Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #11 Blade II

Remember what I said a few weeks ago about sequels being tricky things?  Iron Man 2 showed us how sequels can go horribly wrong.  Blade II shows us how a sequel can build upon the foundation of its predecessor and actually exceed it.

Thanks to the fact that Blade did not suck, Blade II is able to do what every great sequel should: give you more fun with characters you already know and like.  Since the first film gave us all of the information on our principal characters and given circumstances, we can pick right back up with those characters and circumstances and get excited about what they do next.  As long as what they do next is interesting and not in conflict with what has been established (looking backwards at you IM2...).

Fortunately, Blade II delivers upon that promise.  A new breed of vampire has hit the streets and this one is a threat to both human and vampire alike.  This forces Blade to forge an extremely uneasy alliance with the vampire council in order to stop this new threat.  The nice part of a plot like this is that is puts our hero in a compromising position where he is regularly in conflict with his own principles.  He is also always in danger since his allies would also be just as happy to see him taken out.  This keeps the hero in the hot seat and puts him to the test.  Fans of Empire Strikes Back will recognize these themes.  Blade II keeps the tension high through smart pacing of the action and drama.  There are plenty of reversals, betrayals, and good old vampire smashing to keep the audience engaged until the credits roll.  Blade II is very satisfying from a storytelling standpoint.

Snipes reprises the role he defined in the previous film and is obviously very comfortable back in the trench coat.  He and Kristofferson make a dynamic pairing again and the inclusion of Scud is not as annoying as you might think, particularly as the plot thickens.  The villains are, again, very standard vampire villains and do a good job of exploding into dust when killed, exactly what you want and expect from villains in a film like this.

Blade II rises above it's predecessor because it manages to build upon the foundations of the first film while maintaining the spirit of it.  The plot is a fine-tuned and a little smarter than that of the first and manages to sneak in a few good twists.  The campiness factor is toned down a bit in this sequel, but Snipes keeps us entertained and makes Blade a fun hero to cheer for.  It's not exactly high cinema, but Blade II manages to deliver on every promise it makes and ends up being a very satisfying experience.

Aimee's Take:

Ok, I have very little to say here, other than this is a movie that exceeds the limitations of its predecessor and manages, at the same time, to recapture all the fun and excitement of the original film. Everything that was right about Blade comes back, while many of the problems--most notably the plot--are sufficiently addressed. This makes Blade II a highly satisfying effort for the franchise--although it will unfortunately remain the high note, thanks to Blade: Trinity

I enjoyed this film, but I'll admit right now that I don't feel qualified to comment too much more. I fell asleep during part of the late middle, and had to have Stan fill me in on what I had missed. Now, before you assume that my falling asleep was the result of poor film making, I would like to point out that during my viewing of Blade II I was suffering from early pregnancy symptoms and had no clue why I would ever fall asleep at 9pm. While I saw 90% and was able to argue for a good ranking, I can't feel comfortable railing or praising the way I usually do. It doesn't help that this movie is just quietly satisfying, without anything too annoying (like Ryan Reynolds, for example.)

Since Stan has it covered, here are two adorable cats: 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #13: Blade

Chronologically, Blade is the first Marvel Movie of the modern era (1998 to The Avengers).  It broke the ground and laid the foundation for all Marvel movies until The Avengers.  (It is our firm belief that The Amazing Spider-Man will establish a new era)  Being the first of anything is tough.   You have to do a lot of work and take a lot of risks and ultimately make the mistakes that future films in your ilk will either learn from or die by.  With all of those potential strikes against it purely as a result of its timeplace, it is kind of surprising to find it this high up in the list.  With any vanguard there is usually a fatal flaw that mars it and keeps it from reaching the level of its predecessors, but Blade survives because it does the one thing no film before it has successfully done: it delivers EXACTLY what it promises.

How am I not relatable?
To be sure, Marvel sort of played it safe with Blade.  They didn't fully commit to a costumed do-gooder like Spider-man or Captain America with brightly colored spandex and secondarily colored villains.  They went, instead, with a grungy, pre-goth (it was only really taking hold in American pop culture by this time, get out your Dead Can Dance albums and let's go way back) vampire hunter decked out in leather and weapons.  It was the style at the time and it was pretty safe.  (see The Matrix the following year...)  They also went with a character who could fight common villains like vampires instead of hard to understand, and accept, villains like MODOK.  This allowed Blade to span two genres, super-hero/comic book and horror.  That way if it wasn't flying as a comic book movie, it could be sold as a horror flick based on a comic book.  Safe.

But as it turns out, none of that matters because Blade turned out to be pretty damn good.  The plot was kept simple.  A quasi-origin story (done smartly in flashback) that pits Blade against the very monsters that made him.  We join Blade in the heat of his fight against the creatures of the night as he and his partner hunt them down, always searching for the fabled first vampire whose death will signal the end for their kind.  Basically, we are just along for the ride as Blade goes up against Deacon Frost, a vamp baddie with big plans.  Thrown into the mix is the bitten maiden whom Blade must try to save before she fully turns.  It is all very standard vampire movie stuff (Vampires anyone?), and doesn't ask us to buy more than we normally would for a film of this type.  The good news is, it takes this standard formula and executes it at a pretty high level.

The real key to Blade's success, however, is Wesley Snipes.  I will accept no one else in the role of Blade until Snipes is WAY too old the play the character.  His take on the character is tough, serious, and just a little bit campy.  Snipes knows what he is doing.  He knows the score and knows that he is taking the audience on a trip.  He accepts that role and you can tell he is having a blast doing it.  Since Snipes' Blade is so genuine, it is easy to get sucked in and want to see where he is taking the role and the story.  The supporting cast is good.  I've never been a Kristofferson fan, but he is great as the grizzled old vet.  N'Bushe Wright is not as annoying as the maiden in distress as she could be and really fills the role without being terribly memorable.  The same can be said for Stephen Dorff's Deacon Frost.  He's a villain, you want him to be defeated.  It's good.  I realize these aren't glowing reviews for these two, but in a film like this, it is better to be bland than to be Parker Posey in Blade: Trinity.
I still have my foam promo throwing star from ComicCon the year Blade came out!
Like I said, Blade sits here at #13 because it manages to not screw anything up so badly that it fails in delivering on the promises it makes.  Blade is a solid film with solid performances and a standard plot.  It succeeds.  The charismatic work of Wesley Snipes is just icing on the cake.  Not too shabby for Marvel's first foray into super-hero movies since the 1990 Captain America.  And a pretty good start for the modern era of Marvel movies.

Aimee's Take:

You know, I was living in the late 1990's watching movies like The Matrix thinking, "Wow, I live in the freaking future!" Everyone was wearing sunglasses in the dark and wearing synthetic leather trench coats. I didn't manage to see Blade 1998 when it came out, but it has a definite Matrix feel to it... before the Matrix.
Blade is not a terribly well-plotted film but it certainly isn't unwatchable. The story is, in some ways, incredibly simple, showcasing an origin story and a parallel; but in other ways it gets bogged down in vampire society crap and can be a little confusing.
But, Blade is a character/actor driven piece, and if well-executed, the plot can become an afterthought. (Note that this did not work out for Wolverine.) Wesley Snipes owns the role playing it both cool and cheeky, spitting out one-liners that make you cringe and cheer. The action is intense and no-holds-barred, and carries the movie quickly through all the paces. All you need is Blade and Whistler to make this thing work. It really doesn't matter who the villains are--it's Blade and Whistler versus the vampires. 

Maybe we'll take a look at these films soon...
What could be cooler than watching Blade destroy dozens of raver vampires in underground vampire clubs? Nothing, really. Things want to be cooler than this, but they aren't. They are only going to be just as cool as watching Blade kill vampires. It's the unattainable standard. It's the reason why Blade Trinity sucked: not enough watching Blade kill vampires.

In all seriousness, Blade succeeds in setting a new tone for "comic book" films. Outside Marvel, at this time, comic book nerds were having to feast upon things like Batman & Robin in theaters. Which, frankly, is miserable. Nothing about this says it respects the genre.

So, whether I love or hate Blade I think we must give it props for taking mainstream comic book films out of the glow-stick bargain basement and into the the new century. Is Blade as popular as Batman? No. But perhaps that's why Blade was allowed to put the character through his paces. Blade was given just enough room to breathe; it's over the top but it didn't have to be--it merely does what seems natural. It's not my favorite film, but succeeds where others fail.

Trust me, this is better than Uma.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Comic of the Week 6.13.12

Scarlet Spider #6

If you had told me ten years ago that a comic book titled "Scarlet Spider" that starred Spider-Man's clone would be my favorite Spider-Man comic book, I would have laughed in your face and told you to get out of my house.  And yet here we are.

Since he has virtually no history worth worrying about ruining, Scarlet Spider really is the best Spider-Man on the market today (sorry Ultimate Spidey, get your story moving and we'll talk).  The comic follows Spider-man's resurrected clone as he travels to Houston, Texas trying to escape the specter of the original Spider-Man and his legacy (if only Marvel would just give up and do the same...).  Of course, the clone, Kaine is his name, does have some history and that past seems to be intent on tracking him down and taking him out.  Never mind all of the new trouble the Scarlet Spider is getting into in his new city.

The great thing about this comic is that it captures the charm of the single issue story, but also seems interested in telling a bigger broader story.  Kaine is surrounded by potential supporting characters that are diverse and interesting.  Perhaps the most compelling is also the key to the overarching story, a young lady named Aracely who he saved from almost certain death at the hands of a firebug called Salamander.  Aracely cannot remember anything about her past, but she seems to have some empathic abilities and can, at the very least, mimic other talents like language.  She is tied to Kaine as her rescuer and her only hope of solving the riddle of her identity.  She may be a plot point, but she also has a lot of charisma and provides an interesting counterpart to Kaine's reluctant hero.

Most of all, though, the comic is simple and fun.  You want to like Kaine because he is haunted by a past isn't his and he is trying to find his own identity while coming to grips with the rest of the world around him.

This latest issue sees the Scarlet Spider hunted by Kraven's daughter, Ana, who appears to be setting him up for bigger problems in the near future from her, sadly, resurrected father.  The battle with Ana is the action part of the issue, but the character work between Kaine and Aracely is what makes this issue great.  The fight is prelude to what is coming, but what makes the book worth reading is the character development that goes on around it.  I have always maintained that character and plot are what make comics, and stories of all stripes, great.  Intense art and big battles are great, but if they lack smart writing they are useless fluff.  Scarlet Spider does a great job of balancing the strong foundation with the glitzy spectacle.  Not only that, but for six issues it has featured some of the best covers in comics today thank to the talented art of Ryan Stegman.

If you want to read a good Spider-Man comic set in the regular Marvel Universe, Scarlet Spider is pretty much your only option.

Raised Eyebrow of the Week
Spider-Men #1

I only first saw an ad for this last week. I'm not sure why, but Marvel seems to feel the need to ALWAYS crossover popular Ultimate Universe characters with their regular universe.  I think they are hoping that the freshness of the Ultimate characters will revive their stale, inept attempts at storytelling with the older character set.  It never works.  If you don't believe me, see what happened when they crossed over the two Fantastic Fours.  (damn shame too UFF was great...)

So when I saw the ad for this crossover, I was instantly skeptical and I would have passed on it entirely, but my trusty comic shop owner decided that I needed to read it anyway and put it in my holds. ("holds" refers to the subscription service most good comic shops offer to their regular customers to ensure that they get the comics they want each week.  Some even come with a discount, do you hear me Daniel Thompson, owner of the Zone Comic Shop in Louisville, KY...ahem...)

This issue dealt almost entirely with the Marvel Universe Spider-Man and as such was pretty ho-hum. (I skimmed the first 8 pages without reading a word, I missed nothing) What was cool was that Ultimate Mysterio seems to have popped up in the regular MU and is planning something.  Spider-Man unwittingly stumbles upon him and mistakes him for his Mysterio and they tussle.  During the battle, Spidey is sucked into a vortex that leads to the Ultimate Universe.  I like that they are giving a legitimate and relevant excuse for the crossover and not just a throw away.  Sadly, that is where the coolness ends because...

Once in the Ultimate Universe Spider-Man apparently forgets that he has ever been in an alternate universe before, despite having been to hundreds of them, some as recently as a year ago during an annual crossover with Hulk and Deadpool.  But, I suppose Marvel feels the story needs Spider-Man to be an idiot for the story to work, so as soon as he arrives he acts like he is totally lost and confused.  This is why and where Marvel has lost their way.  Why not bring Ultimate Spider-man into the regular MU and have him be totally lost and confused?  That would work.  This does not.  I guess Marvel feels that all of their long time fans that have made them so great are just too stupid to notice that the character they love so much is acting like a complete moron.  Either that or they are so worried that new readers are too stupid to pick up a story, even an issue one, with a character that isn't as clean as a blank slate.  Whichever it is, Marvel insults the intelligence of anyone who reads this comic.

And you can save all of your arguments about new readers, because they spend a whole page introducing things to new readers and welcoming them.  Furthermore, Marvel knows who its audience is, there is a Father's Day ad in this comic aimed at fathers, NOT their kids.  Let's face it, Might Marvel is growing weak and old, and even though they were the comics publisher of my childhood, they are showing that they no longer understand the things that made them great in the first place.  Spider-Men #1 demonstrates this fact all too well.  Will I get issue #2?  Maybe.  Why?  I still like the Ultimate Spider-man and I am curious as to what this encounter will do to his character.  Sadly, I will have to tolerate my childhood hero to do that...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #13: Iron Man 2

Aimee's Take:

Iron Man 2 was a very highly anticipated release, due to the success of Iron Man and the general asshole-ish likeability of Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark. We all filed in to see it, expecting more of the same fast-paced, tightly maneuvered fun we had enjoyed before. We were... disappointed.

Not to say that the movie is all bad. It's not. It's decently watchable. The problem is... it's too much. 

It's as though the filmmakers took everything we loved about Iron Man and hooked it up to an amplifier. Unfortunately, that amplifier has been dropped a few times and has a tendency to make very annoying noises at very inopportune times. Pepper Potts has had her neurotic stress level turned to 11; SHIELD and Nick Fury involvement has been turned to 11; and Justin Hammer has been introduced and doesn't need additional volume to be incredibly annoying and terribly unfunny. Rhodes as War Machine is unnecessary and ill-used.

At the same time, we're given a surprisingly toned-down version of Tony Stark, who is struggling with a life-threatening problem and dealing with daddy issues. 

When you plug all this into a flimsy plot that is frankly all over the damn place, you don't have much opportunity for fun and excitement.

Remove the SHIELD subplot--now we're getting somewhere. There's almost no reason for it; Tony could have dug into his father's past alone. Let's not make the "new element" subplot so convoluted, ok? It's too tidy for all of the wild factors; I guess we should all be happy to find that Pepper was throwing away that giant city model right at the best possible time for Tony to find it--like something that huge was maybe in the coat closet? Why was it not in archives? You want me to believe that Stark Industries doesn't have archives? 

Whiplash is fairly compelling, why not create an escalating hostility between him and Tony, ultimately culminating in a showdown? Why is Justin Hammer in this?

This is another film that is shamed by the masterful execution of The Avengers. It had too much going on and not enough "meat" to hold things together. Sure, the characters are (mostly) fun to watch. Yes, there's eye candy. Yes, I get it, everyone loves Sam Jackson. But this effort is solidly sophomoric and deserves its low spot.

What Stan Says:

Sequels are tricky things.  When the first film is great, a follow-up must extend the glory of the original, introduce something new, and maintain the status quo that has been established.  When done well, you get Godfather Part II, when done poorly you get Iron Man 2.

As Aimee says, Iron Man was incredible.  It blew every possible expectation I had for it out of the water.  Honestly, I don't care for Iron Man.  I have always found the character to be a bit unrelatable and boorish.  But Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of Tony Stark made me like Iron Man, and what's more, made me care about the character...(for the rest of this paragraph see the upcoming Iron Man entry in the Marvel Movie Project.)  Iron Man 2 managed to undo a lot of the good work Iron Man worked so hard to accomplish.

Oh my dear lord.
The first film was simple, straightforward, and pure.  Iron Man 2 is none of those things.  The story wanders all over the place from Whiplash's origin to a car race to the introduction of Black Widow (I am IN LOVE with Scarlett Johansson's Widow, too bad there is no reason for her to be in this film) to Justin Hammer's ridiculous factory to Tony Stark's birthday party to a giant park and on and on.  Pick a story and go with it.

How about a simple one where a rival developer is stealing Stark designs and turning them into weapons contracts?  That story is in there somewhere and it would be great, but instead we clutter it up with an uncharacteristic (and considering the source that's saying something) drunken birthday brawl, some kind of SHIELD subplot, the Black Widow and War Machine.  None of which are things we need.  This could be so easy.  Justin  We also get a secret film of Howard Stark who just happened to invent the very element Tony needs to save the day.  All Tony has to do is find a treasure map with an X on it in the form of ridiculously giant model, the build a thingy to create the element.  You can see the slippery slope that leads us to doom, can't you.  I could have been so easy.  Try this on for size:  Hammer steals Stark designs, sells them, hires Whiplash to work for him and keep Iron Man off his back and then he uses his power to leverage whatever his bigger agenda is. Theisre are plenty of big fights between Iron Man and Whiplash, and Iron Man and Hammer's Iron Men. We don't need the rest of it.  Well, maybe Scarlett...

But worse that all of that, is that I don't really like any of the characters I came to love in the first film.  Pepper is just freaked out all of the time and her hysterical anger and whining is old 5 minutes into the film.  Her bizarre rivalry with Black Widow is forced and feels like it.  Stark is Stark, but he's also being a douche and not in the good way like in the first film.  Cheadle is a fine substitute Rhodey, but he is given the worst possible things to do, so he's not as likeable as Terrence Howard.  Plus, despite the set-up in Iron Man, I do not believe for a second that he ever gets in that War Machine suit, not until the very end anyway.  Black Widow too is wasted here and would have been much better had we waited to introduce the character in The Avengers where she is dyno-mite. 
So a dismally convoluted plot, unlikeable characters, and way too much unneeded clutter, what is there to like in this movie?  Must be Spectacle.

The film is big and action-packed.  It is a thrill ride, but the ride is without any of the substance that made the original Iron Man such an unexpected treat.  It's a blockbuster type film but it lack the heart to be more than a flash and is ultimately unforgettable.  It is only on the back of  Robert Downey Jr, and the incredibly high production values (the suit still looks amazing!) that Iron Man 2 makes it this high on the count up.  For my money, IM2 is the "Best of the Worst" on our list.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Comic of the Week: 5.6.12

Swamp Thing #10
DC Comics

You people are going to think I am a DC fanboy.  Historically, that could not be less true.  I'm always been a Marvel guy through and through, but the recent New 52 has given me a chance to explore a bit, as I have become increasing disgruntled with Mighty Marvel (see below).  One of the first comics I ever had as a kid was a Swamp Thing comic.  I bought it on a camping trip with my parents.  My dad let me get it because it was a comic book and he didn't really know that comics were more than Archie and Donald Duck, so the words "Sophisticated Suspense" on the cover didn't even register.  It was Swamp Thing #39, written by Alan Moore and there were all kinds of gruesome imagery, ladies in lingerie, and lots of bizarre violence.  As a 10 year old boy, I was captivated.  The story was dark and mysterious and I didn't really understand the nuances, but I knew I was peeking in on something special that wasn't entirely meant for me.  Like when you see your first naked lady at an early age and you have no idea what the parts are or do, but you know there's magic in it.

I saw the relaunch of Swamp Thing as my chance to get back on board that train and rediscover those thrills again.  And while you can't go home again, there are definitely things to appreciate in this new iteration of Swamp Thing.  The initial story started out really, really slowly, and I was worried that it was never going to get anywhere.  That sort of thing drives me mad, looking at you Brian Michael Bendis, but if there is enough to hold my interest I will stick around to see where it goes.  Swamp Thing took a long time to get started, but issue #10 has proven that time can pay off.

The new status quo is that Alec Holland, the scientist who was Swamp Thing previously, has been revived from the dead and has accepted his role (again) as Swamp Thing to be the champion of the Green (the force of plant life) against the Rot (the force of decay and death).  The first ten issues saw Swamp Thing battling the Rot as it tried to gain a foothold on the Earth.  During the battle, SW rescued his romantic interest, Abigail Arcane from the Rot.  She was destined to be the Queen of the Rot and apparently still is, despite the rescue.  Issue #10 starts with a battered Swamp Thing returning to the swamp to rest and heal from his ordeal.  However, Abigail's father, Anton Arcane has other plans.  I don't know too much about him, but apparently he is a beast of a dude and a part of the Rot as well.  He shows up to reclaim his little girl and take Swamp Thing out while he is incapacitated.  This may sound simple, but the way it is told and what it portends for SW is exactly the kind of thing I have been looking for out of this comic.  Here's hoping issue #11 delivers on the promise issue #10 has made...

Disappointment of the Week
Avengers vs. X-men #5
Marvel Comics

Wow.  Marvel has proven once again that they have no idea how to handle their characters anymore or how to handle their rich history.  AvX has been promoted as the greatest comic event in the Marvel Universe and the culmination of a decade's efforts in grand story telling.  It was billed as the big throwdown between the Avengers and the X-men that would shake the MU to its foundation.  Ho-hum.  In five issues the two teams have battled for roughly two issues, with no major confrontations and no major plot developments.  There have been no epic fights, no shocking defeats, and nothing of any real interest.  The main plot has nothing to do with the Avengers and the X-men, it has to do with the return (again) of the Phoenix and the two teams disagreeing on how to deal with that occurrence.  Ho-hum again.
Perhaps the most insulting thing is the way these characters interact with each other.  These are characters with nearly 70 years of history between them (some of them anyway) and they act like maybe this is the first time they have gone head-to-head, or at best the second.  The dialogue is so stilted and bland that the characters are made of wood and devoid of the flavor that made them icons.  
Without a doubt Marvel has the best body of characters in the industry, but they treat them like cash cows and they have about as much respect for them as they do anything they think they can turn a profit on.  The recent rash of movies do more justice to the rich history of characters than anything they are putting on the printed page.

This big event is the perfect example of how Mighty Marvel has lost its way.  At least DC openly acknowledges that they have no reverence for their history.  They reboot their universe every year or two.  Marvel wants to cling to its glory days and extend that glory to the crap they are churning out these days, but it just doesn't wash.  You cannot have your cake and eat it too.  You cannot claim to have great characters and then ignore everything that has made them great.
I'm going to see AvX to the end, but that might also be the end of my association with Might Marvel's main universe.  The Ultimate Universe still has a chance.... 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #14: Spider-Man 3

It is hard to live up the greatness that was Spider-Man 2.  I get that.  And my anticipation for Spider-Man 3 was about as high as it could have been.  The Harry Osborn/Goblin story had been set up over the course of the previous two films.  It was destined to come to a head in this film, maybe even in the form of a second Green Goblin, or even the Hobgoblin.  Curt Conners had been a through line in both films, so the Lizard could certainly poke his leathery snout into things.  Pete was finally coming into his own as Spidey.  Spider-man 3 was building up to be great!

And then the dreaded word started circulating...Venom.  A fan favorite in great demand.  I get it.  But the story of Venom would require a trilogy all its own, it could certainly not be done in a single film.  The story of Venom is actually the story of the symbiote brought to Earth by Spidey by accident in the guise of a new costume.  The costume became "attached" to PP and his alter ego both emotionally and physically.  Living off the bodily chemicals that were in play while PP was Spider-Man, the symbiote would take control of Peter as he slept and made him patrol the city as Spider-Man.  Upon discovering this, Peter tried to rid himself of the symbiote which was desperately trying to bond to him permanent.  In the end Peter ascends a church tower and risks his life and hearing to drive the symbiote off under the pealing of the bells (the symbiote is vulnerable to sonics and fire).  Defeated, wounded, and rejected, the symbiote slinked to the floor of the cathedral where he happened to run into Eddie Brock, a journalist who's career had been discredited by Spider-Man and Peter Parker individually.  Sensing Brock's depression and anger, the symbiote offered him companionship and the ability to get revenge on those that wronged him (the symbiote had mimicked Spider-man's powers for so long that it had pretty much replicated them).  Together, the symbiote and Brock became Venom and set out to get revenge on the person who wronged them both: Spider-Man.  And the story goes on from there and is incredible.

But to have the emotional impact a story likes this can generate, you have to give it TIME.  You cannot rush emotional involvement.  You can evoke feeling (just watch the first ten minutes of UP.  You get all the feeling you want), but you will not get the commitment that a story like this deserves.  Ergo, the minute Venom enters the conversation, we are either looking at a 4 hour film or we are looking at a rush job.

Spider-Man 3 gives us the rush job.

To be fair, Spider-Man 3 is half of a good movie.  Exactly half of a good movie.  In watching the film again for this project, Aimee and I tracked the exact point where the movie goes wrong, horribly wrong, and that point comes almost exactly at the halfway point in the film.  The minute Sandman is wrongly injected into the death of Uncle Ben, the movie takes an irreparable turn for the worst.  Up to that moment, the Sandman is a well constructed, thoughtful character, perhaps better developed and introduced here than in the comics!  All of the Sandman stuff with Spider-man has the makings for a great film.  There is no reason to connect that very smart, very Spider-Man 2-esque, story to the origin story.  None.

I hate memes.
But like a series of dominoes, once that first one is tipped, the rest tumble and create one hell of a mess.  Once Sandman in injected into the origin, the movie descends into a tangled clump of cliches, sight gags, and mindless action.  Peter, our hero, the likeable, relatable everyman, becomes a prick who causes what any rational person would consider irreconcilable harm to his rather patient and understanding girlfriend for absolutely NO REASON AT ALL.  At this point we no longer have anyone to cheer for (except maybe Sandman).  Even after Peter wakes up and makes amends his offense was so great, it is hard to find him likeable again.

Then comes that horrible cliche moment when Venom meets Sandman and those dreaded words are uttered "You hate Spider-Man, I hate Spider-Man, let's team-up."  Ugh.  Just kill me now.  This takes the level of intelligence in the film down to Ace Ventura level and it is never to recover.

Now in Topher Grace's defense, he is likeable enough as Brock, but he is given so little to do that is worth doing, that his role is virtually throw-away.  He is fun as Peter's new rival at the newspaper, but once the Venom aspect is introduced he is swallowed up in goofy villain nonsense.  Sandman's character is equally devolved at this point and we are left with two half developed characters that are reduced to cardboard cut-outs about to be embroiled in some very senseless, over-the-top action.

Waitaminute.  What about Harry Osborn?  Oh he's in there, floating around the background waiting for his moment to shine.  A moment he will never get.   His character is given plenty of treatment, but the resolution of him deciding to be a hero instead of letting his need for revenge consume him is ultimately without much impact.  What wants to be a great, subtle character study is lost in a melange of super-hero beat-em-ups, which also occasionally steals material from the first Spider-Man movie.

Honestly, what Spider-Man 3 feels like is the foundation of a well made character drama playing out the story of Peter and Harry as it has been developed over the course of 3 movies, with the addition of a surprisingly touching Sandman story for good measure.  But somewhere along the line, Hollywood got involved and script doctors or producers started adding in things that had no place in the film.  Things like Venom, Gwen Stacy, and Peter the Prick's emo moment.

I enjoyed Spider-Man 3 up until the point of no return.  I thought it was going to deliver on its promise.  But everything after the point of no return is movie wasteland, devoid of substance and entertainment value.  Sadly, the second half of the film ruins everything that came before it and therefore Spider-Man 3 lives down here among the worst Marvel Movies.  True, it's closer to the best of the worst (which will be next week), but it's still not worth watching more than once.

Aimee's Take:

I agree with everything Stan had to say here, except I think Mary Jane is kind of a bitch in this movie. No, it doesn't give Peter free reign to be an unfettered douche-bag, but a lot of annoying drama could have been avoided if MJ had just looked preening Petey straight in the eye and said, "I know you are happy to be famous but I got fired from my acting job because they don't think I can sing!" I really doubt that Peter is going to react to that by carrying on like a self-involved jerk and later making out with the vapid copy of Gwen Stacy that somehow surfaces in this film for no reason.

The big problem here is that this movie reads like the last chance to get all the Spider-Man staples into a film before the budget runs out and no more films can be made. Venom, Gwen Stacy, the Alien Costume (which, by the way, almost NEVER MAKES SENSE WITHOUT SECRET WARS or Reed Richards!) and a hefty revisit to the origin story (Green Goblin and Uncle Ben's murder).

I object to pretty much all of it. And I wanted to like this film. I've never particularly cared for this iteration of MJ--she's kind of a wet blanket--but I genuinely liked the slow-burn friends-in-crisis dynamic that exists between Harry and Peter. I like Aunt May's frail but strong spirited presence. Problems exist with the entire series but on the whole, these are characters I love being portrayed in ways I really liked.

If you make Sandman Uncle Ben's murderer, you make Peter a murderer. Ok, maybe he didn't shoot Ben's presumed murderer in the head or anything, but he tracked down and intimidated a not-innocent-but-not-a-murderer-guy and directly led him to his death. Aunt May and I are horrified. This is not Daredevil!

If you jam Gwen Stacy into this movie only to make her a fashion model... well, what purpose does she serve that couldn't have been adequately met by just some random other girl? Hell, I'd like to suggest that an old chestnut like Liz Allen or Betty Brandt (already in the films, by the way) could fill in more appropriately. If you used Betty, you wouldn't have even needed to introduce a new character! MJ could be very jealous of someone who Peter might actually have a relationship with!

I could nitpick the end of this film to death, but really, what would be the point? The 80's/90's Batman franchise taught us why villain team-ups are a bad idea and there's no reason to point out that this film could have benefited enormously by learning from those mistakes.

We had great set up for two villains: Green Goblin (retread) and Lizard. We had set up for MJ and Peter to be fairly stable by now. This needed to be the long, slow culmination of two other movies. It needed to pay off. And it didn't. I think this was the most disappointing movie of my adult life.

It's not wholly awful, of course. Like Stan says up above--until the half-way mark, it's pretty damn awesome. I loved Sandman's character and everyone else was doing their thing pretty much how you'd like to see it happen. But it takes an ill-advised turn and never comes back. It's no one person's fault. The casting is very good; it's just like the second half was made by a committee that was tasked with fitting all these horrible plot points into an otherwise decent film. And that's why Spider-Man 3 is the worst of its series and only rates a spot half-way up the list.

The good news is, the list is only going to get better. We can hope.