– Summary –
Director : Sam Raimi
Year Of Release : 2007
Principal Cast : Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, JK Simmons, Dylan Baker, Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson, James Cromwell.
Approx Running Time : 139 Minutes
Synopsis: Spider-Man must battle a villain known as Sandman, but also a dark version of himself known as Venom.
What we think : Tiresome, overburdened Spider-Man franchise entry has plenty to offer but very little substance or nuance. It’s all bloat, all overkill, and all awful. Way to ruin the franchise, Sony.
It’s really hard to know where to start with this one. I have always had a fondness for Spider-Man, as a character and as a comic book. The popularity of the character has endured since its creation by Stan Lee for Marvel Comics in 1962; this success has been attributed mainly to the fact that Peter Parker was a teenager in the early comics, and readers identified with his trials and tribulations of balancing being a superhero with being normal. Unlike the God-like power of Superman, or the darker, more angsty Batman, Spider-Man was a kind of Everyman character, and this was, and remains, his appeal.
So it would make sense that eventually, his adventures would be transported off the comic book page and onto the big screen. Technology had allowed us to portray something we had, until now, only seen done quite badly on TV during the 1977 live action version, and through a series of alternately good and bad animated TV shows. But in 2002, director Sam Raimi unleashed upon the world the first full length feature film of the world famous web crawler. Many had been concerned that Raimi’s horror film roots may detract from the quality of the film, but their fears were allayed by what was universally applauded as the best superhero film since Superman: The Movie in the late 70’s.
Interestingly, the original 2002 film’s first teaser trailer showed an unseen hero catching a helicopter full of bad guys in a spider’s web, strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This trailer was released about a week before the attack on the WTC on Sept 11, 2001. Consequently, it was pulled off air. The original film was touted as revolutionary for its effects, its action sequences, and the fact that it was actually good. Unlike other comic book based films released in a similar time, such as Daredevil and Electra, Spider-Man relied on characterization to carry the film, rather than the action scenes.
The second film, based upon the success of the first, debuted in 2004, featuring a new villain amongst the same main cast. Spider-Man 2, like its predecessor, broke box office records upon its release.
Then, three years later, the third film in the series was released in a blaze of anticipation and publicity. The main cast returned, reprising their roles under the steady hand of Raimi.
There are several problems with Spider-Man 3. Action scenes and effects notwithstanding, those features appear to be the focus of the film, rather than the characters. Motivation for the bad guys is another issue. That, and the glut of action and characters in an already bloated film makes for often confusing and overblown film-making.
The characters appear to be less defined and lacking motivational accessibility for the viewer, meaning that for a fair proportion of the film, we are left with a kind of malaise that settles over proceedings until and action sequence arrives to distract us. The cast try hard, but the script leaves a lot to be desired with its limited emotional range on all the cast (except for Toby Maguire). Even the usually adept Kirsten Dunst seems somewhat aloof and distant, unlike previous installments. For some reason the story doesn’t gel, we don’t quite understand the motivation of Dunst’s anguish at her failing relationship with Peter Parker, and it often seems slightly contrived for the sake of “plot development”, rather than the “character development” we saw in the previous films. Props go out to Rosemary Harris, as Aunt May, whose screen time in this film is less than in any of the others, but she still manages to give the rest of the cast a lesson in performance.
Perhaps the most glaring issue with this film is the overabundance of antagonists.
The only film to utilize more than one bad guy well was Superman II, which featured three super-villains and Lex Luthor, and managed to tell a good story all the while. Since then, multiple villain films have included Daredevil (yawn, what a mess), Batman Returns (stylish, but lacing in substance and depth…except for the Penguin character, I suppose) and Supergirl (which was a crass blasphemous film, featuring three villains and a diabolical effects department); none of these films have made a good impact on the public. And don’t even get me started on the filmic version of Dick Tracy. If a film series is successful, that does not mean that you should automatically cram as many villains (or heroes, for that matter) into a sequel to justify spending more money. Just tell a good story, and things will work.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 gets a case of the overdone villains. Individually, Venom and Sandman would be great villains for a Spider-Man film, but together, they cancel each other out. While Sandman remains a sympathetic character (as portrayed in the film), Venom is the “pure evil” bad-guy; the film ends with both of them teaming up to attack Spider-Man.
Throw in an unfinished plot thread in Harry Osborne as the vengeful New Goblin (which, to be fair, should have been completed at the end of film 2, but I guess they wanted to stretch it out) and you have a film replete with bad-guys and a substantial lack of time for things like characterization. Filmmakers should have learnt by now that a modern movie audience really only wants to see one villain done very well (a la Spidey 2, with Doc Oc) rather than a squillion villains done badly. **Exception to this would be James Cameron, who managed to make a squillion Aliens decidedly brilliant!
The addition of Peter Parker’s “other” girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, only adds to the confusion. In the comics, Stacy is killed by the Green Goblin when he throws her off a bridge; Spider-Man catches her with his webbing, but the whiplash snaps her neck. This was a defining moment in Spider-Man’s development as a character, and remains a pivotal moment in comics to this day. Here, she does not suffer that fate. Perhaps, had she been killed off after Spider-Man failed to save her, it might have created a more emotional journey for the filmmakers to follow.
As it is, the film runs the risk of becoming a soap opera film, rather than a superhero film. While we want to see an emotional story told, by now the number of characters involved is overwhelming the story, and to a degree, the directors ability to tell it. By including everything bar the kitchen sink, Raimi is left with little time for the subtle things, and I began to lament for the original film’s simple, elegant style.
To include Stacy in the film, perhaps one of the villains should have been dropped to focus more on the characters. But I guess it’s easy to second guess, isn’t it.
The special effects and CGI again are top class. More realistic and integrated than anything we’ve seen in previous film installments, the Sandman and Venom are truly frightening visions once they kick into top gear. The new Goblin, however, is laughable. “modern”, perhaps, but ultimately wasted. I wanted to badly for this film to really kick it, to go places the previous installments did not, but I was let down.
Fortunately, this film is not altogether a waste of time. By the standards set up by its predecessors, it’s a far cry from their simple beauty. But as a film in and of itself, it’s still a joy to sit back and let it all wash over you, thrilling at times, and laughable at others. You could do worse than to watch this film.
Overall, you can feel the wasted opportunity in this film hit you at every turn, and although you get the sense everybody was trying really hard to make a great film, it was a lapse in judgement that see’s this film become bloated and heavy with overblown dramatics and a glut of characters, some of which could have been pared back and left for future films. Solid, but ultimately disappointing.