Friday, May 11, 2007

Slinging Webs at Spider-Man 3

What currently fascinates me most about Spider-Man 3 is the diversity of the reactions to it. I’ve yet to read a single review that praises it to the hilt, and the ones that trash it seem hell bent on proving there's nothing good about it at all.

The stuff I’ve enjoyed reading most has resided somewhere in the middle -- and each of these pieces offers up some new viewpoint that hadn’t occurred to me. Try Damian's reaction. Or Matt's excellent breakdown. Edward's is interesting because he felt the Sandman storyline should have been cut (to me it would have been the perfect central conflict had it been written somewhat differently). If you're so inclined Lazy Eye Theatre offers up some thoughts and don't miss Rob Humanick's great insights as well.

But I gotta admit that Harry Knowles' take really worked for me . It gave the whole affair a sort of logical fanboyish perspective -- which is probably what's required for an appreciation of this film.

I still have no idea where I stand in regard to Spidey 3, other than I never shed a tear (unlike the other two flicks) and it left me not really wanting more. I love the first two flicks so much that I'm not even sure I needed another Spider-Man movie. My feelings about 3 remain incomplete aside from maybe these few bullet points:

* I went in expecting the worst based on the handful of things I’d read. The first hour or so charmed me in a big way (the Harry getting amnesia thing aside, which seemed a huge waste of time). During the second hour, the charm began wearing thin -- although the cheesy disco stuff and Peter’s dance were, quite possibly, my favorite moments in the entire thing. The last 15 or so minutes were a big, loud mess.

* The movie seems like a classic example of Studio Vs. Talent. (Un?)fortunately Sam Raimi is such a team player and pro, he probably didn’t have the will to fight after all Sony’s done for him -- and frankly I can’t blame the guy.

* I’m not sure how much more angst can be drawn from the Peter/Mary Jane dynamic. Either keep ‘em together or split ‘em up -- but make a decision and stick with it. Give them both character and motivation that exists outside of reacting to one another's faults. What provided a solid center for Spidey 2 felt old and tired in Spidey 3. The wad was shot at the end of 2: They were together and it was good and right. Exploring the intricacies of their current relationship isn't working out; it'd be great fodder for a TV show, but a movie series delivering entries every few years is tedious.

* Harry was never given enough to do in the previous two films to warrant what happened to him in this film. Biggest transgressor? I really wanted to groove on Peter and Harry pooling their talents in the finale, but it didn’t work because their friendship’s never had enough depth for such a climax to resonate. Likewise, my eyes glazed when Harry died. This sucks because Franco’s done the best he can with the character and he deserved a much better exit. (Is he actually dead, by the way?)

* The Venom stuff sucked while the Sandman stuff rocked...'cept for the Uncle Ben angle. Can we please stop using his death as a dramatic "cliff" from which to jump? (Sorry Charly, I know it’s a nice paycheck for you at this point, but really…) It's become as tiresome as the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents.

Everything above may be void after I see the film again. The whole thing was such a sensory overload -- which is odd, because I'm sure the talk to action ratio weighs far heavier on the "talk" side. I gotta see it again before forming a real opinion. In any case, Spider-Man 3 may well be the most misunderstood movie of the year.

However the following very likely won’t change: After the first Spider-Man, I realized the biggest problem with bringing Spidey to the big screen: His face is static. This was amplified in any conversation scene between Spidey and the Goblin (especially the meeting on the roof), which featured NO facial movement from either character. (Maybe Hugo Weaving should play Peter?). What isn’t an issue for a comic book panel was hugely distracting on the silver screen (even Batman has a mouth and eyes).

Obviously Raimi hooked into similar thinking after completing the film and found some clever ways of getting around it in Spidey 2. But Spidey is without his mask for far too much of Spidey 3 and yet I don’t know how the issue should be handled at this point.

The bottom line: Both the static face and the removing of the mask cause big problems and it’s hard to say which is worse. The former makes a less engaging superhero; the latter makes a less believable film. It’s probably the most fucked conundrum in the history of comic book filmmaking.