Saturday, May 05, 2007

I thee web

So. Spiderman 3.

Here be Spoilers! Major Spoilers! I hold nothing back!

(But before I start: Hey Jen, was that you I may have glimpsed emerging from the theater with three people? I only got a brief glimpse before your party (if that was you) headed across the parking lot, and I wasn't about to shout out "Hey Jen!" if you weren't there and it was someone named Ashley or Morgan or something like that.)

And now, onto the movie.

I said, "Onto the movie. Here's where I start SPOILING things. I'm not holding back. I'll put all this in my pseudo-invisitext, but really -- SPOILERS!

Once again, my reaction is split down the middle. Maybe not exactly down the middle, but I'm of two minds here. One mind loved the movie and had a blast watching it. The other mind -- my inner Comic Book Geek -- kept ticking off the things that annoyed me about the way these movies keep re-jiggering the whole Spiderman backstory.

I read some reviews the indicated the the film was overstuffed with plot, and it probably was; surely one less villain would have been fine. I'd have been OK with saving Venom and the whole black suit thing for Spiderman 4; Thomas Haden Church's Sandman is compelling enough, and he continues the fine tradition in these movies of giving the villains reasons for their villainy -- i.e., no one in a Spiderman movie is evil for the sake of being evil, which is very welcome. With both Sandman and Venom here, I thought that both characters ended up getting a bit short-changed -- especially since you can't have Venom until late in the film, after Peter has worn and rejected the black suit.

And it's not just Sandman and Venom. We've also got the standard trials-and-tribulations of Peter Parker, because one of the best things about the whole Spiderman character was the conceit that while Spidey's this awesome hero and stuff, in his everyday life, Peter Parker can never quite get his shit together. His love life and professional life and school life are always seemingly on the verge of snowballing out of control. I love that, and the movie wouldn't have been a Spiderman movie without that stuff -- but it adds running time. Plus, there's the Harry Osborne storyline that's been simmering for two movies already; they couldn't put that off another movie. And then there's Gwen Stacy -- but we'll get to her in a bit.

So yes, the movie is overstuffed. It's very well done, so I was generally unaware of the overstuffing. Sam Raimi keeps things moving, and whenever things start slowing down, he either tosses in one of those signature action sequences or -- even better -- gives us a bit involving the frankly wonderful supporting cast of quirky characters that fill the margins of the movie. (Seriously, this movie is worth seeing just for the supporting cast -- and there is one cameo appearance to which I almost cheered. 'Nuff said.)

As is usually the case with movies like this, the best performances came from the villains. I knew that Topher Grace was in the movie, and I was a big fan of That 70s Show, so it shocked me to realize that I was watching Grace's second scene in the movie before I realized it was him as weaselly Eddie Brock. Church was also superb as Sandman, and it was a shame that neither got really enough screen time. At least with Sandman, Raimi finally managed to break his long-standing habit in these movies of killing the villains so they can never be seen again.

(Really, what's up with that? One of the charms of the comics is recurring villains, and now we can't really see Doc Ock again. That's a bummer.)

And now it's time to really geek out a bit. Two things kept bugging me about this movie. First was the revisiting of Uncle Ben's death, and the other was Gwen Stacy.

Everybody knows that the most important moment in Peter Parker's life, when he learns his Great Life Lesson, is when Uncle Ben is shot at the hands of a two-bit crook whom Peter had let get away just hours before. This is when Peter learns that "With great power comes great responsibility". However, in Spiderman 3, it's revealed that the crook that had been identified as Uncle Ben's killer in the first movie was actually just an accomplice for Flint Marko, the guy who becomes the Sandman. So in the movie, Peter is somewhat obsessed with catching and killing Marko -- until the end, when Peter forgives him, and lets him go.

I had a hard time with all of this. Granted, the major bulk of this is spun out while Peter's using the black costume, which feeds his hunger for vengeance, but I just didn't like how they decided to retcon Uncle Ben's death. The central guilt Peter feels for his uncle's death is by far one of the two most important factors in the psychology of the character, and here the film seems to imply that no, maybe if Peter had stopped Marko's accomplice, his uncle would still have been killed. This isn't stated explicitly, but the implication is there, and it troubled me. Peter Parker should always be thinking, in some tiny part of his mind, "If only I'd stopped that guy."

And then there's the other most important component in SpiderPsychology: Gwen Stacy.

First of all, they got her looking perfect in this movie. That's exactly how I always figured Gwen Stacy would look in real life. They even got her trademark black headband in there.

But...I'm trying, folks, but there's a big chunk of my GeekBrain that will not accept a Spiderman reality in which (a) Gwen wasn't Peter Parker's first true love, and (b) Gwen doesn't die at the hands of the Green Goblin. The first movie bothered me in this regard as well, when it constructed its climactic battle scene to resemble Gwen's death in the comics (Green Goblin, the Brooklyn Bridge), but with Mary Jane as the damsel in distress and with her surviving. But now, in Spiderman 3, along comes Gwen, the real deal. And the first time Spiderman has to come to her rescue, it's because she's falling from a great height, and he snags her with his webbing to break her fall.

So again the Spiderman movie people tease with elements of Gwen's iconic death scene -- but they couldn't kill her now, because the movies have already established that MJ is Peter's first true love, not Gwen. So as pretty as Gwen is, she's just not Gwen Stacy. Not in the true sense. The producers could just as well have named her Carolyn Smith. She doesn't even have that much screentime, so having Gwen Stacy here doesn't really serve any purpose except to add a damsel in distress.

If I have another complaint, it's a fairly minor one -- but a lot of the film's plot developments hinge on pure chance (a meteor hitting the Earth just thirty feet or so from where Peter and MJ are cavorting in the woods), or on characters' relationships going awry and having those characters refuse to just speak up and explain themselves. And there's a moment when Harry Osborne's butler or manservant or whatever he is finally comes clean with some information he's apparently been sitting on for years; I wanted Harry's response to this to be something along the lines of, "You know, had you said this years ago, you might have saved me a whole lot of trouble."

On the whole, I enjoyed the third movie more than I did the first, but not quite as much as the second. I'll take it. And really, it's worth seeing just for the amazing Sandman effects alone.

OK, we're done with spoilers. It's a very fun movie. A great time was had by all.


All Things Jennifer said...


That was probably me!! I went to the 8:00 show at Quaker Crossing with Mark and our friend Don and Camille!!! We went to Borders after for a cup of coffee...

Another coincidence, being in the church asking for Spideys death and LO! Peter appears.

Anonymous said...

Hey, who was the cameo? Was it the old guy who comes up to Peter and says "One person really can make a difference?" (or something like that) The guy behind me got a big thrill out of that, then leaned over to his wife and said "Do you know who that was?" but then I couldn't hear his answer. Who was that?

Kelly Sedinger said...

That was Stan Lee! He even used his trademark sign-off, "'Nuff said."

Anonymous said...

I saw it on Saturday and thought it was good. I agree with your assessment of the movie.

I thought that Harry's Butler's speech was straight out of Batman, and that bothered me a bit. Was this something from the comics (the butler's Alfredness) or was it added by Raimi?

And did you hear that Sony said they're going to make three more movies?

Anonymous said...

Thanks! re: Stan Lee. Very cool! I was wondering if that's who it was, but I don't remember him looking like that.