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Friday, May 4, 2007

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Posted By on Fri, May 4, 2007 at 4:08 PM

                 

MOVIEGOER REVIEW:  Spider-Man 3

It takes a real artist to find enough material to develop the third installment of a franchise; one that doesn't drown in either dullness or absurdity.  I can think of only a few big budget sequels to sequels that actually made sense: "Return of the Jedi" because it artfully tied together the relationship between Luke and Vader (and the chase through the woods of Endor was damn cool considering the times); "Rocky III" only because you wanted Rocky to beat Clubber Lang; "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" won a boat-load of Oscars; and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" managed to continue the saga despite a change of directors.  The "Indiana Jones" franchise even wrapped up nicely with "The Last Crusade" although a fourth film has now been announced. 

But a wealth of franchises failed to adequately parlay sequel success into a strong third effort.  I'm referring most obviously to "The Godfather" trilogy.  "Part III" was a distant cousin to the first two films, and it failed in practically every aspect, most notably the addition of Sofia Coppola to the franchise.  The "X-Men" franchise sunk in its third effort, although box office numbers would suggest otherwise.  Same with "Batman Forever," the lame third film in the Tim Burton revitalized series (that film was directed by Joel Schumacher), "Lethal Weapon" and "The Matrix" franchises. 

Which brings us to "Spider-Man".  The genius of Raimi's first film in this series was that he didn't set the bar too high.  He worked out potential confusions with the comic book plot line (he made the movie Spidey have biological powers to shoot webs as opposed to mechanical ones which Stan Lee conceived) and created only one villian to pester Spidey. 

It worked.  The film was a resounding success despite Raimi's decision to cast Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, two young and relatively unproven stars.  Fans walked out of theatres anxious to see it again and again and anxious once again to buy the DVD.

A new Sony franchise was born and studio execs couldn't get to reporters fast enough to announce a second and third film.  Everyone was attached and all systems were a go.

In what seemed to be a true stroke of genius, Raimi, for his second effort, employed accomplished fiction writer and noted comic book buff Michael Chabon, fresh off his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," a book involving comics, to assist with the screen story.

Again, with a similar formula and a bit of luck (Raimi wanted Ah-nold to play Doc Oc, fortunately he didn't) the second film generated even more buzz.  The effects were better.  The story was better.  Everything was better and a third film, foreshadowed by Harry (James Franco) finding his father's Green Goblin gear, was certain.  "Spider-Man" fans around the world were happy.

And then came "Spider-Man 3", and the anticipation was even higher.  Rumors swirled that the film was shattering Asian box office records and that midnight screenings were selling out by the hundreds.  This was all good news for the suits.

But for moviegoers, "Spider-Man 3" is disappointing.  It bears hardly any semblance to the good work done in the first two films.  Hey, Raimi may have been in an impossible position what with a rumored $350 million budget and all, but all of the high flying goodness that made the first two films a delight coupled with, you know, a plot, was pushed aside for some black goop from outerspace with an attitude and enough villans to make Kevin Smith drool.

The film opens with a shot of New York and MJ with her name in lights on Broadway.  Peter's in college, "top of his class," and Spider-Man is more popular than Barack Obama.  Life is good, but it's gone to Peter's head. 

The majority of the first 30 minutes involves Peter talking about how sweet he is.  I kid you not.  But thankfully Raimi doesn't completely kill your buzz.  There's an action sequence that will blow you away.  It's 4 of the 8 wonderful minutes of this film.

After this fight sequence, when you're certain the goings about to get good, a giant blob from outerspace hits earth, close to where Peter and MJ are making out on one of his self-spun webs.  Goop seeps from the blob and it sets its sights on Parker with heat-seeking accuracy and for reasons unexplained (they are explained in the comic book) it latches on while he sleeps in get up and, somehow, creates a suit of gray and black: Charcoal Spidey is born.

Charcoal Spidey likes to hit and kick and even kill.  And with Charcoal Spidey comes New Parker who likes to play the piano and mack chicks.  Once a "big nerd," he struts down the streets of New York, pointing and whispering, a poor man's Tony Manero with bangs that hang down in front of his face.   Girls seem to dig him, including Police Captain Stacy's (James Cromwell) daughter Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard). 

New Parker also likes to dance.  But his dancing talents are more on par with Mark "Mad Dog" Madsen than John Travolta and that where this whole endeavor becomes laughable.  Watching Parker whisper sweet nothings into the ear of a waitress in the hope of getting him a table is about as goofy as Hayden Christensen whisking Natalie Portman off to make whoopy. 

There's this Flint Marko fella (Thomas Hayden Church) roaming the streets trying to find a buck to save his dying daughter.  He got turned into sand by stumbling onto some secret moleular biological project buried deep in the woods - the kind of project Karl Rove might be running on the weekends.  He's transformed in Sandman in a glorious CGI-designed sequence that is worth every second, and sets off to find his cash.

Unfortunately, Mr. Church isn't given the opportunity to do much of anything with this character.  His dialogue, written by Mr. Raimi and his brother Ivan (who was not a part of either I or II), is reminiscent of the hilariously awful dialogue Akiva Goldsman wrote in "Batman and Robin." 

Adn what's also hilarious is that Sandman can't seem to steal any money.  Come on, the guy can break down into tiny particles and then come back to together.  But somehow finding his way into a bank and making off with several grand is too difficult?  Someone find this guy an air vent.

New Parker relizes that the goop is having an effect on his day-to-day life.  He's angry and Aunt Mae, wise woman that she is, tells him that Spider-Man isn't supposed to kill people, not even a mean Sandman with tires and trash stuck to him.  So Parker chucks the charcoal suit and returns to the blue and red happy look.  At the same time, the goop, obviously pissed, latches on to Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) a newspaper photographer whose faked photos of Spider-Man cost him his job.  The goop turns him into Venom, a nasty looking flying dog with a loud squawk and sharp teeth. 

He and Sandman team up to wreak hell on Spider-Man, who's off doing parades, accepting keys to the city, and laying the groundwork for a possible run for Mayor. 

Sandman gets bigger (by the end of the film he's the size of the Stay-Puffed Marshmellow Man) and Venom gets meaner.  Unable to defeat them both, Harry a/k/a New Goblin (James Franco), who was once mad at Parker, then not mad at him, then mad again, is convinced to join Spidey's team.  It's 2 on 2 in a fight to the death.

There's work involved to keep up with each of these villans and all the while pay attention to Peter's crying, MJ's crying, Aunt Mae's crying, and enough hugging and "I love you's" to make you forget this is an action movie.

"Spider-Man 3" is an example of what happens when a franchise knows that it has a dedicated audience in its pocket.  And the result is a mess, dazzling as minutes of it may be.

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