Friday, June 2, 2017

Spider-Man 3 (2007) (Movie Review)

      After ridding the high that was 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”, I was very excited to see what was going to happen in the following film. Then the poster dropped showing our hero in a black suit, which we fans know very well from the famous Spider-Man alien costume comic. Needless to say, this was one of Spider-Mans biggest arcs, and to see it come to life on the big screen seemed like a dream come true. I distinctly remember counting the days in anticipation for this film, and then when it finally premiered ... well, needless to say the film hasn’t been well received. Most would rank 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” among some of the most disappointing franchise installments. As for me personally, I was also underwhelmed with this film, but I certainly don’t hate it either. This is actually a perfectly watchable superhero movie, with some great highlights, but it’s just not on par with its predecessors, and is definitely weighed down by some problems. No matter how much I try to be optimistic with “Spider-Man 3” it still remains to this day my personal least favorite of the wall-crawler’s theatrical movies. Without a doubt this is going to be a mixed movie review as there are lots of positives to discuss, but more than enough negatives to take note of.

      The movie begins with yet another outstanding opening credit sequence that recaps on the events of the past two films. Needless to say, the visuals on display in this opening are fantastic and the clip montage of the previous films gets me hyped for a final installment in a trilogy. Back in “Spider-Man 2”, our hero’s love interest Mary Jane learned that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one in the same, and a real relationship finally takes place between the two. Unfortunately Peters former best friend Harry Osborn also learned of our hero’s real identity, and still blames Spider-Man for the death of his father, who was revealed to be the sinister Green Goblin back in the first film. Consumed with vengeance, Harry takes on the role of a second Green Goblin. On the flip side, Peter learns that a new super villain called The Sandman was originally a small time crook who was actually responsible for his late uncles death. Between both the new Goblin out for revenge, and Spider-Man out for vengeance against his uncles killer, a mysterious alien Symbiote is drawn in by all the conflict as it feeds off negative emotions. The Symbiote first attaches itself to our hero creating a new black suit in the process, which enhances Spider-Mans powers, as well as his rage. Soon Spider-Man realizes that his greatest battle isn’t against The Sandman or the new Goblin, but himself as he’s slowly giving in to his dark side.

      Not a bad premise for a Spider-Man film, and on paper it sounds fantastic. Most have complained that there were too many plot threads crammed into one movie, which I’m whiling to defend a little. I grew up watching the 90’s “Spider-Man” cartoon, and that show had several different plot threads and story arcs all crammed into one season after another, and I still think it’s one of Spider-Mans best adaptations. Also, for as cluttered as the plot for “Spider-Man 3” gets, everything is at least connected in terms of theme and narrative. This is a story of revenge, and we see how vengeance takes hold of our principle characters in different ways. While the moral center of the previous “Spider-Man 2” was all about the sacrifices a hero makes, “Spider-Man 3’s” moral is all about the choices a hero makes. So there’s definitely a flowing theme and even moral quality to “Spider-Man 3”, but the problem all comes from the execution. Seriously, for all the quality material in this film, the devil is constantly present in the details.  

     My first major issue comes with our new main villain The Sandman, and how he’s now responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. Remember back in “Spider-Man 2”, we had that deeply touching scene where Peter confessed to his aunt May that he was responsible for his uncles death when he didn’t stop that thief. Well guise what, none of that matters now because this other guy was the killer the whole time. This revelation completely spoils one of the most important dramatic aspects of Spider-Mans character arch, as he was directly responsible for his Uncles demise. I understand that Spider-Man needed to be vengeful in order for the films theme to apply, but how about this, during a fight with the Sandman, he almost gets either Peters aunt or girl friend killed, and then he wants vengeance. That would have worked much better then resorting to a soup opera cliché of being his uncles killer. Also, the Sandman is given another back story in which he’s something of a “John Q” who’s committing crimes in order to save his sick doubter. This concept had a lot of great potential, but it only works as a set-up for a good character motivation. We get to a point in the movie where the Sandman just wants to kill Spider-Man, and the issue of his sick doubter is never resolved. We don’t even know if she died or if she was saved, it’s literally an issue that’s just left floating in the wind. The only thing consistent about the Sandman is that he’s very entertaining to watch as a super villain. His sand based power of shape shifting and morphing his body lead to some very creative designs, as well as terrific action set pieces. I didn’t care for the giant sand monster effect, but I loved when his sand powers were in-snick with his human form. I especially love that one effect in which Spider-Man sweeps out his legs, and the rest of the body just collapses ... that was awesome!  

     My biggest issue with this sequel is actually Peters relationship with Mary Jane. Now that MJ knows Peters identity, the stage is set to take their relationship to the next level, but unfortunately this film has them both take twelve steps back. Let me make a quick comparison to one of my favorite aspects of the classic 90’s Spider-Man cartoon. At the end of the fourth season, Peter revealed his identity to Mary Jane, and things only got better between them from then on. They got married, Mary Jane would help Spider-Man on the side lines, and there were just a lot of charming moments of her taking advantage of having a superhero for a husband. After “Spider-Man 2”, I was very excited to see their relationship go in a similar direction in these movies, but for no reason at all “Spider-Man 3” makes their relationship more complicated than ever. Our two leads are also surprisingly unlikable in this film. Obviously Peter will get corrupted by the black suit, but even before that he is completely oblivious to Mary Jane and all her problems. On the flip side, I think Mary Jane is way too much of a complainer in this film, and has a real bad habit of just storming off when her emotions get in the way. I admire the film for addressing that Mary Jane dose have her own problems, but everything just feels forced to me. There’s also this completely pointless blond girl thrown in the mix to make their relationship more complicated, and it’s not needed. There’s no reason for this character to be here, and the scene in which Spider-Man kisses the blond is probably the stupidest thing to put in one of these movies. Seriously, after all he’s done to be with Mary Jane, why on earth would Spider-Man kiss this other girl at a public event where he knows Mary Jane is watching?  

    Things just get worse with that stupid plot thread in which Harry Osborn blackmails Mary Jane to break up with Peter. Now obviously Harry is threatening Peters life, but Mary Jane knows that he’s Spider-Man and that he fights super villains for a living, so he can probably protect himself from Harry with ease. In fact, Peter actually beats the New Goblin severely in every one of their encounters, which makes him feel like even less of a threat. Even when Peter learns that Harry blackmailed her he doesn’t even bother talking to Mary Jane again to say “hey, threat neutralized, we can get back together”. It’s just a lazy excuse to get them right back to square one again, which we didn’t need in the first place. Another sub-plot that really needed to be worked on was Harry Osborn’s temporary amnesia. This actually had some potential to show Peter contemplating some ethical choices. He could have had a deep moment in which he asked himself, “do I continue to keep these secrets from my friend, or should I sit down with him and have a serious talk, confessing everything that’s happened”.  That would have been so much more compelling then that awful scene at the end with the butler telling Harry the truth about his father’s demise. On a side note, that butler could have saved a lot of time, and even saved lives if he had come forward with that information earlier. It’s dumb plot moments like these which have me wondering if the filmmakers ever sat down and had script meetings. 

     Aside from all the script problems, this movie is burdened with some plain stupid moments. Of course everyone complains about that moment with Spider-Man posing in front of the American flag, but I’m whiling to let that one slide as it really didn't bother me. One especially silly moment that always bugs me is that scene in which Mary Jane and Harry are dancing around the kitchen, and goofing around with food. What a waste of perfectly good screen time that could have gone to something meaningful, like actual character development. The dialogue in this film also gets really annoying. I mean the lines have been corny sense the first film, but this really pushes the cheesy lines into absurd territories. There’s also that painfully boring scene in which Aunt May recaps every single detail of when Uncle Ben first proposed to her. There are countless other scenes that can be nit-picked to death, but let’s just move on. The sound track is nice, and the new song “Signal Fire” performed by Snow Patrol isn’t that bad.  

      Despite all the silly moments and numerous problems in the script, the movie itself is at least very entertaining to watch, and there are still some fantastic individual scenes. 

The moment in which the Sandman first comes to life is one of my all time favorite scenes from any superhero movie. The music blends with the imagery beautifully, and the scene itself is a great example of visual story telling. Not a single word is spoken, yet you feel so much through the visuals and how the scene was shot and paced. While obviously not as good as the first two films, this movie is still considerably more fast paced, and features some of Spider-Mans greatest battles. The truck chase with the Sandman is personally one of my favorites. While the past two movies also featured car chases, this was the first to feature a villain, and it was just a great action set piece. The fight between Spider-Man and the Sandman in the subway was also riveting, and highlights the best moments of our hero in the black suit. I love the bare knuckle fight between Harry and Peter in the mansion sweat, as it’s completely in camera, and doesn’t feature any CGI. The first battle between Peter and the New Goblin also made for a great action set piece, but I have to admit that the CGI on display during that battle was really bad, especially when their flying through the obvious green screen back ally. I have to admit that while the action is thrilling, there is an over reliance on CGI, as opposed to the first two films that used its effects in just the right doses.

     Of course the biggest offender of all is when Peter becomes one with the black alien suit, and acts like an idiot looking for attention. Now in both the comics and the cartoon show, Peter becoming one with the alien suit was really dark and haunting stuff. The marketing for this film looked like it was in tone with the source material, but instead the movie takes the alien costume into a more comedic direction. There are at least some good moments like when Peter uses the suit to hunt down the Sandman, but that’s still not enough to compensate for all the ridiculous moments that follow. No joke, the silly moments with him in the black suit are so over the top goofy that the film honestly begins to feel like a parody, rather than an actual Spider-Man film. That dance scene in the Jazz club was unforgivable, and begs the question “What were they thinking?” On a side note, I was very annoyed that this film didn’t include the iconic dream sequence, which is personally one of my favorite moments from any of the comics. In this dream sequence, we see the evil suit battling the classic Spider-Man costume, which highlighted the war waging in Peter’s very soul between his darker half and his heroic side. What a missed opportunely, because director Sam Rami seems like the perfect visionary director to bring that scene to life in a theatrical Spider-Man movie. At least the famous scene in the bell tower with Spider-Man ripping off the alien suit was included in the film, and a terrific recreation of that moment from the source material. 

    After Peter abandons the alien costume, it soon latches itself to another host that comes in the form of a guy named Eddie Brock. Together they form a new villain called Venom, who has all of Spider-Mans abilities, and can even sneak around his spider senses. Now of all the villains from Spider-Mans rogue gallery, Venom is probably the most iconic and beloved by fans, so many were annoyed that he was only in the film for 10 minutes before he got killed off. 
Obviously the film should have ended with a cliffhanger of Eddie Brock becoming Venom so he could be the main villain of his own movie, but I’m also whiling to go with a little bit of this character if he’s done well. For example, in the 2008 movie “The Dark Knight”, the villain Two Face didn’t show up until the tail end of the film, and yet he still became my favorite of any Batman villain as seen in a theatrical movie. The problem with Venom is that the build up to him was pathetic. His human form of Eddie Brock is about as annoying, whiny and obnoxious as they get. Perhaps if Eddie Brock was either more tragic or more threatening, it would have been awesome to see him become Venom, but instead we’re stuck with this silly chump taking the role of Spider-Mans most lethal adversary. Heck, even when he becomes Venom, he still acts like this whiny looser, and it’s nothing like how the character from the source material should behave. Venom from both the comics and the TV show always spoke in third person, referring to himself as “We” or “Us”, because he was both the combination of both Eddie Brock and the alien costume, and both wanted vengeance against our hero. Just to pore more salt on the wound, this movie never once addresses that his name is Venom, what’s up with that? Now with all that said, I was still very happy to see Venom in a theatrical Spider-Man film. The effects for his monster face looked fantastic, and it still felt like something of a dream come true to see Spider-Man battling his most famous adversary in live action. I even like how this movie touched up on his design. Venom from the comics and the TV show was tailor-made to look like Spider-Mans darker opposite, so I never liked that he was always three times the size of our hero. This movie actually made Venom the exact same height and build of Spider-Man, which made him look and feel more like his evil twin, and I thought that was a nice touch.  

    Now of course we have our big epic climax, and while it doesn’t reach the same character or story highs as the first two films, I think the battle itself is the coolest of the whole series. Of course Mary Jane is a damsel in distress again, which is painfully tired and been done, but I love everything else. Seeing Spider-Man team up with the New Goblin to defeat the combined threats of the Sandman and Venom is the highlight of “Spider-Man 3” as a whole. While the events leading up to this weren’t handled very well, it’s still very satisfying to see Peter and Harry become friends again. Also, seeing these two hero’s fight side by side gave us our first real taste of what “The Avengers” would eventually deliver. The battle itself is a big long spectacle that covers a lot of ground and is just really fun to watch, despite some corny moments with that annoying crowd of people cheering them on. I will say that the Sandman’s reformation at the end felt very forced, as honestly there was no reason established as to why he had a sudden change of heart. The ending of “Spider-Man 2” at least showed Peter in a compelling back and forth talk with the villain which gradually led into his reform. The final scene in which Harry dies in the arms of his best friends is at least a very good moment, and helps close the series on something of an emotional high note. Although I’ll admit that Tobey Maguire’s crying face comes off as unintentionally hilarious. 

     When all is said and done, I can at least enjoy “Spider-Man 3” on some level. It is very entertaining at times, and it at least feels like a conclusion to a set trilogy of films. With that said, it’s still a disappointing film that should have been so much better. Putting aside all those stupid moments, “Spider-Man 3” really just needed to break away from the formulaic story telling of the previous films. It didn’t need any more forced relationship problems between Peter and Mary Jane. It didn’t need to give the Sandman a back story that was all set-up with no payoff. It didn’t need to bring in an iconic villain like Venom at last minute, just to kill him off after one fight. The film really needed to take more creative risks with its story and do things we hadn’t seen before. Maybe Sony got too involved with the project, or maybe the filmmakers were too comfortable with its successful formula to break away. While “Spider-Man 3” is obviously a shallow conclusion to a great series of films, it at least felt like a complete ending to the trilogy, and could have also been so much worse. At least I was able to take some positive merits and entertainment value away from this film, which is more then I can say for other bad sequels that miss their mark all together.  

I give 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” ... 3 stars out of 5.

Up next is a review of the latest film in the series “Spider-Man: Home Coming
To Be Continued ...

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