(Long Island, NY) First off, I feel compelled to mention that Spider-Man 3 has Venom in it,
the best Spider-Man villain ever.
Okay, on with the review. Comic book based movies have been enjoying a huge string of success lately. For years, movie-makers had attempted to translate the medium to the silver screen, with little or no success. Why? Because they typically approached the subject matter as campy children’s movies, not realizing the level of sophistication comic book storytelling has achieved over the years.
Comic book movie development finally started being taken seriously with 2000’s X-Men, followed closely by 2002’s Spider-Man, and their success speaks for itself. Personally, as a former avid reader of comics for years, this recent boom of super hero movies has been, with a few exceptions, a total joy to me. Many of these movies have not only remained true to the spirit of the books that inspired them, but elevated comic book movies from cheesy B-level children’s fare and into the realm of intelligent entertainment. Now, the super-successful Spider-Man series has its second movie sequel, and guess what? It’s the subject of this review. Oh, and did I
mention that Venom is in it?
Spider-Man is one of the most iconic comic book characters in history. For the
two or three freakish hermits on the planet who don’t know who Spider-Man is, he’s a nerdy college student and photographer named Peter Parker. Bitten on the hand by a genetically engineered mutant spider, he gains the arachnid’s powers, such as superhuman strength, agility, the ability to stick to walls and shoot webbing out of his wrists (as opposed to the area where a real spider shoots its web, thankfully). After tragically witnessing the murder of his beloved Uncle Ben, Peter learns a great lesson- “With great power comes great responsibility.” He then adopts the identity of Spider-Man to fight crime, protect the innocent, and prevent tooth decay.
Director Sam Rami, who got his start with low budget horror movies such as the Evil Dead series, has become a major Hollywood player in recent years, and his amazing work on bringing Spider-Man to the screen is the main reason. Part of Spider-Man’s appeal has been Peter Parker’s struggle to balance the trials of everyday life with his crime fighting, and Rami captures that duality perfectly. Spidey has to juggle work, school, a turbulent love life, and fighting the bizarre rogue’s gallery of super villains that constantly threaten his home town of New York City. Rami’s trademark frenetic camerawork is also a perfect fit for capturing the high-energy fights and the exaggerated physicality of the wall crawler, producing some of the most breathtaking action scenes in movie-making history.
Spider-Man 3 is somewhat of a slight departure for the series. The first two movies centered on one villain at a time, leaving plenty of room for character development. But upon hearing of the various plots points that the third movie would be tackling, I got worried. After all, Spider-Man
3 throws a whopping THREE bad guys into the mix for Peter to handle, in addition to a storyline involving an evil, symbiotic alien life form masquerading as Spidey’s spiffy new black costume, a love triangle involving Peter’s girlfriend and another woman, a rivalry with a fellow photographer vying for his job at the Daily Bugle, and a conflict with his former best friend who is convinced that Spider-Man killed his father. On paper, that sounds like a lot to cram into any movie, and I was convinced that Spider-Man 3 would be a fractured, incoherent mess as a result. However, I underestimated the storytelling abilities of Sam Rami- instead of a mess, I was treated to a movie that managed to weave all of those storylines seamlessly without jumbling anything. The result is a Spider-Man film that, at the very least, is as good as the previous two.
Our movie opens soon after the events of Spider-Man 2- Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, who was seemingly born to play the part) and his girlfriend, Broadway actress Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), are enjoying a romantic moonlit evening in Central Park when a meteorite crashes nearby. The passenger of said meteorite, a black, tar-like goo-thing that looks like one of those Wacky Wall Walkers, crawls away from the crash zone and hitches a ride on Pete’s mo-ped. It turns out that this creature is a symbiote, a shape-shifting alien that seeks to bond with and control a host in order to survive. Later in the movie, the symbiote envelops Peter in his sleep and takes the form of his Spider-Man costume, only black in color. At first, Peter is confused by the new, unexplained outfit, but soon relishes the additional strength and power it seems to grant him. The symbiote’s influence also starts causing Peter’s personality to take a dark turn- he grows cocky, arrogant, and eventually even violent. At these times he also starts sporting an Emo hairdo and appears to wear eyeliner(?). The changes are sometimes played for laughs, but at others they take on far more gravity, indicating that something is most definitely wrong. Tobey seemed to enjoy cutting loose while playing “Mean Spidey” and these scenes are really entertaining to watch, aside from a really lame dance number (no, that’s not a typo).
And, of course, we have our villains. First off, we get The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), a character from the comics that no one cares about. He’s an escaped convict that got caught in some wacky experiment and became living sand castle, able to reshape his body at will except at high tide, when he’s swept out to sea. It’s such an incredibly stupid concept for a bad guy, but Church’s performance as Sandy was excellent, invoking a human quality to the character reminiscent of horror great Boris Karloff.
Then we have Peter’s former best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of the evil Green Goblin (Spider-Man’s foe from the first movie). Harry mistakenly believes that Spidey is responsible for his father’s death, appropriates some of daddy’s old Goblin gear and sets out on a vendetta against Peter, having discovered his identity in the last movie. I was never a big fan of Franco in the previous movies, but he really turned up his game in this installment and his storyline is one of its many highlights.
And now we finally come to your hero and mine, Venom. Later in the movie, Peter realizes that the symbiote is making him naughty and, after a struggle, finally manages to free himself of it. Spurned, the alien creature merges with someone whose hatred of Spider-Man and Peter Parker equals its own- disgraced photographer Eddie Brock (That 70’s Show’s Topher Grace, who does a fine job here). Together they form Venom, which is basically a stronger, scarier, cooler version of Spider-Man, but sporting a gaping maw filled with big, sharp teeth. Venom has been one of Spider-Man’s most popular opponents in the comics for years, and it was exciting to finally see him come to life on the big screen.
Overall, Spider-Man 3 is a great movie. If you’ve been reading my past reviews, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of Hollywood’s current trend of making movies 2 ½+ hours in length, as more often than not the excessive running time only serves to hurt the film. But this is a rare case where the 2 1/2 hours just effortlessly flew by- I was really shocked. There was so much going on, yet I never got lost, confused, or frustrated. Achieving that with a movie of this length takes real talent.
However, Spidey 3 isn’t perfect. I know I said that the movie isn’t a mess, considering all of the content packed into it, but that still doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suffer because of it. Simply put, The Sandman really shouldn’t have been in the movie. Neither he nor Venom were fleshed out sufficiently because they had to divide the screen time between them. As Venom figured directly into the storyline involving the alien, not to mention that’s he’s really awesomely cool, the movie should have just concentrated on him. As I stated above, Thomas Haden Church’s take on The Sandman is intriguing, but he ultimately feels shoehorned into the story- he could have easily been removed and it wouldn’t have mattered. As he is, he just steals some of Venom’s well-deserved screen-time.
Other annoyances include how fickle Mary Jane is when problems crop up in her relationship to Peter- the second anything goes wrong, she runs right into the arms of another man. Women, huh? Also, while the black suit does make Peter act pretty mean at times, I think it should have driven him over the edge a little more than it did- this way, the drama when he finally struggled to remove it would
have been far more poignant.
But these complaints are minor- Spider-Man 3 is a more than worthy addition to the series. It flowed well, had a lot of great action scenes and some excellent acting and
drama. Of special note is Maguire, whose performance runs the emotional gamut, from unbridled joy to harrowing sorrow. And considering that Spider-Man 3 had the highest grossing opening weekend of any movie ever to date, Spider-Man 4 is pretty much inevitable. Keep ‘em coming, I say.