reasoned tirade about Spider-Man 3, but I've been away from the computer and now I just feel vaguely glum that the film wasn't awesome.

THE GOOD: The above-mentioned Sandman Rising scene. Incredible, easily the most striking image of the movie. Raimi at his absolute best.

The action scenes. Even the horribly camp 'n' clunky lead-in to the final sequence didn't stop it being a jaw dropper.

THE BAD: Too much to adequately explain. All the Peter Parker-as-Buddy Love stuff. (Eye-liner!!!) The plot holes and coincidences. (When Spider-Man looks meaningfully up at the bell-tower, and decides that THAT is where he shall remove the symbiote, I was aghast that a vital scene - Doc Connors telling him the symbiote is allergic to sonics - had been deleted. When he then ACCIDENTALLY BUMPS INTO THE BELL, I realised we were just in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade country.)

brad said...

I love Stan Lee. He should be in every movie. He should be in every movie, even if they're not Marvel movies. They should digitally add him into Star Wars and Schindler's List.

Matt Brady said...

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but I do recognize that it's not exactly great. Actually, I agree with pretty much all of Geoff's Good and Bad points, but most all of the bad was not that big of a deal to me. My favorite scenes were when Sandman first rises out of the sand and the "dark Peter" stuff (even the jazz club). I should mention that my wife liked it a lot, even though her knowledge of Spider-Man is pretty much limited to the movies (our roles are switched whenever a new Harry Potter movie comes out. She's read all the books (multiple times, even) and I have only seen the movies. I can usually follow them pretty well, but she feels like a lot of details are missing).

Oh, and I agree about keeping the masks off. That bugged me in the last movie (gotta guard that secret identity!), but I've realized that the characters need to have their faces exposed in order to convey emotions. There are no thought bubbles or captions in movies.

Anonymous said...

Hey! About the alien thing. Maybe, just maybe, the alien was from the future, was sent back in time so it KNEW where Parker would be to land (alien time logistics in action), and then subtly controlled him through ESP to make him act badly (he starts to act badly after it shows up). Then it waited until he was revengefull enough to latch on to him for real. (It feeds on negative energy, of course, as all real evil aliens do.) And then . . . Oh, nevermind. That's way too much work on my part. C it is.

Jamie said...

Kirsten Dunst cute....she can not act.....Her lopsided apple head bobbing with every word she says. Not cute. I like her crooked teeth, I find them endearing.

Regardless,I don't think she can act. Lack of talent is not cute. Her film review in the movie is quite the irony (Mr. English Teacher) I feel that is how she came across in the movie and every movie people have allowed her to poorly act and bob her apple-head through.

However, I do suppose she was fine for Spiderman. She was whining half the movie (though I did understand the whining). She whines superbly.

toothpick said...

one of the main things that bothered me was how Harry's team-up with Spidey played out.

We didn't need Peter asking Harry for help, a scene that culminated with the "covenient butler", which was something we *really* didn't need.

We already had inklings that maybe Harry was killed by that grenade. We didn't need to see him until he swooped in to save Spidey.

Having Peter and the Butler talking to Harry beforehand makes Harry's hero-turn a foregone conclusion and robs the thorough beating of Spidey of any suspense, as well as Harry's return of any sense of joy.

He had his own reasons to save Mary Jane and help Peter, his own built-in motivations. The audience would have thought he was there to join in the killing of Peter, and it would have made the team-up way more satisfying than it was.

toothpick said...

on another note, i enjoyed Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard so much I spent the whole movie wondering how much I would have liked Topher as Peter Parker and Howard as Mary Jane.

I know they are meant as mirrors of the main characters in a way but they were so good at it that it was distracting...and i really shouldn't be wishing away my main characters when watching a film.

Dante Kleinberg said...

If anyone is interested, I wrote a 2-billion word (or so it felt like at the time) analysis of Spider-Man's 3 four main thoroughlines and where I felt they faltered from a writer's standpoint, and how I think they could've tweaked a bit here and there to make a more emotionally satisfying movie.

The movie really felt like it was carelessly put together, which is so odd considering how long it took to make and much money it cost. The overall carelessness is the main thrust of my analysis. Click on me to get to my blog.

Sorry for plugging myself but a blogger's gotta do what a blogger's gotta do...

neilshyminsky said...

Hey Geoff, all - I finally saw this thing and posted my own critique on my blog, which you can access through my name. I agree with Geoff on many points, though my reasoning is slightly different in places. (There was more that I could whine about, but do we really need more whining?)

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