Spider-Man 3 Reviews
But That Dance Scene was so Dumb
I loved Peter's little descent into darkness, and his ridiculous dance scene at a Jazz club made me laugh, but new villain Venom didn't get near enough screen time for my tastes. Sandman was awesome, though.
Well, I don't know about everyone else, but I'm very much looking forward to Spider-Man 4.
Spider-Man 3 kicks off with a familiar beginning; Peter Parker is back to experiencing tedious bullying in his college experiences again as he recites his scientific expertise in class before visiting Mary Jane Watson who sums up the entire purpose of all this by referring to him as a nerd. This is all really simplistic writing that you would hope to wear off in due time, but in actuality it foreshadows a tumultuous narrative that the film stands by for the entirety of its 139 minute running time.
After the gleeful energy of the intro slows down, everything turns immediately melodramatic when Peter Parker attempts to confront Harry Osborn. He responds with the line "Tell it to my father. Raise him from the dead" before turning himself into the New Goblin in the blink of an eye and is battling Spider-Man at 17 minutes in. Even though we've had two films lead up to creating this conflict, it seems that the filmmakers have forgotten that Spider-Man 3 must function as a standalone film as well as a sequel.
The film's overall characterization is poor with Harry Osborn's being the first to notice. He's melodramatic and angsty at the start of the film before becoming New Goblin rather fast, and after one battle he remarkably manages to suffer a form of amnesia which makes him specifically forget everything that drove him to becoming a supervillain. The elements of relevance this has to the source material are stretched into a ridiculously unrealistic narrative, and in the blink of an eye he is back to being evil and then good again. James Franco's constant change in persona is believable because he is suitably shallow the entire time, but seeing him in a light of amnesiac friendliness and egotistical sadism is more innovative than the angsty approach that he has spent so much time on. New Goblin is a teenager on a hoverboard and James Franco looks cool doing it so it's not all bad, but it's hard to believe his villainous transition.
Alas, many will debate whether his characterization is any worse than Sandman. While we spent the first two films believing that Peter Parker is directly responsible for the death of his father since he refused to stop a criminal that killed Ben Parker, we learn that this was all fictitious. Spider-Man 3 changes the background of it all and clarifies that all along it was actually a criminal named Flint Marko. The fact that this film has to change what has already been established to gain new narrative ground is really slack, and gave me Vietnam flashbacks to the first time I watched Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). It's ridiculous for me to compare Spider-Man 3 to the worst film of all time, but Alvin Sargent and the Raimi brothers didn't need to change the background of the first film to motivate the characters in the third. By the end of the film we learn that Flint Marko killed Ben Parker as the result of an accident. At a time when he had a gun pointed at Ben Parker's head he flinched and pulled the trigger, executing the man. This is supposed to make it easier to sympathise with the character; I just thought it was the laziest middle ground the writers could have come up with and didn't have any dramatic heft whatsoever. Thomas Hayden Church is left to make blank facial expressions and deliver a deep-toned monotony in every word which doesn't do any favours to the human side of the character. It's enough that he transitions into becoming Sandman after escaping police custody into an unprotected particle accelerator which has no camera supervision thanks to some lazy plotting, but Sandman is only an interesting character when created solely out of computer-generated image.
Then there is a third villain in the film. Spider-Man 3 is overstuffed with bad guys and its difficult to keep up with all of them without being necessarily interesting in the process, but it's really problematic how they depict Venom. Venom is one of the most iconic Marvel villains of all time an his design is really awesome, but Eddie Brock is such a weak character. He's a mix between the stereotypes of Peter Parker and the people who picked on him; a boy who can't design whether he's a stuck up and manipulative egotist or a troubled youngster simply trying to find his own way in the world. Topher Grace isn't consistent with depicting Eddie Brock as either and oscillates between a stuck-up stereotype or an angsty one, borrowing from the lesser elements of James Franco's Harry Osborn in the process. The main problem is that Topher Grace lacks the raw animalistic sadism of Venom, opting instead to portray simply an unsympathetic and vain douchebag who lost his job and prays for the murder of Peter Parker as a result. Eddie Brock is a weak character and Topher Grace is a weak actor, so none of this should have anything to do with a character like Venom.
Even the humanization of the main characters is dumbed down for this third entry. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have grown up and are in an adult relationship, facing the harsh realities of a relationship which was romanticised in the first two films. Peter Parker begins developing a sense of egotism thanks to the celebrity status of his superhero alter-ego while Mary Jane Watson is a struggling actress who is threatened by Spider-Man's constant success. Whenever either of them are extremely upset about something, they both say "I'm fine" to the other person as a clear signification of the lack of communication. As realistic as this all is, it's a little too realistic to be entertaining. Mary Jane Watson reflects on this failure as just another reminder of her insecurities as an unloved daughter while Peter Parker keeps growing in repetitive egotism, and the one-dimensional nature of all this makes it rather challenging to sympathise for either of them. There are some entertaining scenes that they share since their relationship has progressed to an adult stage at this point, but the scattershot plot takes its toll on them.
Spider-Man 3 has an abundance of artificiality in lieu of any kind of character sensibility, and they reflect the inconsistent tone of the film. The fact is that Sam Raimi can't seem to decide whether he wants it to have a serious narrative or a comical one. This is epitomized by Peter Parker's development of a darker persona where his "emo" attitude is driven by vengeance one minute and vanity the next. The former works to the appeal of the story better than the latter, but it's never easy to tell whether we should take this film seriously. It's as if Spider-Man 3 is a homage to Richard Lester's Superman III (1983); an oddball superhero comedy which attempts to depict a darker side of the protagonist. I enjoyed the idea of Spider-Man being consumed by wrath, but I struggled to take Peter Parker seriously. Tobey Maguire's pursuit of this accrues mixed results as he has some moments of real emotional intensity such as his scene with Kirsten Dunst on the bridge or his confrontation of Flint Marko, but the one-dimensional writing and reliance on cliches and familiar sentimentalities leaves the majority of it unsuccessful. Tobey Maguire has more fun with the role, bringing Spider-Man's confident energy over to Peter Parker to the point that he is pretentious in a way recognized by the world around him. This is occasional so ridiculous that it works as an effective source of comic relief, but the tonal inconsistency of it all fails to create much of a consistent flow. Tobey Maguire lacks the depth of his former performances and seems more focused on finding humourous energy in his performance, but I guess this might be enough for viewers who are just here to have a good time.
With Spider-Man 3, it's best to judge it on a separate note to the first two films. It's not about developing the narrative or adding much to the characters, rather a return to the energetic roots of the multiple Spider-Man cartoons. The change in mood will clearly irritate some viewers, but I still had enough of a fun time to enjoy it all. The fact is that Spider-Man 3 spends most of the time cutting through its ridiculous story at a fast pace keeps up with the cartoonish ambitions of the film, as does the elements of camp and particularly the visual style of the film. The action is rarely ever depend on choreography this time with the exception of Peter Parker's second fight with Harry Osborn, but the visual style is still impressive. In an effort to show off the capabilities of the visual effects, Spider-Man 3 depicts the characters showing off their abilities and powers over the course of many long-shots. The heavy reliance on CGI borders on making the film feel animated at times, but its detail is really impressive and colourful at the right moments. And Sam Raimi is extremely proud to show this off because he fuels the film with a huge spectacle of action. The large number of villains shows Spider-Man caught up in a series of battles which are all fairly cool, and they all last an entertaining amount of time. They may not be of the same impressive calibre that Spider-Man 2 (2004) offered since there isn't the same quality of mediation, but the action in Spider-Man 3 still delivers much memorable imagery to the film. The CGI scenes blend well with the appealing scenery, costumes and production design as well as the large-scale cinematography that captures it all. And with the support of some strong sound editing and the rich musical score of Christopher Young, Spider-Man 3 reaches its spectacular ambitions.
Bryce Dallas Howard also makes a nice presence in the film. Gwen Stacey isn't much of a fit for the story because Peter Parker is already in a relationship with Mary Jane Watson, but Bryce Dallas Howard has an appropriately cute and lovable nature to her. She shows a gleeful and girly energy in her performance which makes her a sweet character, but there is also a key moment in the film where she pulls this all back and reminds us of her humanity by refusing to be a pawn in Peter Parker's game to make Mary Jane Watson jealous. She doesn't get melodramatic, she is simply firm with her words but restrained with her expression. Bryce Dallas Howard is truly a likable presence in the part of an iconic character, and its a shame the film didn't do much with her.
Rosemary Harris is still a touching presence as May Parker, even though she is forced to feed audiences overly familiar sentimentality this time around. A similar simplicity is given to Stan Lee's cameo which is rather poor form, but it's just good to see the man making an appearance.
J.K Simmons is still a hilarious J. Jonah Jameson, Jr. since none of his energetic passion has been lost since the first film, and James Cromwell is a nice face to see on board.
But as far as cameos go, it's Bruce Campbell's third cameo for the series which really takes the stand. This time he is a snooty French waiter who may or may not be just pretending to have an accent. It's up to the fans to decide, but either way it's certain to please them.
Spider-Man 3's abundance of characters yet shortage of characterization results in some flat performances while the rest of the film through its one-dimensional writing at a frantic pace, but audiences who are willing to part with the emotional depth of the first two films for a simple cartoony action experience should find themselves somewhat satisfied with the final product.