the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

My Photo
Location: Washington D.C.

Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Rumor has it that Sam Raimi, director of the wildly successful Spider-Man franchise, has been approached to direct J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings helmer Peter Jackson ran afoul of his bosses at New Line Cinema. If Raimi were to embrace the offer, it would undoubtedly mean he’d abandon future Spider-Man projects to concentrate all his energies on Middle-Earth.

It would explain a lot, actually. Like why he and his cohorts turned Spider-Man 3 into an exercise in gratuitous overindulgence, a film so burdened by the need to outshine its predecessors that it sinks beneath the weight of its own extravagant excesses. It’s almost as if Raimi suspected this might be his final installment (Sony has ordered up three more, with or without him) and rather than let certain ideas die in his head, he’s dumped every last one of them into this one film. One love interest not enough for you? How about two? Two villains too few? Have three.

Spider-Man 3 picks up where Spider-Man 2 left off. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is excelling at college by day and crime fighting by night, his beloved Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is debuting on Broadway, and estranged best-friend Harry (James Franco) continues to plot sweet revenge for the death of his father in the first film. But when Peter becomes too caught up in his own cult of personality to notice that M.J.’s career has gone awry, she turns to Harry for solace, derailing Peter’s plans to ask her to marry him.

The Spider-Man films have always been good as cotton candy morality plays complete with their own handy sound bites. If the first film told us “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the second film affirmed that “there’s a hero in all of us,” the third installment adds, “It’s our choices that make us who we are.”

In Spider-Man 3, Peter spends much of the film choosing poorly. In his defense, he’s under the influence of extraterrestrial black goo that hitches a ride on an asteroid and lands in Central Park mere feet from where Peter is standing. Isn’t that convenient. The goo feeds on negative emotions like anger and aggression, amplifying Spider-Man’s powers but subsuming Peter’s goodness in the process. When Peter discovers that his uncle’s real killer is still at large, he has plenty of anger and aggression to vent.

Spider-Man 3 is up to its gills in villains. Raimi and Co. obviously didn’t learn anything from the travesty that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman contributions. At one point in the film, after getting himself clobbered, Spidey muses out loud, “Where do all these guys come from?” We’re trying to figure that one out too, buddy.

Remarkably chiseled and angular, Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) is cast as the unwilling villain, Flint Marko, aka The Sandman, a monster pushed into a corner because of his love for a sick daughter. We are meant to take pity on Marko, and indeed we do. He’s so compelling, in fact, that he could easily have sustained the film by himself or been left for future installments. But instead, he’s merely one of three.

It’s always a joy to see the delightful Topher Grace (That 70s Show), who makes his appearance as a deceitful sycophant who gets transformed into the razor-jawed Venom. And then there’s Green Goblin Jr. who picks up where Green Goblin Sr. left off. (It’s a credit to Franco that a character who has long overstayed his welcome can be so rejuvenated this go ‘round). In their own ways, each of the villains act as doppelgangers to Peter/Spider-Man, who, of course, is already dealing with a dark double in the form of the alien symbiote who makes Peter do really dark and nasty things like tousle his hair and disrespect his elders.

There may be too many villains to keep track of, but they sure are fun to watch duke it out. The special effects in Spider-Man 3 are fantastic. (What do you expect for $250 million dollars!?) This time, instead of sweeping wide-shots capturing Spidey as a speck careening through the steel and glass canyons of Manhattan, we stick remarkably close as our hero performs his astonishing acrobatics, the cinematic equivalent of going tandem skydiving. Marko’s transformation and subsequent incarnations as The Sandman are breathtaking. A high-rise rescue (evoking more than a little homage to the original Superman) is enough to induce vertigo.

The film gushes with love for New York City, incorporating almost every landmark in your “Let’s Go” guidebook and never wasting an opportunity to present the web-slinger as a personal hero and protector of the Big Apple.

While exceptional talent like the exquisite Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) and James Cromwell (The Queen) go to waste, eagle-eyed viewers should watch for the prerequisite (and hilarious) Bruce Campbell cameo as well as a walk-on by Spider-Man creator, Stan Lee.

Despite the film’s far darker tone, there’s a lot more humor in this one than in past offerings. On the whole, the comedy is inoffensive, if implausibly diverting. That said, at one point the movie goes so over the stop, so completely out of character, so inappropriately and absurdly over the line that it looses all emotional resonance and never, ever gets it back. As a result, a penultimate scene meant to evoke tears instead invites laughter. On the way out of the theater, I overheard one costume-clad audience member remark that he wasn’t sure if he’d just seen a Spider-Man movie or a remake of Jim Carrey’s The Mask.


To read this story in its original form, click here.


Anonymous nate said...

I'm looking forward to it, but, like you, I can't fathom what compels these filmmakers to pack multiple villains into these movies, particularly when you consider that Sony has ordered three more. Dear Lord, save some for later. And it's just so much more satisfying to structure a film around a single conflict and milk it for all it's worth. I don't know what they are thinking. I don't know the Spidey universe well, but by Spiderman 6 I think they'll have him fighting the hot dog vendors.

And I heard on NPR that industry insiders say the real cost was closer to $350 million, making it by far the most expensive movie ever made. Do you know how few films even get that back, much less make a profit?!? Ridiculous.

I'm also looking forward to Pirates 3, much to the chagrin of many of my friends.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

Here at work this morning (my paycheck obviously depends on Sony making a profit which I don't think is going to be an issue whatsoever) I've been reading through the trades and I think it was today's Variety that has a story on film costs and the breakdown of actual costs vs. what the studio will admit to. This article mentions exactly what you said, that Spidey's bill was probably well over $300,000,000! (Sure, I could have written it out, but it looks so much more impressive with all those zeros!)

Oh, and I'm one of those chagrined friends! (Not that I won't be seeing it too!)

7:59 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home