There are some films that just plain move you, whether they are dramas, comedies, or “comic book” movies. There are some films you will remember long after you’ve left the theater, no matter what your expectations. SPIDER-MAN 3 is not one of these movies. However, it isn’t a “bad flick,” either. It’s just something I’m going to forget about once I finish this blog, even though I had a pretty good time while watching it.
(Possible spoilers in the following paragraphs…skip to the final one if you want to stay unspoiled!)
Let's talk about the entertaining qualities first. The action scenes (which I'll talk about later). The secondary characters, who are very funny, and their humor comes off as organic—especially in the Bugle offices. Bruce Campbell (Hail to the King!!!) even has a hilarious standout cameo as a French guy during a key romantic scene between Peter and MJ. But my favorite part of the film was the theme of what happens when you allow a poison to take you over. It resonates, in spite of all the new characters and subplots that are introduced and take the attention away from that theme. And I guess this is where I felt that the movie went “meh” for me: I can’t help wishing that the business had been tightened and the story more focused.
Specifically, I could’ve done with one less villain, and that would be Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church. Yes, I know that Sandman serves a purpose in Peter Parker’s character arc—to help our hero find his way to forgiveness—but this could’ve been done with a minor character who allowed the plot to move forward without having to introduce another villain’s origin story. What I mean is that a minor character could’ve set the “true murderer of Uncle Ben” wheels in motion and goaded Peter on his “poison”/revenge path just as effectively. Sandman takes away all the time the script could’ve spent on Venom, who comes into his own much too late, IMHO. Actually, Topher Grace isn’t in this movie very much at all, and he’s one of the absolute best things about it. I’m a freak, but I love the guy’s comic timing, and his smart mouth even makes him oddly sexy to me. There, I admitted it. At any rate, everything about Grace’s character, Eddie Brock/Venom, is a treat: from his kiss-assed-ness (He’s the guy who prays and decides he needs to address God as “sir.”) to the dark villain’s creepy costume design. He’s a perfect foil for Peter Parker/Spidey in super-power ability as well as symbolically. The best conflict arises when Peter is battling himself as much as the villains, and Venom is the manifestation of Peter’s frequent self-loathing…his poison, if you will. So why Venom isn’t explored more instead of rushed into the last third of the film, I’m not sure.
You know how the first two Spidey movies had some great iconic moments, right along with all that wonderful character development and action (and when I note character development, I don’t mean Mary Jane. Stay tuned for my thoughts about her.)? Well, S-3 doesn’t have its own impulsive hot upside-down kiss in the rain. It doesn’t have that incredible tear-jerker when a subway full of grateful New Yorkers nurses a wounded Spidey and promises to keep his secret. (OMG, I’m choking up just thinking about that scene.) Instead, S-3 has…musical numbers. You didn’t misread that. There are several what-the-hell moments in this film that had the audience laughing in disbelief. (You can discern that kind of laughter from any other, and it’s cringe-worthy.) Is Sam Raimi itching to make a musical or something?
Luckily, there were some truly fine action sequences to make up for those head-scratching scenes. The “New Goblin”/Harry has some sweet gizmos, and his conflict with Peter was highly compelling, as well (and it fit wonderfully with the “poison” theme). Venom is a nasty cuss, and more fisticuffs with him would’ve been great. But here’s one thing about the action scenes—how many times will Mary Jane have to be rescued before she figures out how to fend for herself while Spidey is off fighting the bad guy and she’s caught in some web? I guess I just like heroines who have it within them to match up to the heroes, who have mental strength as well as smarts. Good God, when you see a meteor crash in the first act of this flick, you fully expect it to hit Mary Jane and no one else in the city just so Spidey has to rescue her again. She’s a redheaded Lana Lang.
Obviously, I believe that “popcorn movies” don’t have to be brainless, and that’s why I took the time to write this. I believe they can be just as damned good as Oscar-bait. That’s why I expected more from S-3, because Raimi has made excellent flicks in the past. Having said all that though, S-3 still has a lot going for it, and if you just want a good time, you’ll get it.
Have a fun weekend!