I had heard all of the rumours about Spider-Man 3 long before I decided to get the guys together to catch a late late show on Sunday night, opening weekend. I didn?t care so much that critics were panning it ? what the heck do they know anyways? This is a comic book movie, nobody ever really gives movies about comics a fair shake anyway. I figured, how bad could it possibly be? I managed to sit through Batman & Robin. And I can also remember back to when the idea of a live action movie about Spider-Man was the greatest thing ever ? if this one didn't turn out so great it would still be better than cartoons. And if it has Venom in it? Sweet!
Well, for the bulk of it, I felt vindicated in my faith. I was sure that I could see the beauty beneath the surface. Sadly though, right before my eyes, the film was suddenly overcome by Thirdinstallmentitis, an affliction characterized by a swelling of cast members, gaps in the plot, and an outbreak of empty clichťs.
When we catch up with Peter Parker this time around, life?s going pretty well for the webslinger. A little too well. Old webhead?s getting a swelled head, and when skeletons start coming out of the closet, things turn a little ugly. Combine that with some goop from outer space, and an ambitious freelance photographer from the 70s, and got ourselves a plot here. And it works well. I was really rolling with the way the story was moving along. It was punchy, self contained ? yet interconnected, just like a comic book should be. Even the strutting scene was fine ?cause I figured that it was some kind of nod to Saturday Night Fever. But the Jazz Club scene was absurd ? suddenly I was back in Superman 3, watching a drunken stubbly Superman flicking peanuts at liquor bottles (maybe with a little bit of The Mask in there too).
And from there everything else starts collapsing in on itself. By the time we reach the halfway mark, we?ve got so many threads in play that a disastrous tangling becomes inevitable. Suddenly we?ve got bad guys colluding in dark alleys, half-assed attempts to emulate the cartoon series rather than the comic book, and worst of all: The first case of "Deus Ex Butlera" I?ve ever encountered as Harry?s manservant finally reveals a secret we can?t even believe he was keeping this whole time. So many things were going on and there just wasn?t enough time to give them the amount of conclusion they all deserved. In retrospect, it was hard to understand why they felt they needed to have so many pots on the stove ? Spider-Man 2 managed to keep itself on track (and even improve on the original) by not falling victim to the ?Number of Villains must equal the number in the Franchise? formula. The Venom story could have been great if they gave it more time to take root ? and the same goes for the Sandman plot. The two stories acted in a kind of symbiosis to create the right conditions for Peter to go through the kind of growth Raimi had in store for him. That is putting the cart before the horse though ? just like they reshaped the villains from the original source material to fit into movie, they could have been reshaped to fill the whole thing on their own ? a character is just as malleable as a plot when a pen?s involved. But I digress.
The action sequences and effect were definitely all out in front, but they didn?t really work for me. As far as I?m concerned, Spidey?s a daytime superhero ? all this night time stuff they?ve got him doing is hard to follow, and the wide photography and sweeping camera angles don?t help much either. At times, there was just too much going on too fast ? which is probably what it takes to satiate today?s young popcorn munchers, but it doesn?t make it easy on everyone ? especially since it not just the kids who are there to see an action flick. Too many web balls too ? what ever happened to Spidey making a bat out of webbing or a shield or something, it was too much like he was slinging a pair of pistols. None of the great ones use guns: Not Batman, not MacGyver.
One observation that I would like to make from a professional standpoint, and it crushed me when I saw it, is that Spider-Man 3 committed a sin for which there is no absolution from me: Bad continuity. I only saw one example of it, but this was the first time I?ve watched it. I?m a little worried what I?ll see the second or third time around (that?s right, I?ll be watching it again. This ain?t no Batman & Robin.) It?s inexcusable for a film of this magnitude, a movie with this kind of monetary muscle behind it. Look, if your movie is running too long and you have to shrink it down, it?s time to get creative, not sloppy.
One last thing I?d like to add is that I?ve heard some of the talk about how Spidey spent way too much time in this flick with his mask off. As a purist, I?m going to have to go ahead and agree here. Everybody involved knew full well what kind of character they were dealing with going into this franchise. This ain?t no Superman we?re dealing with here, or even a cowled Batman ? when you?re bringing Spider-Man to the big screen, you gotta swallow the fact that your star?s gonna be wearing a mask most of the time. They get half marks for creativity ? but come on.
The verdict: Go see it (come on, you wanna be able to talk about what everyone else is talking about, don?t ya?). On second thought, wait a couple months after the DVD comes out and then borrow it from me, I may not ask for it back.