Thursday, May 10, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Spiderman 3

One of the strengths of Sam Raimi’s original Spiderman was its ability to feel like a comic book. As many dreadful movies based on comics show, this task isn’t easy to pull off. Balancing of a comic’s goofy majesty and a movie’s demand for gritty realism is a precarious one to maintain even in the superhero movie genre. Spiderman accomplished this feat with easy aplomb. Whether it was Spidey’s web-slinging and wise-cracking through the city or Peter Parker’s trials as a nerdy and lonely high-school student, Raimi pulled together that first movie with a deftness and cleverness, which, remarkably enough, he was able to keep fresh for the second installment in the franchise. The newest entry to this saga, Spiderman 3, doesn’t seem burdened by the comic book magic conjured in the first two. In fact, it decides to shed that magic. Raimi re-visits old stories, re-vamps Spidey’s first – and most important lesson (“With great power comes great responsibility”) - and muddles up an overloaded plot with a climax that is lazy and contrived and, as a result, a disappointing entirety of a movie.

It starts well enough. Unfolding the daily drama of Peter Parker and his relationship with Mary Jane against Spiderman’s growing popularity the movie seems relaxed and confident. Interjected into this is the revenge plot of the New Goblin, Harry Osbourne, son of the Green Goblin, against Spiderman. This first action sequence is pretty amazing stuff: going through alleys and among rooftops, the scene plays out like a rollercoaster ride. Many times throughout the camera changes angles and one second we’re watching Spiderman in pursuit and the next we roll out in front of the Goblin then back around again. It was chaotic and exhilarating to watch.

Peter’s domestic life gets chaotic as well. Mary Jane is frustrated with her life as a singer but can’t get an oblivious Peter to understand. Spiderman’s grandstanding – he’s given a key to the city and Peter relates all this to a distraught Mary Jane - just adds to all this. Then there’s Flint Marko, an escaped criminal, who falls into a particle accelerator, or something of the like, and, in a magnificent resurrection scene, rises again with his body turned to sand. Marko is also connected to Peter’s Uncle Ben’s death (which happened in the first movie). Oh, and a meteorite falls to Earth – in Central Park right near where Peter and Mary Jane are – and a strange black goo emerges and hitches a ride on Peter’s scooter. Finally, there’s Eddie Brock, a photographer, who’s giving Peter competition at the Daily Bugle for Spiderman shots.

At first, Raimi juggles all these plotlines convincingly. They slowly merge and the pace works, balancing the Peter parker scenes with the crowd-pleasing action sequences. But soon the story hits a wall. The alien goo takes over his Spiderman costume turning it black and turning Peter into a narcissistic jackass. Raimi milks some comedy out of Peter’s newfound jerkiness but the denouement of the “black costume” Spiderman is rushed and stilted.

After that the movie surrenders to lazy writing – characters are redeemed based on an admission by an extremely minor character, which is laughably obvious and poorly executed - and boring action sequences. I sat through the final 25 minutes befuddled by how the movie went sour. As opposed to the first two, it was the comic book that imposed the limitations. But in this installment, the story seeks inspiration by throwing in characters from the comic without thought or purpose (Gwen Stacey). Finally, by cramming in the black costume/Eddie Brock/Venom storyline, Spiderman 3 became a victim – just like Peter Parker in the movie- of its own popularity.