Friday, May 04, 2007


Oh What A Tangled Web

Spider-Man 3: Fanboy dream -- or nightmare?

On the surface, it should be the former as its packed with far more action than the first film. Given all the soldout midnight performance around New York Thursday night/Friday morning, the flick should easily hit the $120 mil Spidey 1 took in in its first weekend.

On the other hand, a young man exiting the theatre where I saw it may have delivered what could be an early epitaph. Responding to his buddy's, "So whadidya think?" the guy said, "I saw
Love, Actually over the weekend. I didn't need to see it again." Ouch!

Another viewer was overheard saying, "I really wanted to like it. I guess I still do, but I'm afraid I'm gonna wake up tomorrow ticked off that I didn't get to bed until 4:30. " Ouch again.

I sympathize with these reactions: Three was the both the magic number and the unlucky number for this movie: Three super-villains (including an alien symbiote), three overlapping romantic triangles, major psycho-drama including fatherhood and parenting issues (one of the supervillians turns out to be a bad father -- don't you just hate that?) plus enough plot to fill three comic-book movies may just simply be too much. At 140 mins., it becomes something of an endurance test (consider yourself lucky -- the third Pirates of the Caribbean is supposedly nearly three hours).

Creatively, I have the same criticism here that I've had in other Marvel-related films: There's this annoying trend of grafting the origin of the villain onto that of the hero. That was the biggest flaw in the first Fantastic Four movie -- putting Doctor Doom on the rocketship w/the would-be FF.

That happens here with the revised origin of The Sandman -- he's now the actual triggerman who killed Peter's Uncle Ben. The resolution to his story is beyond unsatisfying; it is infuriating and borderline offensive in its moral equivalence. I'll discuss more of that after the weekend when more people have had a chance to see the film. I don't want to give too many spoilers here.

James Franco as Harry (Goblin II) Osborne is the real standout in this edition. There's a real arc to his character and you're truly made to care about him -- even when he's at his most evil -- which interestingly, occurs in a scene when he's not in his Goblin outfit. Franco also manages to carry himself in such a way that he physically looks like he is related to William Hurt DaFoe (who played Norman "Green Goblin" Osborne).

The movie could have been tighter and better without pushing Venom (played here by Topher Grace) into it. It was just too much. Indeed, without Venom, the writers might have come up with a more plausible conclusion to The Sandman arc. And, yes, it would have been possible to have introduced the black suit/symbiote without going all-Venom. Heck, they've managed to mention/use Doctor Connors in all three movies without turning him into what he becomes in the comics, The Lizard, right? Sometimes less actually is more.

Tobey Maguire looks like he's having fun when he gets to show off his dark, symbiote-influenced side. The extended scene where he is under the symbiote suit's influence is quite disturbing even as it is initially played for laughs. Kirsten Dunst is good as usual as Mary Jane Watson though she gets to offer only two emotional extremes: depressed/angry (at Peter) and threatened/endangered by the villain of the moment. The tender and sweet Mary Jane we saw in the first two films is hardly seen here. And that may reflect the main problem of the movie. The first two parts of the Spider franchise (especially the very first) had a good balance between action/adventure and emotional content that avoided being maudlin. This time around, the emotional content became unconvincing soap opera (thus the Love, Actually comment).

Bryce Dallas Howard is completely unbelievable and irrelevant as Gwen Stacy, a likely rival for Peter's attentions. The Gwen of the comics was vivacious in a completely different way from Mary Jane -- and one could see how Peter could be attracted to both. Not with this Gwen. She could just as easily been Miss Blonde X.

On the other hand, James Cromwell was born to play Stacy police chief dad (but, then again, is there a cop who James Cromwell was not born to play -- when he's not playing creepy turncoats on 24 and L.A. Confidential?).

Anyway, that's it. Alas, Spider-Man 3 comes to me as a disappointment -- too long and too convoluted, though with a couple of good performances and plentiful special effects. It should make well over $200 milliion in the first 10 days or so. Will it make back its reported $350 million? Now, that's an interesting question.

On Monday, I'll address the Sandman arc conclusion that I found so appalling.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the proper name of the actor William who played the Green Goblin. This will teach me not to write reviews at 4 a.m.

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