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Spider-Man 3
One Heart

"Spider-Man Hangs Self in Own Web"

Written by Steven Walker

The first Spider-Man movie was three hearts.  The second was four hearts.  The third begrudgingly gets one lonely heart.  In the immortal words of Bill Adama, “What the Frak happened?”

I hate this movie.  I loathe it.  If there is a word that means bad, it can be applied to this film.  This is the worst kind of movie to me…the kind made by people who do not care.  There is so much talent behind and in front of the camera in this film that it is embarrassing.  This same team made Spider-Man 2 one of the few Super Hero movies to transcend the genre and become a good film in its own right.  How could these same people deliver a massive, steaming pile of retch like this?  I’m going to spoil this movie front to back, so turn away now if you want to stay virgin.  This is only my opinion, after all.  You might love the movie and I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Reading interviews before the movie came out, I knew there would be trouble.  One of the stars, either Toby Maguire or Kirsten Dunst, said something like, “Yeah we signed a contract for three movies and I guess this is the third one.”  With that kind of glowing self-promotion, how can I stay away? 

The opening credits of Spider-Man 2 had beautifully rendered paintings of key moments from the first film to catch us up to speed.  (Assuming you need this.   I don’t watch sequels unless the originals are clearly in mind, so I always feel insulted by recaps.  It has 3 in the title.  It is the audience’s responsibility to know the story up to this point.  The filmmakers should not waste valuable screen time repeating what we already know, but if you absolutely must, at least do it in style.) 

Spider-Man 3 takes the lazy road by just showing clips from the first two films.  This decision is indicative of the whole movie.  Sam Raimi wanted to move on but was obligated to make this film.  He did not like or connect with the character of Venom, but was forced to include him by producer Avi Arad because he is a fan favorite.  Instead of swallowing his own issues and rising to the challenge, what does Raimi do?  He makes the worst movie of his career and defecates all over one of the best villains in comic history.

Before I begin the shredding process, let me quickly lay out the few things I actually liked.

1. The birth of Sandman.  This scene is stolen from a movie where Raimi actually cares.  Watching individual grains of sand slowly and painfully coalesce into the Sandman is breathtaking and moving.  Most of the scenes with Sandman in action are visually spectacular, and Thomas Hayden Church is perfectly cast.  The armored car fight is the best action in the film and I love the Harryhausen quality of the giant sand monster he becomes during the finale.  Though if anyone can explain how exactly he is defeated I’ll mail you a dollar.  

2. The Music.  Christopher Young has finally done a decent job of creating a musical world for Spider-Man, where as Danny Elfman could only remind me of his superior work in Batman.

3. Bryce Dallas Howard.  She is very good playing the role of Gwen Stacey, but all she does is make you wish she was playing Mary Jane.  She would make a much better Mary Jane than Kirsten Dunst, and this is rather ironic considering Mary Jane’s plotline in this movie.  (I’m not saying Kirsten Dunst is bad, I’m just saying she acts nothing like Mary Jane in the comics.)

4. Topher Grace.  For all the controversy surrounding his casting, I thought he was the perfect Eddie Brock.  His rivalry with Peter totally worked for me.  All of his scenes gave me hope that the movie was going to succeed in the end.  The moment he joined with the black suit, however, all that hope was extinguished.  Also, the first Spider-Man movie dropped Eddie’s name in a nice bit of future planning, but this movie breaks continuity with that reference.

5. Misc.  I don’t care one way or the other about Peter’s dancing and swaggering.  It seems appropriate for Toby Maguire’s version of the character.  And even though the Saturday Night Fever stuff lasts way too long, it’s one of the few scenes in the movie where Toby Maguire seems to be having fun.   I also enjoyed the fight in Harry’s mansion, though mostly for the line, “little goblin junior.”      

That’s it.  Five minor points of good that amount to maybe 20 minutes of screen time in a movie over two hours long.  The bad is so numerous and violating that I don’t know where to begin.  This may be a long list. 

1. Harry Osborn vs. Peter Parker.  I get absolutely no thrill seeing Spider-Man fight out of costume.  None.  Not even a tiny bit.  The look of the Green Goblin in the first movie was awful and here they had a chance to fix it and make it so much better.  What do they give us?  A flying snowboarder.  I paid to see Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin, not
Toby Maguire vs. James Franco.  So here is a whole action scene, very nicely shot and choreographed, that should totally get my blood pumping but I don’t give a damn because the hero and villain are not in costume.  Attention actors:  I do not want to see your faces during a fight.

2. The Magic Meteor.  I was so pissed off by this I almost walked out of the theater, but I was filming a documentary after the show and had no choice but to stick around.  That the black costume should just happen to be on a meteor that just happens to fall 20 feet behind Peter Parker who does not even hear it (Where was your Spidey Sense on that one?) is the single worst piece of screenwriting I have ever seen in a big budget movie.  I seriously cannot think of anything more moronic. 

In the second movie, they clearly established that J. Jonah Jameson’s son is a famous astronaut.  In some of the comics and the excellent 90s cartoon show, the black suit was found by one of Jameson Junior’s space shuttle missions and brought back to Earth for study.  It attacks the crew during re-entry and Spider-Man has to save the shuttle before it crashes.  Not only would this have brought the black suit into the story in a much more believable way (and before you tell me that statement is an oxymoron, bear in mind that fantasy films often benefit from a consistent internal logic even more than real-world stories), it would add a new layer of drama to the J. Jonah Jameson vs. Spider-Man dynamic because JJ would have to deal with the fact that Spidey saved his son.  It also would have been a much better action scene than the stupid, pointless, out-of-control crane sequence.

3. The Stupid, Pointless, Out-Of-Control Crane Sequence.  I think I laid out why I hate this already, but let me point out that after Spidey saves Gwen Stacey, he DOES NOT GO BACK TO STOP THE CRANE.  The whole drama of the sequence is left completely unresolved.  Who wrote this again and why do they get paid?

4. The Origin of Sandman.  He birth scene may rock, but the origin has rocks for brains.  First off, this marks the third villain in a row who is a victim of a science experiment gone bad.  At this point, it would have been okay to deviate from the comics just to mix things up.  But far worse than that is the ludicrous way it happens.  Flint Marko randomly falls into a pit that was not very well protected at all for being a high tech test site.  We are then insulted with the idea that these scientists do not have a camera pointed at their own experiment.  Their computers indicate something is wrong but one of them shrugs it off saying, “Probably just a bird.”  The first two movies were not exactly shining examples of movie science, but this is practically contempt for the audience.  And by the way, what was the experiment actually about?  If you know then you must have fallen asleep and dreamed it because the movie sure didn’t tell you.  Imagine how much more dramatic it would have been if the science team saw Marko fall into the chamber and frantically tried to stop the experiment but did not have enough time.  Not only would it be more tense, it would add the extra pathos of the scientists believing they just killed an innocent man.  The movie misses these opportunities again and again.

5. She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not.  The Mary Jane/Peter Parker drama has run its course.  It needs to be developed but only as a background element.  It was okay to focus on his love life for two movies, but now it is time to grow up a little.  Peter Parker is a student, a photographer, and a Super Hero.  The psychological stress of balancing those three things is far more compelling drama, but it is once again pushed into the background in favor of the love story, which has descended to the worst kind of soap opera tripe.

6. Amnesia?  Really?  Everything about the Harry Osborn amnesia storyline is dreadful.  How could any self respecting screenwriter think this was a good idea?  Maybe this whole movie was intended to be awful to spite the studio for forcing them into it.  If that’s true, it is even worse than pure incompetence.  You do not butcher characters that millions of people have grown up caring about just to prove a point to some money men.

7. Cameos.  It has gone too far.  The cameos of Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell in the first two movies were nice little moments that were good for fans but still drove the story.  This time the movie stops dead for these guys.  I do not need to hear Stan Lee repeat the mantra of the series or say, “nuff said.”  I do not need a ten minute scene with Bruce Campbell as a waiter that does nothing to move or improve the story.  This is really obnoxious when it looks like Raimi had more fun directing this scene than anything which is actually relevant to the plot.

8.  Isn’t That Convenient?  Time and again really silly coincidences destroy any credibility the movie should have.  The Sandman’s first encounter with police just happens to occur next to a large parked truck full of…wait for it…sand.  And this just happens to be on the day that Spider-Man is receiving the key to the city?  And then it turns out that Sandman just happens to be the real killer of Peter’s uncle? 

Gwen Stacey miraculously knows exactly where to be to run into our main cast or get caught in harm’s way.  Her Spider Sense works better than Spider-Man’s.  

After hitching a ride on Peter’s bike for absolutely no reason, the black suit very conveniently waits in Peter’s closet for even less reason until over an hour into the show.  Apparently the meteor ride made it sleepy.  

Finally, after Peter’s all-too-nice decent into darkness, he randomly decides to go to a church where he randomly discovers the suit’s ill-defined weakness.  I can just imagine Raimi saying, “See!  He uses the church bell just like in the comics!  Look how faithful we’re being!”  Problem is, Sam, the comics gave both Peter Parker and Eddie Brock a reason to be in that church at that moment.  It felt like fate was guiding them toward an inevitable destiny.  In the movie it happens so randomly that it will leave any non-comic fan scratching their heads.  If you think Peter’s dig about getting religion is supposed to pass off as Brock’s motivation, then you must still believe that only kids read comics.  I’m sorry, that was a cheap shot.  I know you don’t believe that, Sam…you proved you don’t in Spider-Man 2.  What happened?

9. It’s So Important I Won’t Tell Anybody.  The biggest problem I had with the first Spider-Man movie was the idiocy that Peter knew he was bitten by a genetically enhanced spider and didn’t tell anyone.  This movie repeats that kind of mistake on an epic level.  Peter takes a sample of the black suit to his professor, Dr. Connors (who still does not become the Lizard.  They pull new villains out of their asses for each movie but never use the only one they’ve actually set up in advance?).  The suit is obviously a brand new life-form with bizarre properties.  Any reasonable professor or scientist would have immediately called the CDC and every major biology lab in the world.  What actually happens is Dr. Connors spouts some terrible expository dialog and tells Peter to be careful.  The greatest discovery of the century is on his desk and he is more concerned with giving a teenager life lessons.

10. The Magic Butler.  At least by the time this happened I was hating the movie so much it couldn’t get much worse.  Harry’s butler tells him that his father was killed by his own glider and not Spider-Man.  Well gee, thanks, Jeeves.  If you had mentioned that two movies ago, we could have completely avoided a lot of pain and trouble.  Not only is this truly amateur writing, it robs Harry of the chance to make a moral choice.  If he had chosen to help Peter without knowing for sure how his father died, it would have made him an actual hero and given his death some power.  By having the answer handed to him by a deus ex machina, he stops being a real character.

11.  Would You Like Cheese With That Whine?  How sappy can you get? I mean…  seriously.  The bridge scene where Mary Jane pretends to break up with Peter is gut-busting.  These characters have been married in the comics for over 20 years.  There is NO SUSPENSE as to how this is going to end.  Even if you have never read a comic in your life, there should be no doubt in your mind that Peter and Mary Jane will end up together.  Let them be happy together and give me something new!

12.  Bringing the Bacon.  The final battle sounds great on paper but it is just so hammed up.  The newscasters’ dialog is so bad I swear it is meant to be parody (“It’s hard to believe what we’re seeing! The brutality of it!”). 

I’m patriotic by nature, but Spidey randomly jumping in front of a giant American flag in a place no one would hang an American flag is too much.  The crowd’s reaction to everything is so staged and so fake that it kills whatever drama should be there. 

The little kids who cheer when Goblin Jr. takes out Sandman are awful, meaning painfully scripted.  Compare that to an identical moment in Transformers when a little boy cheers the sight of Optimus Prime fighting Bonecrusher.  Transformers had all sorts of script problems, but there was a genuine sense of awe all the way through.  I believed that little boy, but the kids here in Spider-Man 3 are cereal commercial phony.  This is not an acting problem…this is the director not even trying.   

13.  Finally, we arrive at Venom.  I’m not sure he could have been depicted worse.  The movie completely throws out the idea that the suit is alive and has an intelligence of it’s own.  Gone is the notion that the suit was drawn to Spider-Man because his powers made him the ideal subject to bond with.  Gone are the waking nightmares Peter had in the suit that showed terrifying glimpses of the suit’s home planet.  Gone is the joy the suit felt when Peter was thriving on it’s power and gone is the pain when Peter tries to reject it.  A clever screenwriter could have drawn a parallel between this and what Peter was going through with Mary Jane. 

Without depicting the suit’s emotional arc, the character of Venom becomes meaningless.  It is true that Eddie Brock’s storyline is done very well, but he is only half of the character!  The suit hates Spider-Man and Eddie hates Peter Parker, both for deeply personal reasons, so they are perfect for each other.  Eddie loves the power and the suit feeds off his love until they are inseparable.  In the comics he would say “We are Venom,” and it carried a lot of psychological weight.  In the movie nothing has weight, and it all comes so late in the game that Venom barely feels like a real threat.

Venom was never about hitting Spider-Man as hard as he could.  Venom was never after childish revenge.  Venom was about breaking Spider-Man’s spirit.  No matter how many people Spider-Man saved, Venom was right there to endanger more, always staying just out of web’s reach.  By forcing Spider-Man to endure failure after failure, Venom drove him to the edge of sanity without even touching him.  That kind of intense mind game practically demands big screen treatment, but clearly not from Sam Raimi. 

Then there is the little detail about Vemon’s mask peeling back every time he speaks.  The whole reason Venom has an iconic look is because of the teeth, the tongue, and the implication of a hideous alien voice.  To see Topher’s pretty-boy face and hear his normal voice coming from the Venom body is an unbelievable let down.  This is not the character I loved and have been waiting most of my life to see in a movie.  This is not the character who makes Spider-Man want to kill himself rather than watch more innocent people die.  This is not the greatest villain in Spidey’s Rogues Gallery brought to life.  Sam Raimi…I want my money back.  



Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.