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.

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