Review and Media by Stu
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Music By: Christopher Young
Starring: Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, James Franco as Harry Osborn/New Goblin, Topher Grace as Eddie Brock. Jr/Venom, Thomas Hayden Church as The Sandman/Flint Marko, Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacey, James Cromwell as Captain Stacry, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, Bill Nunn as Robbie Robertson
Review:After a cruel three year wait, Spider-Man returned to cinemas in May 2007 in a movie which could claim to the most Marvellous of all the Marvel movies – 3 villains, a series of complex love triangles and the lead character fighting his own dark side. Being a massive fan of the two previous Spider-Man movies, to say I was looking forward to this one would be a massive understatement.
With the majority of the cast and crew returning, I wasn’t too worried about the quality of this one, even if the villains were casting a small shadow of doubt for me. Sandman has always just been a thug, Harry as The Green Goblin was never, ever as good as the original and Venom has proven to a nut most difficult to crack – very few writers have ever provided us with an interesting take on Venom and I thought the visuals from the comic would prove too troublesome to translate onto the silver screen. I can now admit my worries were needless, in most cases anyway.
It’s good to see them sticking to the formula that makes these films so great and were the majority of superhero films before them have failed – this is still Peter’s movie. Just because he’s fighting more villains this time around doesn’t mean that they have forgotten about him – he is still in the centre spotlight here and he’s still the most interesting character in the movie. In a drastic change from the continuing torture he was forced to endure in Spider-Man 2, things are going well for the wall crawler. He’s got his girl, he’s top of his class and the city finally appreciates his efforts as Spider-Man and worships the walls he crawls on. Everything is going swimmingly with Spidey and it’s starting to get to his head even before the symbiote drives it out of control – I always loved seeing big head Spidey in the comic and they did a marvellous job of it on the big screen. I especially liked the scene in which he attempts to stop The Sandman robbing the armoured car and scoffs at Marko’s attempted threat. “Ha! I guess you haven’t heard. I’m the sheriff round these parts!”
If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware I was a massive fan of the Spider-Man Alien Costume episodes which created the idea that the symbiote effected his emotions and specifically, amplifies his aggression – this was the one thing I was really looking forward to seeing on the big screen. I was surprised that they played more on Peter with the symbiote than Spider-Man, but it works. I think the best scene in the movie comes after he beats up Harry and his ego gets the better of him. I especially loved the “I’m gonna put some dirt in your eye” line when he realises Eddie Brock has framed Spider-Man with one of his old, forged photos. Then the James Brown song as he strutted his stuff in New York – I absolutely loved it. I know it’s a little cheesy and that a lot of people hated it but I don’t care. This is how Peter should be – he might think he’s cool now that he’s shown the guy who stole his girl who’s boss and got one up on the jerk at work, but he’s still just a geek who doesn’t have the slightest clue how to be cool. And of course, Maguire is brilliant throughout, as always.
But enough about Peter for now – the main criticism of the film is its villains, so how did they do? Harry proves to be much more entertaining than ever before as The New Goblin – he’s not just a cheap knock off of his Father and his character is a natural extension of the one portrayed in the previous movies – this thankfully isn’t the Harry of the comics and he’s not just someone else in the Green Goblin costume. Speaking of his new costume, I liked it. This too got some bashing online (what doesn’t these days?) but it’s a lot more practical and looks far less ridiculous than the original Green Goblin costume worn by Willem Dafoe. The amnesia storyline does question the film’s integrity slightly but it works in the context of the film – everything is going Peter’s way, he has his girl, his best friend back and the city loves him, then he loses her to the same friend and the city turns against him to complete the 180 turn in attitude. His arc here was a good one – I usually have very little time for Harry but the movies did a good job with him. Franco improves tremendously in this third film, he had a few wooden moments in the previous films but does great here.
Moving onto The Sandman – not so good. The CG sequences were incredible no doubt – listening to the filmmakers commentary on the DVD proves that The Sandman was an incredible amount of work to create. But alas, it wasn’t the effects that hindered the character, no, the character looked spectacular and made foe some outstanding fight scenes – but the character isn’t developed enough. They tried certainly but his actions don’t really match what he is doing. He is robbing in order to fund the treatment so his Daughter can be cured from her unspecified illness but he spends most of the film as a pure supervillain. We learn that he never meant to kill Uncle Ben and it was an accident done in the heat of the moment but if that’s true, why does he seem completely unopposed to killing Spider-Man when Venom offers him the opportunity to team up and defeat him? I thought the whole thing could’ve been done slightly better, I didn’t really feel any sympathy for him like I did Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. I actually liked the video game storyline idea better, where Sandman only agrees to help kill Spider-Man because Venom has taken his daughter hostage, I think that would’ve worked a lot better in the context of the story rather than just the somewhat clichéd team up. Church was fine, I just thought they could’ve done a better job in the writing department, not a fault I usually have from the Spider-Man movies…
And at last we get to Venom. I remember thinking there’s no way that Topher Grace could be Venom – the kid from That 70’s Show? He does pull it off – in fact, he’s great as Eddie Brock, the jerk that Peter Parker never was. He doesn’t have too much of a presence but he does a good job with what he is given. Venom looked great though – they added a few things to the comic book design and made it look cooler than ever. They even got his troublesome jaw on the big screen. It got a bit annoying that they made this cool mask for him but spent most of the time having Topher speak but alas, seeing Venom speak might have proven to be too difficult or look too stupid. I think killing him was a little bit wasteful as he was only in the movie for the last 20 minutes but his origin sequence was utterly superb – with those rumours of a Venom spin off in the works, one wonders if they will later regret the decision to kill him off?
But Spider-Man films aren’t just him laying the smack down on the best villains in comics are they? Nope, MJ is back this time around after they finally got together at the end of Spider-Man 2 and things are getting difficult for the girl next door – like Peter, she starts the film on cloud 9, her Broadway career has taken off and she has the man of her dreams but things again come falling down for her – she gets fired because she wasn’t very good and the same man of her dreams is no longer the humble, well meaning bumbling nerd who fights crime in his infrequent measures of small time – he’s become a stuck up celebrity and to top it off, he’s getting cosy with the super hot blonde he saved and partners with in his science class. She’s ok, I guess. Romances are always better at the chase scene rather than riding in the car together, so I was happy enough with it. It could’ve been a lot worse. I did like the various romance triangles going on though – Peter, MJ and Gwen, Peter, MJ and Harry, Peter, Gwen and Brock – there’s still a lot going on with Peter’s romantic life. There’s a particular scene where he plans to propose to MJ which is simply just tortuous as Gwen comes over and completely ruins the moment for him. Seems he’ll never escape the Parker luck!
Given that this is probably the longest review I’ve ever done (and I’m not finished yet!), as you can imagine, there’s a lot in this film – many would argue far, far too much. To tell you the truth, there probably is too much crammed in here, but you wonder what they really could’ve cut. They couldn’t really not use Harry here after building him up wonderfully for two films. The symbiote was required to freshen things up slightly and allow Peter to show his dark side and you couldn’t really tease us with the symbiote and not show Venom could you? It would’ve been great to have the story spread across two films, but being that no one has singed on for 4 yet, it wasn’t really a feasible option. I suppose they could’ve gotten rid of Sandman, but then what would Peter do with his new found black suit? Show us where he learned those funky dance moves?
The story, or more accurately, the question this film raises is actually the film’s tagline – “How long can one man face the darkness before he finds it in himself?” It really is the theme of the entire film. We see Peter go through troubled times before he bonds with the symbiote – his anger at Captain Stacey when he learns that Marko is the man who killed his Uncle Ben and later when he ignores Mary Jane as she offers her help in him dealing with the revelation. I especially liked the scene in which his frustration starts getting to him as he listens to see where Marko is on the police scanner. We also see Sandman struggling to come to terms with the fact that he murdered an innocent man. Harry has obviously submitted to his dark side, deciding to take the performance enhancing formula that turned Norman into the Green Goblin but Brock really doesn’t care – he gladly acted like a jerk before the symbiote attached itself to him and then freely admits he likes being bad. Of course, none of their story arcs are quite as good as Peter’s but it’s a nice little touch. As said above, there’s a little too much crammed in here, but overall, this is a film I greatly enjoyed.
The CG in the film is very good – once again they’ve nailed the web slinging scenes. I remember thinking the effects weren’t quite as good in 3 as they were in 2, but having watched it a few times on disc now, I think they hold up a lot better on DVD. I remember thinking the same thing from the original movie – the effects looked so much better on the small screen than they do on the big screen. There’s the odd dodgy shot (the scene where Peter leaves to save Gwen from the crane in his apartment simply looks like a giant cartoon character flying away) but there’s some incredible stuff here too – the one that sticks out in my mind (beyond Venom, of course) is the scene in which Peter stares in amazement at his own reflection when he first discovers the black suit (must make mention of how cool a nod this is to Spider-Man: The Animated Series too!). On a more disappointing note, the score is a little under whelming. It’s not a bad score by any means, but it’s often too loud and distracting and in all honesty, you get the feeling Danny Elfman could’ve and would’ve done a much better job. The best parts of the score are lifted from his prior themes, I’m glad they kept them. I can’t imagine Spider-Man web slinging without that triumphant yet haunting theme hanging over him. Everytime I watch these Spider-Man films, it just reminds me how much I want my own theme music. Speaking of music, there’s an awesome moment in the scene in which Spider-Man is given a key to the city, which was brilliant in itself. As super hottie Gwen introduces Spider-Man, the infamous 67 Spider-Man theme can be heard playing by the marching band. Spectacular!
On a final note (I think I might have gone on too long?) it’s good to see that like so many films before it, despite what’s going on, the film is fun. It doesn’t go too far to mocking the character it’s done an exceptional job building up but it doesn’t take itself so seriously that it doesn’t have fun with the character (are you listening Superman Returns?) and at the end of the day the movie is just a lot of fun. Sure, it’s not as good as Spider-Man 2, but unfortunately, neither is anything else. As the pinnacle franchise in the plethora of superhero movies we’ve been treated to recently, it’s good to see that Spidey still has it. Bring on Spider-Man 4!
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