Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Sam Raimi
After two dazzling movies, you'd think I'd have higher expectations going into Spider-Man 3. But, after the debacle known as X-Men: The Last Stand, I realised that no franchise is too solid to mess up. Of course, X3 was a different case, as it changed directors from the first two movies and had actors looking to bail out before filming. However, after the failure of DC's flagship character's movie, Superman Returns, I read reports that Sony execs ordered re-shoots of Spider-Man 3 to make sure there was more action sequences. Of course, news about comic book projects is far from reliable, but when the major complaint about the Superman movie was that it was too dull (and it was), I could see that spooking executives of this movie, even though Sam Raimi had already proven that he could balance action with quieter moments to make two movies that were both exciting and fulfilling.
So that got me a bit worried, worries that seemed to be well founded by the fact that the movie was being stuffed with three villains, along with the introduction of Gwen Stacy and the symbiote costume to the movie universe. I was still excited to see the movie, and had hope that Raimi could pull it off, but wasn't going to be surprised if it strained under the weight of its own excess.
For the first half of the movie, it looked like Spider-Man 3 had avoided the bloat that reportedly made it the most expensive movie of all-time. Raimi did an excellent job in re-introducing the familiar characters, along with introducing new characters Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), Captain George Stacy (James Cromwell) and his daughter Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard). The movie even begins to settle the conflict that had been brewing between Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and his old friend Harry Osbourne (James Franco) since the end of the first Spider-Man movie. Along the way, it offered some truly impressive special effects revealing the new powers of Marko, as he is changed into The Sandman, while introducing the theme of the movie, of how Peter's enjoyment of his newfound fame and adoration was starting to get to his head.
I was really enjoying this movie, beginning to hope that my worries were unfounded and the early reviews I read were off-base. Unfortunately, around the halfway mark, the movie starts to lose its footing and loses its way. While attempting to show how Peter's contact with the alien symbiote that becomes his black costume is turning him into a cocky ass, Raimi goes too far reaching for the comedy, which took me out of the movie and hurt the image of his hero. It's fine to make Parker look bad, to show his darkside, but they shouldn't have made him look dumb. Worse, they shouldn't have made the movie look dumb. They could've even gotten some of the intended comedy out of the scenes without reaching so far (in fact, an earlier scene featuring Bruce Campbell's requisite cameo effectively gets laughs without straining for them).
The movie didn't completely fall of the rails, but Maguire's Saturday Night Fever bit is certainly dividing mark between what was a great movie, and what would end up being merely a good movie. From that point on, the movie was too rushed to cram in all its characters and dangling plotlines to indulge in the quieter moments from earlier films (or even the first half of this film) that tie everything together. Big moments were thrown together scattershot, one on top of another (not quite in the rapid-fire style of X3, but still far too quickly and convienently), motivations aren't developed, moments aren't earned, and the movie seems to rely on the attachment and prior knowledge fans have coming into the movie to fill in the blanks left by the story.
Ultimately, this is to be expected (if not forgiven) in a movie with far too many characters to effectively deal with. It was necessary for the third movie to deal with Harry Osbourne's transformation into the next Green Goblin, as it is a continuation of the thread started in the first movie. Of course, they couldn't market a movie with essentially the same villain as the first movie, so another villain was necessary, and could've been handled easily. The problem here is that Sam Raimi is an admitted fan of earlier Spider-Man comics, and thus wasn't all that interested in doing a movie featuring Venom, who has become Spider-Man's most popular nemesis. He wanted to do The Sandman, but the execs and fans demanded Venom, and thus we got both (and ended up not getting enough of either).
Personally, I'm not a huge Venom fan, but I think the symbiote story is a good one, and fit well with the themes of this movie and the previous two, taking the traditional Spider-Man theme "with great power comes great responsibility", and following it to its extreme, "absolute power corrupts absolutely". So I think Raimi should've sucked it up, dropped The Sandman, and done a Venom movie (with Harry's Goblin). This would've had the added bonus of cutting down on what had to be incredibly expensive Sandman effects, and even better, wouldn't have had to try and make Sandman more significant to Spidey's mythos by tying him into the death of Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson), which was a terrible mistake that does far more damage to Peter Parker's character than having him do a Jim-Carey-as-The-Mask impersonation at a jazz club.
As it is, the appearance of Venom, while cool, comes off as more perfunctory than thrilling, and is over not long after it started. A wasted opportunity, especially since reports say that Sony is planning on three more Spider-Man movies (most likely without Raimi and Maguire, but who knows?). In the end, the missed opportunities mix with the strong first half and overall fun but forgettable feel of the movie to produce a fairly good popcorn movie for the summer that can't help but feel like a disappointment in comparison to the earlier entries in the series.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Comic Book Review: Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do (2002-05)