With a Black Suit and a Hipster Hair-do, Anyone Can be a Bad-Ass
Title: Spider-Man 3
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, et al.
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence
Freak Nation Rating:
Spider-Man 3 was an entertaining, action-filled romp with excellent and effective CGI, exciting fights, and some nice touches. But it just didn’t feel right in too many ways for it to be of the same quality of the earlier two.
It begins well, on a far more positive note than the second movie — all is well in Peter Parker’s life, both as himself, and his web-slinging other identity. Peter has the girl of his dreams, school and work are going well, and Spider-Man is the city’s darling, admired by all. But as usual, when things go wrong in young Parker’s life, they go wrong everywhere, and in ways that overlap between his two lives! His old friend Harry decides to act on his grudge against Peter for the death of Harry’s father, who was also the Green Goblin. The man who killed Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben escapes from jail and due to his new superpowers, it’s up to Spider-Man to bring him in. Some other photographer is snapping the best photos of Spidey, and driving Peter out of a job. And there’s that weird alien symbiote thing that starts taking over Peter’s life.
It’s no wonder, in the midst of all this, that Peter is completely oblivious to all that Mary Jane is going through, to the advances of another girl, and to the fact that he’s becoming a total jerk... until it’s almost too late!
As Peter Parker (and Spider-Man), Tobey Maguire confronts his dark side — and a few too many enemies along the way.
Lots of wonderful elements there, certainly. Perhaps too many. That is, three major supervillains, plus all the famous Spider-Man personal angst packed into one two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie. But it could have worked. At least, I think it could have. And some of it was very, very good indeed — for instance, Peter/Spider-Man evolving from friendly neighborhood boy scout to bad-ass to asshole. With telegraphing that perhaps only I found endearing the audience is shown how Peter’s “dark” side evolves through his increasingly hipper hair and wardrobe — and compulsion to dance practically constantly.
So what was wrong here? Many little things, and a couple of glaringly large ones, that marred the entire gestalt of the movie.
Starting with the smaller, first, there was the characterization of Gwen Stacy. Long time readers of the comic will remember how intrinsic Gwen was to Parker at one point. This is not to cast aspersions on Mary Jane, whom I’ve always preferred. But in canon, Gwen was significant. Moreover, she was not a ditz. She was sweet, perhaps too much so, but she was no idiot. This girl in the movie, she looked like Gwen Stacy, right down to the platinum bangs and headband, but she did not behave like any Gwen Stacy that I recall — save for one shining moment before she makes her exit from the story. And I know Bryce Dallas Howard is a better actor than that, so it must have been in the writing and direction. For that matter, the Mary Jane in this movie was not the strong woman from the past two. Now this may have been storytelling shorthand to let the viewers know she was in the midst of crisis, but it came across as somewhat ham-handed. Especially when she spent much of the movie playing girl hostage/damsel in distress/being menaced.
In fact, the main area where Spider-Man 3 falls short is in the portrayal of the emotional encounters and responses of the characters. They were inauthentic at best, embarrassingly laughable at worst. This was verified when during a number of the more emotional confrontations or revelations between characters, instead of evoking tears or verklempt, the audience responds with laughter and snark. And given how unbelievable some of the occurrences were, it was hard not to snort, or at least mutter “no way, as if, WTF?” I believe in remorse and forgiveness as much as, if not more than, the next person, but really!
The other area in which the movie failed was pacing. There was a lot of attention lavished on the set-up, and perhaps a little too much on the homilies of Aunt May (whom we all love, but golly does she ramble on!) and then all of a sudden there’s less than a half hour left to wrap up: the evil costume, Venom , Sandman, Hobgoblin/Harry, and the mess Peter has made of his relationship with MJ. But the filmmakers, being efficient, decided to pack this all into one giant battle sequence followed by schmaltzy denouement.
And yet, with all this criticism, I do not mean to imply that I hated the movie. I didn’t, I was entertained and amused. But like X-Men 3, Matrix: Revolutions, and a number of other third chapters before it, after the first two I had expected and hoped for so much better. And with a number of other third chapters being released this summer, this does not bode well for the coming movie season.
Aldyth Beltane is a red-haired, glam rock sex magician from the future. She writes and DJs, though not as much as she'd like, shops for style and recreation, devours media with appetite and passion and prefers comics, science fiction television and various kinds of movies, though not always the ones you might expect. She has nightmares about zombies, collects plush elder deities and purple eyeshadow, rescues kitties, and has embraced her identity as crusader, quixotic or otherwise. Above all else, Aldyth still believes in a finer world.