Alright, it’s not a secret that I am not a fan of the Spider-Man movie franchise. I got to know the Marvel comics superhero through the 90’s cartoon series aired on YTV. The casting bothered me from the start. And the tone of the movies is just not my cup of tea. However, my friends seem to enjoy it, and what’s a summer blockbuster season without summer blockbusters? So my sister, who had to walk with a broken foot, and I went to see Spider-Man 3 to keep the tradition alive.
Picking up where the first sequal left off, Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man (Tobey Mguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) are happily in love. Peter even wants to ask Mary Jane for her hand in marriage (to the delight of many many fans, I’m sure). But of course something bad must take place, or else we wouldn’t have a movie. Mary Jane is struggling with her acting career, while Peter is too caught up with his famous alterego. Henry Osborn (James Franco) has found out about Peter’s superhero identity. Believing that Spider-Man killed his father, Henry suits up as New Goblin and seeks revenge on his best friend. In this third installment of the series, the true murderer of Ben Parker is revealed. Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) flees from prison and turns into Sandman, who wants to get his hand on some money to save his ailing daughter. Just to make things more interesting, an alien substance attaches itself to Spidey’s costume and turns him powerful but grumpy. And a competing photographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, That ’70s Show), also shows up in the picture, fighting Peter for his job, a girl, and more.
Spider-Man is an interesting superhero in design. His movement is so different from the others. Spider-Man can stick to walls and swing from building to building. He’s a villain-fighting acrobat. Seeing Spidey’s moves with the help of movie magic is entertaining enough. The special effects and action sequences are very enjoyable as usual. This is a big reason why he is great for the big screen and why the franchise is such a sucess.
Even though the storyline is probably not the most important thing in a movie like this, even its believability is not essential, it should still be complete and resaonable, or at least feel that way. Spider-Man 3 certainly has an ambitious plot, but it turns out to be all over the place in pieces, leaving the audience unsatisfied. The storyline of Sandman seems like it’s put in place just to fit a new villain in the movie. Not enough time is given to develop his back story, which is truncated by the Spidey’s heroic act and his own quest for revenge, so we are not sympathetic towards him as the filmmaker is trying to accomplish. The plot involving Henry is the most complete, because it takes three movies to tell his story. The character has been developed, and the themes are clear: revenge, forgiveness, and sacrifice. These keywords are hinted near the beginning of the film (and shouted in the trailer). But with all the twists and turns and sudden change of heart, Henry ends up loosing his edge. He is not really the angry child as established in the last movie, but he is not entirely nice, either. He can’t make up his mind, and if you’re like me, you’d start losing interest in him. A nice thing to mention, though, is the New Goblin’s outfit looks so much better than the metallic Green Goblin costume in the first movie.
The casting of Topher Grace in the role of Venom deserves to be applauded. He has the same geeky persona as Peter Parker. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing him as Peter. In the cartoon series, Peter is geeky but not goofy. His humour is heard in his funny remarks while he is fighting the villains, not seen in his dance. And that’s how I’d like to see Spider-Man is. Grace has that quality in him. In this film, he is used as the evil Venom parallel to Peter’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. But again, his screen time is too short to even allow us to hate him. He shows up from time to time and almost seems dispensible. Here’s an example how small details can really ruin a big-budget movie. In the royal rumble near the end of the movie, we finally see a close-up of Grace as Venom. With the black gooy alien stuff hood off, he still has the pointy fangs. After each line or two, he has to close his mouth to keep the fake teeth from falling out. It’s so distracting! When I want to laugh not because of his reminding me of Eric from That ’70s Show, but because of seeing him struggling with his fake teeth, you know something is off with the movie.
The critics liked the first two Spider-Man movies because they did not take themselves too seriously. Well, then I guess it’s just me who like the darker comics-to-screen films like X-Men and the melodramatic The Hulk. While I still appreciate the entertaining factor of the Spider-Man movies, little things bother me enough that I just don’t care for them. The close-up of the screaming ladies’ face (Yes, I know it’s the screen shot in the comics, but on a big screen it just makes me cringe), silly score, manufactured funny sequences, and frequent leaking for Peter’s secret. Gosh, how many people need to find out about his part-time job as Spider-Man?! As Pixar’s The Incredibles has taught us, a superhero’s secret identity is his/her most valuable possession, for God’s sake! I sincerely think Spidey should carry some extra masks with him, so he can cover his face when it’s torn off by his enemies, burned by spectacular explosions, and ripped by flying glass shards. That would be more plausible than what happens in this film: the mask thrown away by Venom just happen to be near him when he fell to the ground. When Peter Parker started prancing and dancing on the street, making a fool of himself, my sister turned to me and whisper that he had become a jerk, refering to how he was treating Mary Jane. I, on the other hand, stared blankly at the screen, scratching my head, then finally realized, "Oh, they’re doing a promoting for Spider-Man the Musical. Yeah, very subtle, guys."
Am I taking a summer blockbuster too seriously? Maybe. Spider-Man 3 is just not for me, I guess. I like the actions and special effects, which fulfil their duties. And I appreciate the fact that the writers try to make the story more dramatic with Spidey’s internal struggle with his own demons, etc. This may be a case in which they tried to do too much in a movie. In the end, every element didn’t get the attention they needs. If you want to shut off your brain for two hours or so and be entertained, it’s still pretty good. Just don’t let the little flaws get to you. With a record-shattering opening weekend box office result, and the brief, "that’s it?!" ending, I’m sure this is not the last time we see Spidey swinging across the big screen.
NOTE: All photos © 2007 Columbia Pictures