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SPIDERMAN 3 REVIEW-A-PALOOZA

Movie Reviews by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski & Larry "Bocepheus" Evans

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent
Starring:
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Thomas Haden Church,
Running time: 140 minutes Released: 05/04/07
Rated PG-13
for sequences of intense action violence.
 
Movie Review by: Larry "Bocepheus" Evans
(
**½ stars out of 4)
"
The best parts of the film are the action segments and the weakest are the character bits."

The summer movie season officially began with the release of Spider-Man 3, possibly the last film involving director Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. The franchise will go on without them because Sony has already hired David (Jurassic Park) Koepp to come up with a script for the film. But before we throw dirt on this group lets see if the third film is better or just as good as the last one, the best of the series. Well, the answer is no but let’s see what the film lacked.

The last shot in Spider-Man 2 had Mary Jane (Dunst) watching Peter (Maguire) go into action. She was encouraging him before he swung out the window but the last thing we saw was a worried expression on her face. We get no indication of what that meant here and begin with voiceover narration from Peter that things couldn’t be better and the city save for J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). Pete is about to make a big choice and ask MJ to marry him. He is doing well in school and is friends with classmate Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard). But things change when a meteor lands on Earth and a black symbiote attaches itself to his bike. Then he is attacked by Harry (James Franco) and Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) breaks out of prison.

Director Raimi impresses us with his first action set piece involving the Pete/Harry battle that we have been waiting for since the second film. Harry is bigger, stronger and seems to be better than his father was using the Goblin weapons systems. The battle rages on the streets, between them and makes us dizzy but it’s an impressive action sequence following the long set up.

Unfortunately that action sequence sets up something that happened in the comics involving Norman Osborn and that brings in the soap opera elements that are the weakest parts of the film. Mary Jane’s Broadway debut sets up two musical numbers involving her character even though in the comics it is clear that she acts and doesn’t sing. I would believe that main screenwriter Alvin Sargent came up with the idea since he has done theater before but am willing to bet that Dunst didn’t resist the idea.

We are introduced to Eddie Brock Jr. (Topher Grace) and Captain Stacy (James Cromwell) in another action piece involving a crane accident in Manhattan and Grace does an excellent job establishing that Brock is a little off. We also get to see the accident that turns Marko into the Sandman but the alien symbiote is apparently slithering its way to the Parker apartment.

The next action sequence involves Sandman and a celebration for Spidey. We get our cameo from Stan Lee here and the dreaded soap opera elements wander their way back in. That is followed by a meeting at police headquarters that flips continuity on its head by changing the life changing moment of the first film. The reveal comes right out of Tim Burton’s Batman and seems to exist solely to set up the revenge aspect of the film.

From here on in we see the merging of Peter and the symbiote which leads to a great action underground fight between Sandman and the black suited Spidey. The after effect of that leads us to the ‘dark Spidey’ and the change in personality of Peter. The personality change would have worked but here Peter’s new attitude is reflected by his hairdo and a lot of squinting. Raimi also reprises a musical sequence (the Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head bit in 2) with the dark clothed Peter bopping thru the streets and acting like Will Ferrell/ Chris Kattan brothers on Saturday Night Live. We also end the amnesia angle of one character before Peter takes him out and expose Brock while he is under the influence of the symbiote.

Brock becomes Venom (he is never named) the same way he did in the comic and from here on in the final action sequence is set up. The huge set piece involves Sandman, Venom, and MJ in peril and Harry (who gets some info that would have saved a lot of time if he had learned it in the last film) on a construction site. It’s the best part of the film and is probably where the bulk of the budget went. We get a giant Sandman (and yes, he has gotten that size in the comics), the woman in peril bit in spades, sacrifice and some quick thinking by Peter to take out Venom.

The film ends with a funeral (as the first one did) and the second musical bit with Dunst that suggests all is right with the world. Raimi doesn’t end with Spidey swinging thru the city and that as other parts of the film don’t make sense.

The best parts of the film are the action segments and the weakest are the character bits. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) has little to do in her scenes save give Peter advice then wander off and think of more clichés to use. We do get good performances by Church, Grace, Howard, Simmons and Maguire but Dunst is a bit off. Bruce Campbell’s scene is funny as hell and Betty Brant actually has something to do here. We also get cameos from Cliff Robertson and Willam Defoe. James Cromwell has little to do here but we know that will change in future films so we give him a pass.

My fault with the film lies on the shoulders of the writers. Sam and Ivan Raimi came up with the story and Alvin Sargent finished what the duo came up with but among the three of them none realized that the film was too crowded. Most of this would have been avoided if the MJ career segments were shortened or even eliminated since they bog down by the weight of their own pointlessness. There have been some who suggest that Venom should be introduced at the end of the film but there is no way in hell that this film would work by just using Harry and Sandman as the villains. Sargent has said that he is done with the franchise and that’s a good thing. He helped with the structure of 2 but apparently couldn’t do that here.

As mentioned in the open this may be the last for Raimi, Maguire and Dunst. I can’t see much more than could be done with Dunst so her absence wouldn’t be a great one. Maguire has flip flopped on his returning and would be a sure bet to return but Sony may be unwilling to pony up big bucks for him since he was almost replaced in the last film. Raimi, however, is another story. He was the number one contender to do The Hobbit but now seems to not be on the short list since he has said he would want Peter Jackson’s blessing. Directors don’t demand the salaries that actors do so a production deal may keep him involved in some capacity. One way or the other the franchise will survive due to the amount of money this film is pulling in.

The third film in most superhero franchises tends to suck as was the case of Superman 3 and Blade:  Trinity. With the Batman franchise Batman Returns was weaker than Batman Forever but Returns does share the same problems that this film does. Is Spider-Man 3 worse than Superman 3? No, but it could have been.


Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski.
(**
½ stars out of 4)
"The film takes three bad stories and tries to fashion a narrative out of them. It can't be done."

If the first "Spider-Man" had a script as weak and muddled as the one for "Spider-Man 3," it's hard to believe it ever would have been made. But with the series a worldwide success -- and especially coming off "Spider-Man 2," which was superb -- the filmmakers can afford a weak entry without having to worry about being punished. The only ones who may feel punished are audiences.

"Spider-Man 2" was a textbook example of how to make a sequel: Deepen it, make it funnier, give it more heart and come up with a strong villain and a good story. "Spider Man 3," by contrast, shows how not to make a sequel. The film takes three bad stories and tries to fashion a narrative out of them. It can't be done. It also takes established and warmly regarded characters and has them behave in ways that make no sense in terms of what we know about them. And, perhaps to give the movie the illusion of scale, it contains many empty conversations -- scenes in which characters dither and nothing happens. Word to the wise: Whenever Rosemary Harris shows up as Peter Parker's beloved old aunt, it's safe to run out and get popcorn.

Even the special effects take a step backward. Body movements are awkward. The elastic springing of Spider-Man as he vaults and swings from the tops of buildings looks unnatural, too often like something on a computer screen. The effect isn't helped by director Sam Raimi's choice to film a lot of the hand-to-hand combat in close-ups in quick cuts, which sometimes makes it difficult to track what's going on. Only the Sandman origin scene is a standout. It is a poetic moment in a movie that otherwise is not interested in such things. The CGI in the scene is some of the most effective ever in a film. If only the rest of the movie had this tone. If only…..

The fight scenes feel like they take a little from the first movie, a little from the second, and mix them together. They're more formulaic than exhilarating, and there's nothing in Spider-Man 3 that comes close to the train sequence from Spider-Man 2.

The climactic battle is a disaster. It's not exciting and it requires two contrivances too excruciating to ignore (one involves Harry’s butler offering a valuable piece of information that would have saved us all a lot of trouble if he would have mentioned it two movies ago, the other involves Sandman's eventual fate). It's unforgivable that the film's last action scene should be so vastly inferior to the first one. The special effects aren't even all that impressive. There are several instances in which it's all-too-obvious that Spider-Man and his nemeses are computer generated. This is sloppier than anything in either Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2.

Little imperfections in the effects wouldn't matter if the other aspects of the film were working. But "Spider-Man 3" screws up even some of the more reliable elements, most notably the relationship between Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Things start well. Mary Jane has a singing part in a Broadway show, and Peter goes to see her. The reviews are awful, and that's a potentially interesting and satisfying direction: Dunst, who does her own singing, really does sound amateurish. But the movie doesn't build from that in a coherent way.

The script hints that maybe being Spider-Man is going to Peter Parker's head, but it doesn't commit to that course. It suggests that maybe Mary Jane is becoming jealous of Peter's success, but it doesn't follow through on that, either. It just keeps feinting in various directions, and in the process it distorts Peter and Mary Jane's relationship. At times, the plotting is so flimsy that it rolls out the oldest and least forgivable trick in the book: It depends on Peter and Mary Jane's not talking when they most certainly would, not telling each other things they definitely would say. That's just cheap, and it betrays these characters who've been lovingly built over the course of two features.

Three stories are set in motion in the movie's first minutes: (1) Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter's old friend, decides to follow in his Goblin father's footsteps, and becomes Spider-Man's nemesis; (2) The criminal (Thomas Haden Church) who killed Peter's saintly uncle (Cliff Robertson) is transformed, through a process of disintegration and reintegration, into an unkillable Sandman; and (3) An alien substance -- black and elastic -- comes to earth in a meteorite and finds its way to Peter's apartment.

It's all marginally interesting, but there's one thing missing: a real villain. Harry Osborn is a confused young man, not the essence of evil, and Sandman, though a destructive force, is as mournful as Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman. He's not a driven adversary. He's more like a sad mope.

The most promising plot element is the black elastic substance, which attaches itself to the body as a second skin and emphasizes whatever latent, dark traits its wearer might have. But Raimi and his associates let that element lie dormant for almost half the movie's running time, when a good story might have been fashioned from that concept alone. Epics are made from stories that demand the epic treatment. A story has a certain scale and grandeur, and the act of doing justice to it results in an epic. That's the right way to do it.

The wrong way is to decide you want to make a big movie and then, without much to say, you proceed to throw every possible idea at the screen in the hope it'll work out. That's what Raimi does in "Spider-Man 3," which is so clumsy that at times one can sense the filmmaker artificially slowing down one story in order to pursue another. Maguire and Dunst are appealing as always, even though they'd be better off with stronger material.

Actually, the whole world of the "Spider-Man" films is appealing, which is what saves this entry from disaster. At 140 minutes, it's not a difficult movie to sit through. It's just difficult to enjoy. Spider-Man 3 is a bit of a chore. The effective moments require a lot patience to uncover and some of what has to be shifted to get to them is not worth the effort. People love trilogies because it's said that good things come in threes, but this series would have looked better and felt more satisfying had the filmmakers stopped at two.

SPIDERMAN 3 © 2007 Sony Pictures Releasing.
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2006 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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