Spider-Man 3 Movie Review

I liked it, but…

I struggled with a way to open this essay until one day at work, I noticed that one of the residents of the cube city I was working at that week had a couple of Spider-Man 3 related pictures in his domain. Naturally, always pleased to find a fellow fanboy in my white collar paper pushing world, I asked him what he thought of the film. I wish I had captured his tortured reaction on camera. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, grimaced, his eyes turning into narrow little slits as he carefully weighed his next utterance with all of the deliberation of a politician realizing that the next comment he makes will result in a 20% shift in the polls one way or the other.

“I liked it, but…”

Perfect. I had my subtitle and my opening.

And I think that statement captures the sentiments of most people on the film, not counting those on the extremes. If Spider-Man 3 proved anything, it's that you really can’t please all of the people all of the time. After the almost universal praise and acceptance received by the first two films (particularly the second), the third Spider-Man film sharply divided both critics and the Spidey faithful. This is reflected in the infamous "Rotten Tomato" meter ratings, which for lack of any officially sanctioned standard, seem to be about the most reliable aggregation of critical (though not necessarily movie going audiences') reception. For example, while Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 scored a very strong 90% and 93%, respectively, Spider-Man 3 clocked in at a disappointing 62%, inexplicably behind a not bad, but still weak compared with its own sequel X-Men (79%), a total turdfest in Superman Returns (76%) and equal to a Hulk film that my Hulk-loving brother described as "15 minutes good movie and 2 hours root canal." I mean, really - whoever thought that "Deadbeat Dad" Superman vs. "Lame Revisitation of the Real Estate Scam" Luthor was better than Spider-Man 3 was not smoking anything remotely legal. While I appreciate the disparity of reviews and understand that some people will genuinely not like the film, I am nevertheless amazed at the venom (pun partially intended) that has been heaped upon this movie and upon Sam Raimi personally. He could do little wrong after the first two films, but after the third has been subjected to merciless second guessing and vilification which I thought went beyond criticizing the merits (or lack thereof) of the film. Producer Avi Arad in particular is singled out for abuse because he supposedly “forced” Raimi to feature Venom in the film.

As for me - I liked this film - quite a bit. I don’t say that just because I'm a slobbering Spidey fanboy. O.K. – I AM a slobbering Spidey fanboy – but that’s irrelevant to my appreciation or lack thereof of the film. And get the rotten vegetables ready - I liked installment #3 better than #2, an almost sacreligious opinion.

The near worship of Spider-Man 2 stunned me in 2004 when it debuted and still flabbergasts me to this day. To probably no one’s surprise, the original remains my favorite. Yes, I am biased because the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, ridiculous Power Ranger costume or not, is my favorite Spider-Man villain. However, the first film also includes the powerful origin story, and Spidey’s is one of the best of modern mythology, particularly superhero mythology. A boy is forced to become a man because of a horrible mistake borne of arrogance and self-absorption. He must forever live with the consequences of his decision, sometimes even sabotaging his own happiness because he feels he is unworthy of it due to his original sin. Scenes such as Uncle Ben’s life literally and figuratively slipping from Peter’s grasp (when their last conversation involved Peter’s unfortunate “stop pretending to be my father” slam, which he could never take back), and the rousing finish where Peter rededicates himself to his mission (“Who am I? I’m Spider-Man! ) have no equals in either of the latter films.

I liked film #2, really, (as you can see in Spider-Man 2 Review). BUT that film was hardly perfect. It sagged in the middle and had scenes lazily repetitive of the first one (Pete and MJ in the backyard, Pete saving a small child in a burning building, New Yorkers standing together to help Spidey out). I had mixed feelings about the ending, where we are supposed to be happy that Mary Jane decided that she loved Peter, but crapped all over a perfectly decent man who did nothing to deserve getting stood up at the altar by the little twit. Calling that film the “best superhero movie ever made” always was a stretch in my opinion. For my money (what little is left of it after being married), nothing quite compares to the original Superman film from 1978, the closest thing to an “epic” superhero movie, with the first half origin story strong enough to overcome the annoying camp of the second half.

Spider-Man 3 on the other hand, has two heavy hitters for bad guys, a great knuckle busting superhero/supervillain climactic battle, makes Mary Jane slightly more sympathetic than in 2, gives James Franco’s Harry Osborn a touching and fitting send off, introduces two beloved comics characters (the Stacys) to the movie series, and possesses more emotional power than the second, with lessons about the corrupting influence of power, self-righteousness, and forgiveness. However, all of this noise required precision editing, and someone who would tell the director where he might have been getting a little too schmaltzy and self-indulgent, and that he inadvertently weakened the power of his first effort. Where Spider-Man 3 stumbles, and it does many times, it does so largely because of dubious editing choices.

So, depending on the mood I’m in, the film either gets a B+ or A-, the exact same grade I give the other two. So what were you expecting? Citizen Kane?

For those of you expecting Welles, I sympathize. With today’s saturated media coverage, and the monstrous, out of control Hollywood hype machine, it’s almost impossible to walk into one of these blockbuster movies and not come out disappointed to some degree.

And the Spidey hype was ridiculous, as was the budget, a bloated $258 million, if not more, before marketing expenses. Hype this loud often backfires, resulting in many people loathing the film before it even debuts because they're sick of hearing about it. Smug critics come from every angle determined to slam it, and competing to see just how cleverly they can deliver a phrase to do it. The magnifying glasses come out in force to expose every little weakness so they can be used to club it senseless. At the very least, people who aren’t pre-disposed to be negative come out of the theater feeling like they’ve been cheated because their lives haven’t been irrevocably altered.

So let's begin our look at the film by examining one of the most common criticisms of it.

Too Many Bad Guys?
The first place to start is perhaps the most frequent charge against the film - that there were too many villains. It’s not an unreasonable criticism because the more villains in the film, the less screen time each gets and the less developed each character becomes. There’s no doubt that one of the major reasons (among several, including nipples) that the Batman films of the 1990’s declined in quality was due to the use of multiple villains. However, I find this a simplistic criticism that is far too easy to make, letting the film's real problems off the hook. Besides, Superman 2 and Batman Begins each had multiple villains and both were well received by fans and critics.

First of all, the Spider-Man film saga, as it was unfolding on screen made the inclusion of multiple villains necessary. While the likely box office success of the third film would guarantee a 4th, it wouldn't guarantee that it could be made with the same cast or director, whose options all expired after the third film. And that meant the loose ends left behind by the second film, specifically, Harry Osborn’s story, had to be tied up in this film. After the end of #2, the audience was expecting it to be resolved, and I don’t think it would have been as artistically satisfying to have the story finished in a 4th film with different actors and a new director. That said, there is no way the third film would solely be about Spider-Man versus whatever Goblin Harry dressed up as (Green, Hob, or New). While it might have been enough for the hard core among us, it would have been a tougher sell to the general public who had already seen a movie where Spider-Man fought a Goblin with the last name of Osborn. Not only that, but in the third film - Harry has to die. That's the only logical end to Harry's story, at least from a theatrical perspective. And, that's how it wrapped up in the source material (Spectacular Spider-Man #200). After trying to wreck Peter's life, Harry comes to his senses, saves Spider-Man from certain death, and after one last moment with his old friend, passes away. Admittedly, that's almost too predictable, (and was unfortunately telegraphed well ahead of time by Harry's statement in the hospital that he would die for his best friends)but really the only way to go. So - how is Harry going to die? Well, the story from Spectacular was not going to be retold (particularly since it prominently featured Harry’s wife and child, and was also a brooding, psychological tale from the master of those, JM DeMatteis, without the action necessary to satisfy your average filmgoer). Since Harry is not going to be the only villain in the film for marketing and merchandising reasons, the most logical conclusion is that Harry dies helping Spider-Man defeat your other villain.

But what kind of satisfactory resolution is that? After Spider-Man beats his two greatest enemies, the original Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, all by himself in the previous two films, it would suck for Spidey to be a patsy in his third film and need someone's help (for some reason, the image of Syndrome going “Help me! Help me!” while making fun of Mr. Incredible comes to mind). That makes two heroes against one villain, which is not much of a conclusion. So...

You need another villain, so that the situation is Spidey is getting ganged up on, two to one, the situation growing increasingly desperate, and then Harry rides in like the cavalry, coming to the rescue, and sacrificing himself in the process.

So, as we begin blocking the film, three villains seems to be your best bet for an exciting film that covers all of the bases. But who were these other two villains in addition to Harry going to be? I am not so naïve as to think that toy merchandising considerations did not play some role, but probably not as much as people would like to think. But realistically, merchandising considerations are part of the reason big budget Spider-Man films are made at all. No studio is going to finance these films as "art" pictures - Ang Lee's Hulk nothwithstanding (you'll notice that Universal didn't pony up for another one).

In the earliest interviews after the release of the second film, Raimi indicated that the villain chosen was going to one that pushed what was possible in the realm of special effects. With a quick run-through of the villains in my head, I pegged the Sandman right away since most of the others did not seem too effects intensive and two that did, Mysterio and Electro, did not seem present extraordinary challenges to a crack special effects team. Raimi's clear preference for the old Lee-Ditko villains, and Tobey Maguire's own stated affection for the Sandman in the commentary of the second film DVD, confirmed in my mind that Sandy was a lock. According to producer and Raimi crony Grant Curtis in his book on the third film Spider-Man Chronicles, the Vulture was to be the third villain. I should note that I use Chronicles more than once as a reference. It's a decent book – but too worshipful of Raimi and crew and bereft of any real analysis. But then again…Curtis knows what side his bread is buttered on, I suppose.

Only one name surfaced as a possible Vulture, Sir Ben Kingsley (no relation to Roddy, I'm sure), which frankly, would have been perfect casting. Not only does he look like the character when he shaves his head, he's a seasoned, accomplished actor. Among the many things that Raimi has done right with the Spider-Man series is that he has avoided gimmick casting for the supervillains (The Governator, for instance, whose name was bandied around as a candidate for Doc Ock in a very old version of the first film), instead focusing on actors who can bring a touch of reality and empathy to otherwise outlandish creations.

But what is the theme of the film going to be? And how were these villains going to have that personal connection to Peter Parker that Raimi has been going for in the movies? Well, considering that in the first film, it was "Power Received," and the second film was "Power Rejected." Therefore, "Power Corrupts," seemed to be the logical direction. What happens when our young hero begins to get drunk on his own power and abuses it - and can he bring himself to let go of the hate that has accumulated in his heart? In the original concept, the Sandman's story would have stayed similar, killing Uncle Ben, and Spider-Man having to overcome his hate of this man. The Vulture would have been put in prison earlier by Spider-Man (breaking out with the Sandman at the beginning of the film), but unable to let go of his own hatred - is lost in the final battle scene as a result of it.

However, it soon became apparent that the Vulture was not working as a villain. Raimi wanted to give the villains a personal connection to Spider-Man or Peter Parker, which is understandable. I think that one reason that superhero movies tend to lose their luster after awhile is because it devolves into colorfully costumed guys just beating each other up. The inherent absurdity of individuals getting caught in an accident and receiving superpowers and deciding to use those to go on a crime spree or conquer the world, tolerable initially, gets pushed beyond the breaking point. But Raimi couldn't come up with that personal connection (I'll discuss the choice of "personal connection" made with regard to the Sandman in a little while).

And - that's where Venom comes in. If you read Chronicles, while Arad proposes Venom, it's ultimately Alvin Sargent that sees the inherent possibilities in the character, particularly of Eddie Brock, and tries to make it work. In fact, in the DVD, Raimi admits that Sargent was the one who essentially "created" the character for the movie. And remember in the second film, one of the original concepts of Doc Ock was that he would be a peer of Peter Parker (oooh, more alliteration). A love triangle between Peter, Ock, and MJ would have resulted (apparently at this time, Edward Norton, now the new Bruce Banner, was considered for the role). Frankly, I'm glad they didn't go with that concept - because Doc Ock just doesn't work unless he's a pudgy middle aged man! The idea of "villain as peer" works much better with the Eddie Brock character.

Everyone likes to rag on Avi Arad, who "pushed" Raimi to use Venom in the film, due to the character’s sheer popularity, and the licensing possibilities. In the DVD commentary, Raimi doesn't mention Arad by name, but does refer to a "mandate" to use Venom, because of the character's popularity among kids. Raimi, of course, was interested in telling the stories of the Spider-Man of his own youth, with the classic villains. He knew next to nothing about Venom, and what he did know, he didn’t like. I've never really warmed to the character either, particularly the outer space angle. But when I wrote the Dark Side of the Spider series, I began to realize that it was not the concept of Venom that was bankrupt, it was the execution. Unfortunately, while probably nothing can be done to rescue the comic book character from its poor execution, Raimi and company could easily do the tinkering that made Eddie Brock a much more palatable character whose motivations, while not laudable, actually make sense.

Plus, one of the subtexts of the film was Peter confronting his darker nature, his desire for revenge, and his hatred of the man who murdered Uncle Ben. The Venom symbiote, as well as Eddie Brock, were each a manifestation of Peter's darker side - the "all power and no responsibility" which was often cited.

And from a marketing standpoint - Black Suited Spidey was perfect. All you had to do was see Spider-Man in that suit and know what movie was being promoted and what it represented. And I really think it helped build anticipation for the film.

I suppose the filmmakers could have used Curt Connors as the Lizard since he does satisfy some of the requirements for a villain. He has a personal connection to Peter Parker – and the Lizard could have been used to show the impact of rage on a person, somewhat akin to the Hulk, with Connors becoming the Lizard in periods of stress and anger. However, using the Lizard creates another couple of problems, one of which has dogged the character's potential use for at least couple of films. For one, he'd be another scientist Peter knows with a botched experiment turning him into a villain (following Norman Osborn and Otto Octavious). Also, Connors would have been a sympathetic villain – and with the Sandman was already in place playing that card.

I can relate to the Venom fans who feel he wasn't in the film enough - but it makes sense for him to show up at the climax rather than sooner, since his appearance is the culmination of Peter and Eddie's acrimonious relationship. And frankly, I’m not so sure that Venom really held up well under close inspection, coming close to the classic “guy in rubber costume.” While his myriad fans were disappointed, it may have been for the best that his appearances were limited until the climax of the film, and then only in fleeting glimpses.

Plus, it just seemed to me that Venom is scarier is we don't really see him that much.

I do think that the Venom symbiote probably would have worked better if it were an experiment that escaped from Oscorp or the ESU labs. And yes, it is rather absurd that when it came from space, of all of the places on Earth it happened to land - it conveniently landed right by our hero! However, it was also pretty convenient for a certain nerdy teenager to be standing right there at the time a certain genetically altered spider just happened to have escaped from its surroundings and was looking for a bite. We already agree to suspend our disbelief when we buy a ticket to movies like this, so the outer space connection (man, that brings back memories of the 70's and Eric Von Daniken), while silly, is not much sillier than what we've already willingly swallowed.

As far as why didn't the filmmakers considering busting this film into two< moves, considering the number of storylines, according to Chronicles, that was considered, and even approved by Sony. However, they couldn't come up with a satisfactory way to end the first film and not have the audience leaving feeling cheated, having only gotten half a movie after 2 hours and almost $60 for a family of four.

So, to make a short story long, which is what I inevitably do, I don't think that the three villains were the film's problem.

But there were missteps, particularly with the film's primary villain…

Sandman Killed Uncle Ben?
But, the Sandman killing Uncle Ben? Movie fans might recall Tim Burton's original Batman film from 1989 (was it nearly 20 years ago? Damn!), where it is revealed that the Joker, as a young punk, killed Bruce Wayne's parents. Not only did comic book fans wretch, but it added nothing to the film. Batman needed no additional motivation to go after the Joker, the audience needed no additional motivation to loathe him and want to see him get his just deserts, and it failed to up the ante in the drama. But, it did not diminish or cast doubt upon the nature of Batman's resulting zeal to battle crime.

In the Spider-Man comics, where the Burglar was merely arrested after Amazing Fantasy #15 and did not die, he could return, as he did in Amazing Spider-Man #193-200, and the score between himself and Spider-Man/Peter Parker was settled once and forever. But since "Dennis Carradine" died in the first film, another player had to be added to the mix. As an FYI for those of you who may not be familiar with the most arcane bits of Spidey-lore - the Burglar in the comic books went unnamed. However, during the infamous Clone Saga, in Sensational Spider-Man #3 (April 1996), Spider-Ben Reilly makes the acquaintance of a photographer named Jessica Carridine - whom Ben discovers to his dismay is the daughter of - well, you know who. Although this does not necessarily mean that the Burglar was named Carradine at all, but still, like with "Peter B. Parker" in the first Spider-Man film, someone behind the scenes was doing their research.

While I was uneasy when the news first came out that Sandman was going to be Ben's killer, I waited to actually see the film before passing judgment. And while it was certainly handled as well as it probably could have been, I think it was a poor choice to make. For one, it implies that Peter Parker can actually obtain closure with Uncle Ben's death. We know better than that. As long as there is a Spider-Man, Peter will never make peace with that event. That is part of Spider-Man's curse. No matter how much good he goes, no matter how many lives he saves, he can never purge his original sin that he failed to save one of the only people on the face of the earth he gave a rat's ass about at the time. And not because he tried and failed - but because he never tried at all.

And unfortunately, the "I forgive you" moment between Spider-Man and the Sandman doesn't come off well at all in the film. Is it because of Tobey's delivery? I don't know for sure. But there are two major problems with it - one, the forgiveness comes far too easily. Now, I don't forgive easily - and would probably have never forgiven ANYONE for the murder, regardless of their circumstances. That said, it's easier to forgive a pathetic, tortured, repentant man, who is dearly paying for his crimes - he just doesn't happen to be behind bars. Try forgiving a stone cold, unrepentant killer - now that is true forgiveness, which would be beyond most of us. But the dialogue doesn't seem to come naturally. When the Sandman says "nothing matters now except my daughter," I would have expected Peter to have sadly nodded and say "then go to her." Marko was not asking for forgiveness, just understanding. In this way, Peter would have given that understanding, realizing that there is no pain, physical or emotional, that he could possibly inflict upon this man that would be worse than the hell he is already living in, with a dying child, a spiteful spouse, and a failed life. But he would have stopped short of the forgiveness aspect, which just came up a bit lame.

I think it would have been better for Marko to have seriously harmed Aunt May during the course of a robbery. That would have easily provided Spider-Man with sufficient rage and hate to want to beat the crap out of Marko, particularly with the influence of the symbiote. Going back and watching the first film, and "knowing" that it wasn't the Burglar that shot Ben, weakens that iconic moment. I suppose it could be argued that Marko's partner "surprising" him was what triggered the shooting, and if Peter had stopped the Burglar, the killing would not have occurred. However - the fact is - as a result of the third film, Peter Parker did not let Uncle Ben's killer escape.

So, as a fanboy - of which I willing admit to being - the use of Sandman in this fashion was troubling and a violation of canon. But - I'll bet the large majority of moviegoers that contributed to the nearly $900 million worldwide gross didn't care.

Another problem was that the Sandman was not given a completed story arc in the film. He has this long and very moving set-up with his dying daughter and his determination to obtain the necessary funds for her medical expenses - and then it goes nowhere. What happened to the daughter? Does she die? Or was Marko able to save her? We're frequently reminded of her because of the locket, but are left with some big question marks that the film fails to satisfactorily resolve.

Apparently, based on the Peter David novelization, production photos released (including one where the Sandman turns his hand into a mace - that would have been cool to see), and actor Thomas Hayden Church’s comments – the story of the Sandman’s daughter DID have a resolution, and not a happy one. The mother and daughter did visit the construction site to talk some sense into Marko, and his daughter told him she was beyond saving – so there was no point for him continuing his crime spree. Dramatic? Yes. Depressing as hell? No doubt.

Church stated that it was ultimately decided that the scenes were too much of a downer, and they were excised, which may have been the proper choice. The audience is already asked to accept a sad event in the passing of Harry Osborn – but for there to be another death – the presumed death of an innocent child? It was heart-breaking enough to see her sick in the earlier scene. But if you weren't willing to take us to the ultimate conclusion, painful as it is, then why give us the set-up in the first place? Without this resolution, Sandman ceasing the fight makes no sense at all. At one moment he's beating the life out of Spider-Man, and is probably just a punch or two away from terminating the web slinger. Then he gets his head blown apart, his arm cooked and shattered by Harry and his skystick - and then five minutes later he's tearing up and begging for understanding? This seems to reinforce my earlier statement that the primary weakness of the film was the decisions made in the editing room.

With that said, and there's more ragging to come, I don't want to get too sidetracked without discussing the reasons why I ultimately liked the film.

The Cool Stuff
For all of its faults, the film has a lot of powerful and just plain cool moments, many which survive repeated viewings:

But alas, as any good fanboy. I had issues with the film. A lot of issues. And even though I liked Spider-Man 3, and felt that it received unnecessarily harsh criticism at times, I must confess, it was much easier to write about what I didn't like about the film than what I did like.

The Nitpicks
The third film by its sheer scope resulted in a lot to be dissatisfied with and made me wonder whether or not the film had been appropriately screened for patrons (and a few fanboys) who could have pointed out the obvious weaknesses which the filmmakers clearly weren’t aware of, considering how annoyingly self-congratulatory they seemed to be on the DVD commentaries and in Grant Curtis' Chronicles book.

When I write my regular Spidey Kicks Butt articles, I can weave all kinds of faux explanations because that’s what we fanboys do and that’s one reason people read my articles. But for the general movie going audience – whose dollars support these films – not ours (there aren’t enough of us), these are troubling gaps, and make the story look that much sloppier.

And what really bothers me, is that many of these things would have been picked up by some judicious screenings in front of selected audiences because not a one of them is a wholly original, creative, or inspired thought of mine - they're common criticisms. This is what preview audiences are for. And it supports my contention that the film didn't need wholesale changes to make it work - just some more judicious and precise editing, and someone nearby to say "Sam - that doesn't work."

Casting
There’s really not much I can say about Tobey that I haven’t already said in other reviews. He didn't break any new ground in his portrayals of either Peter or Spider-Man in this film, but I also didn’t really expect him to do so. He fully established his legitimate portrayal of the character in the second film. My favorite “acting” scene of Tobey’s is at the French restaurant when Mary Jane’s heart is breaking into a million pieces, and he sits there completely clueless as to why this is happening in spite of all of his “efforts” to solve her problems. Of course, it probably was easy to play because it's genetic for us guys. No one does clueless like we do clueless. Still, his scenes as "Dark Peter," were a little too over the top and comical - and he came across as more ill-tempered than sinister. Tobey’s crying? Let’s see – Tobey cries three times during this film (1) when old wounds are re-opened as he relives how he perceives that Uncle Ben’s death went down with the new information that Marko was involved (2) when Mary Jane tells him she’s dumping his ass and screwing someone else and (3) when his best friend dies after a final connection. Hey, I’m a GUY like anyone else (except when I get my Guy Card revoked, such as the scene with Sandman’s daughter), but (1) Spider-Man is not John Wayne, or even Batman, there’s always been a core of sensitivity to him, and the character has done his fair share of bawling in the comic books (2) the character is still a college age student, and technically not a grown man (although Tobey, in his 30’s, is, and that’s becoming more apparent with each film, which might explain the disconnect) and (3) none of these were inappropriate crying situations. However, during one of my viewings of the film in a theater, when Tobey begins to cry as Harry dies, laughter rippled through the audience. Looking back, maybe it isn’t the actual crying as much as it is Tobey not convincingly pulling it off.

I liked Kirsten Dunst more in this film than any of the others - and I don't like Kirsten that much, an opinion which unfortunately and perhaps unfairly, is influenced by her goofy public statements. Unlike the second film, where Mary Jane actually comes off pretty poorly by treating John Jameson like crap, she is more sympathetic here. Rather than just a shrill, whiny, and bitchy female, we understand her feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing this time, particularly since her partner isn't doing a very good job of hearing her out. Is Kirsten miscast? Probably. But the real problem is that the character she’s playing is NOT the Mary Jane Watson of the comic books. As conceived in the comics, Mary Jane Watson was a fun-loving goofball and airhead, all body and no brain - the seductive temptress who was supposed to spice things up before our hero finally settled on the much more "sensible" Gwen Stacy. We comic fans later learned that there was a lot more to her than we realized, a deep seated lack of self-esteem and vulnerability, and a hidden strength that has enabled her and her marriage to survive situations that would have destroyed lesser people. Comic book Peter Parker could not survive without Mary Jane, nor does it seem that he would want to (well, I guess he'll have to after "One More Delay") In Kirsten, we get half a Mary Jane – the vulnerability, but none of the flamboyant "cover." While it’s more the writers’ fault than the actress', I don’t want to see any more of Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane.

James Franco gives his best performance by far as Harry Osborn, embracing the wide gamut of emotions, from childlike innocence, to manipulative monster, to hate-filled psychopath, and finally, to self-sacrificing hero who achieves redemption. I’ve read several reviews that knocked Harry’s “amnesia” (which - as with Spidey losing and regaining his powers in the second film with no explanation – it’s comic book canon) as a copout. However, if we don’t feel for Harry, then we’re not as happy to see him come to Pete’s aid during the final battle, nor are we sad to see him die. The brief amnesia period humanizes the character and reminds the others (and the audience as well) that this was once a good person who our hero and his girlfriend loved.

Topher Grace was well cast as Eddie "Haskell" Brock. Again, this is another part of the film that has received some undeserved heat, probably because Topher is still too well known as Eric on “That 70’s Show.” And what kind of name is Topher? Tobey and Topher? That's a marquee. Admittedly, he’s not likely to win any Academy Awards in the near future. Still, as played by Grace, Eddie Brock is a self-serving opportunist, a fraud, and probably more than just a little unhinged. When Gwen puts him down during the Spider-Man celebration scene, it takes just a brief second to see that Eddie is going to take this very hard, in a very unhealthy way. He is clearly the “Anti-Peter Parker.” His embrace of the Venom symbiote and the power it represents is easily understood - and unlike the other villains in the films, who were all in one way or another wounded and tortured souls - he likes things this way. This is what Eddie Brock should have been in the comic books.

Thomas Hayden Church was the perfect choice for the Sandman. Kudos to Raimi and Company for casting someone who looked like the Sandman we know from the comics, (down to the shirt!) but with enough acting skill to show profound sadness behind the chiseled look.

Stan Lee’s moment is corny? “I guess one person can make a difference. Nuff said!” Yes, it certainly is, and yes, it does take you out of the picture a little bit. But come on! It's Stan Lee talking to Spider-Man (or Peter Parker)! It’s not a Marvel movie without Stan Lee showing up somewhere, whether as Willie Lumpkin in the first Fantastic Four, a hot dog vendor in X-Men, saving girls from falling debris in Spider-Man 1 & 2, an obviously too old security guard (Hulk - along with Lou Ferrigno), or in his best turn yet, trying to crash Reed and Sue’s wedding as himself (Fantastic Four 2) without an invite.

Every time I saw this film, the audience began laughing immediately when they heard Bruce Campbell’s voice, when they can only see his hand. Although Campbell always fits in the films as a character better than Stan (his first appearance as the wrestling announcer remains his best) – it’s still Bruce Campbell doing Bruce Campbell schtick. And Sam’s brother Ted is there doing his usual goofball “Ted Raimi” character, be he Hoffman or Joxer or whoever. It’s not a Sam Raimi film without Bruce or Ted showing up somewhere.

Little is asked of the rest of the cast other than to parrot their performances from the previous films. And while I always enjoy J.K. Simmons as Jonah, I hope that if the actor continues in the role, that the writers use JJJ for more than just comic relief and actually develop him as a character, allowing Simmons to flex the dramatic muscles he clearly possesses. As an aside, Spider-Man 3 is currently my son's favorite film, and his favorite moments are Betty repeatedly zapping Jonah over the proper timing and method of taking his medication.

Special Effects
CGI is CGI. I only notice it when it’s really good or really bad. The Birth of the Sandman is beyond "really good," it was flat-out awesome and will hopefully be remembered at Oscar time. The way the sand gently rises and falls, then begins to rise higher, coalescing into something vaguely human, collapsing, and then gradually become more definable is almost breathtaking - giving a tragic humanity to a pile of sand.

On the other hand, the scene near the end when Spidey first arrives to join the climactic battle – landing on a building and running past the American flag - is jarringly sped up - looking indistinguishable from a cartoon. As far as the flag itself goes, yeah, it’s a hokey moment – but the whole American superhero mythology IS hokey and often wraps itself in the flag (none more so than when we talk about some other red and blue suited figure fighting for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”). But this was a poorly done sequence, and the flag looked out of place. To see a similar scene done right, we need look no further than the finale of the first film.

Music
Good music can enhance the audience’s mood going into the film, and good music can cement the experience in its mind long after it has walked out of the theater. Unfortunately, the music in this film did neither. At best, I can describe it as “Elfman-Lite.” Frankly, I was never that jazzed about Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man themes, but having seen the first and second films so many times, I associate them with the Spider-Man films, so I just naturally expect to hear them. However, since Elfman and Raimi had one of those nasty Hollywood fallouts where you don’t know if there are legitimate grievances or just overly sensitive and oversized artistic egos, another musician, Christopher Young, took over the score and the result is a weaker and not nearly as rousing version of the original themes. It’s hard for me to describe, since I, to use a cliché, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and wouldn’t know the difference between a chord of music and a cord of wood. Although things start off on the right track with the Elfman theme and the highlights from the previous movies, the bottom falls out when the representation of the Venom symbiote starts splashing onto the screen, and the score limply leads into the film.

Even worse, at the end, when the screen goes black after Peter and Mary Jane embrace, the score lapses into weak, unremarkable music that resulted in me leaving the theater totally uninspired. I admit to being partial to loud, angst-ridden tunes like “Hero” that starts the credit roll ending the first film (still the best song of any on the Spider-Man soundtracks), and the lesser, but still goosebump inducing “Vindicated” at the end of the second. Also, those films each ended with a rendition of the “Spider-Man theme” from the 60’s cartoon show, the first had the classic rendition and the second a jazzy turn by singer Michael Buble. However, all we got this time around was a barely perceptible rendering by a high school band during the key to the city ceremony. “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can” IS Spidey’s official theme – and should have found its way into the closing credits sequence, even it was the Ramones remix, which is not a favorite of mine, but is very popular with Spidey fans.

But to be fair, the music dramatizing the re-birth of the Sandman, which added to the mystique and the sadness surrounding that character, was very well done.

Spider-Man 4?
Uh – why don’t we just catch our breath for awhile o.k.?

I’m in no hurry for a 4th film, which is blasphemy, I know, and unrealistic, because there is no way that Sony is going to sit for very long without cranking the machine up again, if only to maintain a firm grip on the film rights to the character. While I can see most of the other Marvel characters (with the exception of the X-Men) slipping back into the hands of Marvel Entertainment from lack of interest from the original opting studio, such as the Hulk and Daredevil, I can’t see Sony letting Spider-Man go – even if it has to buy Marvel to do it.

While I don’t subscribe to the prevailing notion that the film was weak, or that the Spidey film franchise is burning out, there were enough glitches in #3, and softness in the franchise that Sony should breathe a sigh of relief at the nearly $900 million worldwide gross. Whoever came up with the idea of releasing the film overseas two weeks before the domestic market deserves a fat bonus, as the robust international grosses helped take the edge off what would have been a pre-inflation 10% decline in domestic grosses from the second film. A prolonged pause before setting the direction for what will likely be another three film series is needed.

I would like Sam Raimi to stay on, even if only as Executive Producer if he decides he doesn’t want to direct. Admittedly, some of his instincts weren’t as sharp as they should have been in this film and he may have gotten creatively stale and self-indulgent, BUT, he “gets” Spider-Man. I know that’s a bit ambiguous, but with these pop culture characters, you either “get” them or you don’t. That doesn’t mean that you slavishly cater to the source material or the fanboy cult, for lack of a better term, because a film that does so will not have legs at the box office. But you can’t ignore the core concepts that made the character popular in the first place. And I think Raimi is conscientious enough to look back and realize that some of his artistic choices in the third film were not the wisest. However, he has devoted seven years of his life and career to this franchise, and if he decides he’s tapped out, or would simply rather do something else, then let’s thank him for the memories and let him leave graciously. If he says he will come back only if Tobey or Kirsten do as well, then by all means, hold the door open for him and usher him out.

I don’t care if Tobey Maguire comes back, not because I dislike Tobey in the role, far from it, but unless the next film progresses the character several years to a closer line-up with Maguire’s age, then he’s simply too old for the part. If the decision is to have an older Spider-Man, one who has taken beatings and hard knocks over the years, and has begun to fade or even vanish from the public eye, and then must rededicate himself to his mission, then yes, bring Tobey back. If the decision is to keep Spider-Man in college, or even grad school, then another actor will be essential.

But under no circumstances do I want to see Kirsten back. Either recast the part or send Mary Jane packing. Peter and MJ's reconcilement at the end of the third film is suitability ambiguous to allow for them to either stay together or split for awhile. James Franco is obviously done. However, I wouldn’t object to the rest of the supporting cast, such as May, Jonah, Robbie, and Betty to continue to be played by the same actors, although Rosemary Harris has a more limited shelf life than the others. I wouldn't object to a reluctant romance with Gwen Stacy (if played by Bryce Dallas Howard again), and while I like Felicia Hardy and the Black Cat, the general movie going public would see her as a Catwoman ripoff.

There is an insane notion that every film has to be bigger, louder, and more ostentatious than the previous one, with the stakes being raised higher and higher. Eventually the whole concept then collapses upon itself. Spider-Man is not Superman. He is not going to single-handedly fight alien armadas invading Earth (with apologies to the Guardians of the Galaxy, where in their parallel Marvel Universe, Spidey did just that), or hordes of demons running loose in New York City (that insipid "Inferno" crossover from the 1990's notwithstanding). Spidey villains, Venom as a notable exception, are a little more grounded. And there are only three villains (Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Venom - whom I call the "Big Three") I believe are capable of carrying a movie as the sole baddie. Although I like the classic villains, most of them tend to be just guys with silly costumes and goofy powers and lack the gravitas, and the personal connection to the hero, to carry the film. They are more often than not just super-powered goons. The Lizard has possibilities, since Dr. Connors has already been established in the films, and there is a certain tragedy to the character. Electro could be a special effects treat, as well as a powerful and frightening character. The Scorpion and Shocker could work as henchmen of the main villain, but not as leads. Neither the Chameleon nor Kraven the Hunter are ready for prime time movie villainy. Mysterio is something of a wild card, an otherwise lame villain with cool gimmicks that could lead themselves to strong visuals. The HobGoblin is out of the question since there have been two Goblins already, and Carnage - let's not waste our time.

But in my opinion, at least one of those Big Three, has to come back for the next round of films. A natural would be bringing back Willem DaFoe as Norman Osborn, this time seeking revenge on Peter for the death of Harry, and this would be true to the source material as well. However, I appreciate the fact that not everyone is a fan of the Green Goblin. The Osborn subplot was a major component of all three of the first films, and he did have a rather definitive death (which of course, means nothing in the world of superheroes and villains). Now, Doctor Octopus as the Master Planner - that has possibilities. For one, rather than increasingly outlandish accidents bestowing dubious superpowers, Ock could be creating supervillains deliberately, ultimately forming his own “Sinister Six.” It would allow Alfred Molina to do some serious scenery chewing and give us a more maniacal and diabolical Doc Ock than we saw in the second film.

Another idea is to dial back and create a more street level, crime busting Spider-Man, taking on a Silvermane or Kingpin type character who employs a couple of superpowered goons for color.

Conclusion
In the end, Spider-Man 3 is a victim of the inflated and perhaps unrealistic expectations of its core audience, and a critical community that was eager to take it to task as punishment for the overwhelming success of its predecessors. Still, the director and producers put the blood in the water with sloppy editing and overconfidence. But regardless of all of this tortured self-righteous and smug analysis, whatever happens, I suspect that come May 2010 or 2011, I will be there on opening night, certainly older, hopefully wiser, but probably no less a fanboy than on that fateful day of May 3, 2002, when Spidey first burst onto the screen in full cinematic glory.


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