Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spider-Man 3

I'm Back

Spider-Man 3 ushers in this year's many sequels in what would be a crowded blockbuster summer, but the question on everyone's lips is, with so many villains he's up against, will our friendly neighbourhood arachnid prevail the movie sequel curse - that with many villains and being the third superhero movie in the franchise, it will most certainly be a dud and a victim of its own success? Sam Raimi will have none of that, and found a special x-factor from within his own Spidey movie franchise to ensure sustainability. And it worked great.

Superior sequels are a tough act to follow, and only a handful managed to survive the fatigue. It's not about putting in better effects, or introducing new and more powerful villains, but rather about the characters whom we have followed through from the previous movies. Here, we continue our journey with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry Osborn (James Franco), their love hate relationship with one another, and the will they or won't they situations. Having the creative team return (sans Danny Elfman for the score) and the principal cast intact ensured no continuity issues, which have casted a shadow on and doomed many other superhero productions like DC's Superman-Chris Reeves franchise, or the Batman one started by Tim Burton.

Instead of relying on fluffy showmanship on the latest progression of how Spidey swings through Manhattan, and the temptation to shift all its grandeur action pieces to top gear, Spider-Man 3 actually had its characters spend much of their time out of costumes. Which is great, except for those impatient to get things going. It allowed for plenty of space for character development, a continuation of the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane, which on the previous movie's final scene, seemed to have an ominous feeling hung overhead.

And yes, things are not going well for our couple. One's a public figure behind a mask, getting plenty of adulation from the common man on the street, while the other, still a struggling artiste in a cold unforgiving city. For Peter Parker, he's thrilled to have people celebrate his prowess, and allowed for success to get to his nerdy head. A nerd getting all the attention, certainly puts him a bit out of whack. He hardly listens, and the keyword here is listen (take note, important to sustain relationship lesson abound), to his partner, and becomes emotionally unavailable, especially when she most needs him. And with miscommunication or the lack thereof, jealousy comes in the form of hot blonde bombshell Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), with whom Peter violates a special bond between him and Mary Jane at the heat of the moment (ok, all those who think it's being petty, might want to rethink that again).

As a reminder, this is not the comic's Spider-Man. If it is, then Peter won't have organic webshooters. So don't go all rile about Gwen's introduction at this stage of the franchise. It's her on screen, so celebrate that instead. Although she's a bit role, I thought Bryce Dallas Howard allowed fanboys to salivate at the prospect of having Gwen Stacy feature heavily in possible future movies. If Kirsten Dunst wish to bury her Mary Jane Watson aside, the franchise can definitely move on with Bryce stepping in with her Gwen, even though this time the comic timeline will totally go out of sync. But to be fair to Dunst, her Mary Jane almost always have nothing much to do when Spidey's in costume, unless she decides to challenge for scream queen honours. It's again the same old damsel in distress the character finds herself in for a fair bit, and there's certainly a number of times where you can be held hostage, before some smart alec will deduce the reason why.

And Peter Parker definitely needs to apply some webbing to that mask of his. I think this is one movie where he's in costume sans mask a lot, and it is no surprise that almost every villain will come to know of his identity, in fact, just as most superhero movies will have. Between the second movie and this, Spidey had learned how to make and fire web-balls, and overly used them here - hello special effects department, surely you can come up with something better? While the special effects were decent, and action sequences managed to explode with simultaneous everything else moving in the same frame, it's nothing that you've never seen before from the previous movies, only done faster and more elaborately. Venom fan boys, don't expect to see McFarlane-styled webbing, which I thought was a given, and that long twisting tongue is surprisingly missing too.

In any case, this is Raimi's vision of the character, and I admit I was one of those apprehensive about too many crooks spoiling the broth, as other franchises had. Worried that Venom will be like Batman and Robin's Bane, reduced to a side show goon, be rest assured that given the runtime to fit everyone in, his given appearance was probably the best possible in such a short timeframe. We've heard of Eddie Brock being mentioned in the earlier movies, and here Topher Grace plays him in the flesh. As a disgraced peer photographer, he becomes Venom, learning Peter's secret as part of the process of assimilation with the alien symbiote. If you think about it, it's difficult to sustain a villain throughout a feature length film, one knows too much about the identity of the hero without answering the obvious of whys in his modus operandi. So the Spidey movies had what they had, for Norman, Harry and Octavius, Supes had to cop out with that kiss, and Batman had Ras disappear for the most part.

This is as much a movie about Peter Parker, as it is about Harry Osborn, and James Franco's fans wouldn't mind having this movie called The New Goblin or Goblin Junior. His character is probably the most tragic amongst the trio, the lad whose dad prefers the brainier best friend, his girl running off again to his best friend, and an empty empire he's turning into a Goblin factory, with snazzy toys and equipment, with a faithful butler... wait, it does go dangerously close to becoming a Batman/Bruce Wayne clone, bent on revenge. But with his budding leading man status, there's automatic redemption for his Harry as he epitomizes the theme of friendship with Parker. If Eddie Brock/Venom is in this movie for a reason, then it's to provide the contrast to Harry Osborn/New Goblin, both sharing similarly deep hatred for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but each choosing a different path of response.

Thomas Haden Church is a Sandman doppelganger, and him in that striped green shirt looked very much like that in the comics. True to form, Raimi gives his Flint Marko something to sympathize with, without the need to ram it down your throats. If the Goblin was too power crazy, and Doc Ock deranged because of the death of his wife, this soft spot continues with the Sandman robbing for money to save his ill-strickened daughter. You don't get to see Church much though, as while the special effects team again takes over for most of his appearances in impressive action sets, you can't help but to pity the guy as he's brought through some torturous moments no thanks to our Spidey gone obsessive himself.

Tobey Maguire brings out a different Peter Parker when under the influence of the alien symbiote, and similar to the third movie of the Superman franchise, here we see Peter battling himself, as he tries to suppress aggressive feelings when the alien takes over, pushing aside his passive nerdy behaviour, for something more vengeful, and hurts everyone he loves in the process. He hangs a little loose, but a nerd's still a nerd, even if his character changes for the worst. Balancing between creaming in his pants at the adulation he's got, and the angst from seeking revenge on his Uncle Ben's killer, and that aggression from wearing that black suit, this is perhaps Maguire's most complex Peter Parker to date, as he handles relationships with the rest of the characters.

And the supporting cast does not lack both new and recurring characters. James Cromwell was wasted as Police Captain Stacy, Dylan Baker returns as Dr. Curt Conners (when is he becoming The Lizard?), and Bill Nunn as Robbie Robertson. J.K, Simmons provides much of the laughs again as The Daily Bugle Editor James Jonah Jameson, while Elizabeth Banks was allowed to shine just a little bit more as the Bugle's Betty Brant. Bruce Campbell probably had the best of the supporting roles, as once again he goes up against Peter Parker in possibly the most hilarious scene in the movie, amongst such dire straits, you won't know if you want to laugh out loud, or feel sorry.

I thought I saw Willem Dafoe sitting in the background at the Jazz Bar, while Stan Lee had speaking lines (uttering a famous phrase) opposite arguably his best creation to date (I've mentioned before if the Marvel movie is expected to bomb, you won't see Lee cameo anywhere). From the opening credits which summed up the previous 2 movies (without the help of Alex Ross' artwork), to the finale no-holds barred slam-bang action sequence (again set at night, that makes it 3 movies in a row), this Spider-Man movie is a winner, despite having some expected plot loopholes during Brock's transformation, and with the deduction of Spidey's identity after the big fight. But it's comic-book world we're talking about, so logical liberties do have to be taken.

Will there be Spider-Man 4? The box office success for this movie is almost a given, and it all hinges on the fact whether the same cast and crew would want to return for another installment, without which it just wouldn't be the same. Fatigue could be an issue, and having a trilogy with an open end allows room for other creative talents to take over from here. But as they say, it's always better to leave on a high, as you'll never know how much more it takes to ensure another successful and worthy follow up. Will the studios listen in the face of millions of dollars of profits? If it's the same cast and crew, then I'm sold for another, given Spidey's rich rogues gallery, but I would prefer the classical villains please, maybe Electro, Rhino, or The Chameleon. And oh yes, if it happens, it's high time for The Lizard to show its tail too!

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