The battle within
The battle within
Third entries in a trilogy are always tough to get right. The level of surprise that was present in the original and maybe even number two is mostly gone. The scope should be grander but not so much as to smother the rest of the movie. And most of the story threads must be capped off in a satisfying manner. Return of the Jedi fulfilled all of those requirements, although many didn’t like the lighter tone compared to The Empire Strikes Back’s darkness. Alien 3 was…well…one big clusterf**k. X-Men: The Last Stand lost its original director, and it showed. The Matrix Revolutions had a pile of new issues and even magnified those of Reloaded. And let’s just forget what happened to Batman after Tim Burton bailed out. So where did that leave Sam Raimi when he returned to finish his work on Spider-Man? As per usual with franchises once they become too popular for their own good, rumblings of behind-the-scenes conflicts between Raimi and the studio began to surface over where the story will go. What I have to ask is that why, after this man just gave them two sterling movies, would Sony want to intervene and break his rhythm? It is a mystery that I cannot answer, but can only discuss the results that came out of the situation.
Plot Synopsis: Beginning only a few months after Spider-Man 2 ended, this installment finds the web-crawler still coming to terms with the complexities of life. While his popularity has reached its peak with New York’s residents, Mary Jane’s career as a Broadway actress is not going as well. Because of this, MJ feels like she is being pushed aside as Peter becomes more infatuated with his alter ego’s likability. His old best friend Harry Osborn has finally learned about Peter’s secret as Spider-Man, and chooses to avenge his father by taking up his mantle as the new and improved Goblin. While this is going on, escaped convict Flint Marko accidently runs into a particle machine during a chase and subsequently gains the power to control his body in sand form. At the same time, a mysterious meteorite carrying some form of a gooey symbiote crash lands on earth and follows Peter back to his home. Also, Peter must now deal with a competitor at the Daily Bugle in the form of new and eager photographer Eddie Brock, who has more coming to him than he realizes. Complicating these relationships is Gwen Stacy, a fellow classmate of Peter’s, who is interested in him despite being Eddie’s girlfriend. Soon enough, the unknown symbiote latches onto Peter, revealing an increased level of power and confidence that Peter clearly enjoys all too much in his new black suit.
Spider-Man 3 has a lot of stuff going on in it, but in an overburdened way, not a complex manner. There are Peter’s inner struggles, his relationship with MJ, MJ’s acting troubles, Harry’s rise as the new Hobgoblin, Gwen Stacy, Sandman, and then Eddie Brock/Venom just to top things off. Some of these, such as Gwen and Sandman, could have been easily eliminated on at the script level without impacting the others. Ironically, Raimi seems more invested in Sandman’s plight than the simpler plot line following Eddie. Thomas Haden Church understood that too, and his quiet performance recalls Alfred Molina’s sympathetic performance from Spider-Man 2. Unfortunately, as the black suit and Eddie become more prominent, Sandman gets sidelined for a long period of time before returning in time for the big finale. And while at least Church gives a good performance, Topher Grace doesn’t pull off the same feat. When he’s snarky Eddie, it’s not bad, but he fails to play a convincingly dangerous baddie once he turns into Venom, who might as well be a glorified cameo. The toppled balancing act is surprising considering how well Raimi juggled the elements last time.
Even Harry gets only a couple of quick scenes of villain time before reverting back to his old self. James Franco’s just as great here as he was before, and it’s nice to see him play “nice” Harry again in addition to “angry” Harry. The strongest thread, however, is Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane, which becomes more complicated as things get more dangerous. It’s a testament to Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who become very close to overdoing the drama but frequently succeed at selling it. The way that Spider-Man’s increasing popularity plays against Mary Jane’s decline in her career shows a strong grasp of how their relationship develops in a compelling way. The introduction of Spider-Man’s black suit presents a double-edged sword. On one hand, it completes the cycle of our understanding of Uncle Ben’s iconic line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If Spider-Man showed Peter coming to grips with his power and Spider-Man 2 was about him learning about the responsibility he has as a superhero, then Spider-Man 3 represents what happens when Peter abuses his gifts. That’s the good, the bad is where this thread ends…with Peter becoming “emo” and strutting himself to song and dance numbers. Thankfully, this doesn’t last TOO long, but I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief at what I was seeing.
And while his stabs at comedy are decidedly hit-or-miss (the J. Jonah Jameson scenes still make me laugh hysterically), Raimi can still handle the massive action with grace and style to spare. This movie arguably represents him at his most comfortable with the set pieces, throwing us through the gauntlet with an array of swooping cameras, near misses, and some truly crazy special effects sequences. While they are underdeveloped as characters, Sandman and Venom are excellently rendered during the action (barring Venom’s less muscular appearance compared to his comic book incarnation), with Sandman in particular getting applause-worthy moments. But the two fights between Peter and Harry are the best: the first one rivals the train battle in Spider-Man 2, with its hover board action and silky smooth choreography. The Spider-Man special effects have also improved a little, if not in any major way. Even with all the action though, it is clear that Raimi is more interested in his characters than big action. Every action they do triggers a response from another character and without this the movie would have completely imploded on its too-big-for-its-own-good cast.
In fact, with the exception of the “emo” Peter, there is very little in Spider-Man 3 that I would consider bad in the traditional sense. The story is there, the acting is there (in most cases), and the vision is there, but the problem is not what is there but how much there is. Just too much is going on. There are three villains, two girls fighting for Peter, and the inner conflict between red Spidey and black Spidey. In their attempts to reach for the stars, the filmmakers have tried too hard. And after finishing my revisit to this trilogy and its overwrought conclusion, I can almost see why Sony made the decision to reboot the franchise on a much smaller scale. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s still a bad choice! I would rather see Raimi and Co. redeem themselves rather than a completely new take this early in the game.