It's certainly no secret that I'm a complete drooling fanboy over Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man films.
Oblivious to all the griping and nitpicking from the usual suspects, I can confidently say that Raimi "gets it" in a way no other director has when it comes to translating a comic book character to film.
As I watched both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, I knew for certain that Raimi read the same Spider-Man comics I did, saw the same things in Peter Parker and his classic supporting cast, and knew exactly what made the "engine" of this particular character run.
Were the first two movies perfect? Of course not...and I would turn that around to my purist pals and ask: Were the comic books themselves perfect? Again, of course not...so once we let go of perfection as our goal, the experience becomes that much more enjoyable. Organic web-shooters vs. mechanical web-shooters? You guys fight it out...I couldn't care less.
However, as much as I love the first two movies, when details of the third movie began to emerge, I have to admit I got a little concerned. Like one of those chainsaw jugglers asking for more even more chainsaws, Raimi seemed to be taking a huge risk with the number of villains and subplots he was taking on in Spidey 3. It seemed an audacious, even reckless challenge he set up for himself...part of me a little alarmed, yet another part intrigued by the P.T. Barnum-like audacity of it all.
Well, I'm happy to report the Dapper One pulled it off again...spectacularly (or amazingly), I might add.
Sure, there were a few bumps in the road (where did Raimi get those awful TV news reporters?), but...somehow...against all odds, it worked.
Rather than do a tedious scene-by-scene analysis, I think I'll tackle the major characters and give a few impressions of each. Still...expect some SPOILERS (consider yourself Spoiler-Warned).
Peter Parker (Toby Maguire): Another great performance from Maguire as Peter Parker, effortlessly evoking both the pathos and the humor that have long-defined the character....along with a new perception that he's matured since the last film, as thoughts of marriage (i.e. "becoming a grown-up") come to the forefront while his roles as student, nephew and employee (heavily emphasized in the first two movies) recede.
Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst): Of all the returning cast members, probably the most disappointing performance and screen presense. Dunst hasn't seemed particularly thrilled with being in the Spider-Man movies, and it really shows here. Her somewhat haggard appearance didn't have any of the zing you'd expect from someone playing a sparkplug like M.J. Yeah, the material was pretty serious stuff, but at the same time, Dunst just seemed flat-out bored in many of her scenes. Happily, the strength of the other actors overshadowed Dunst's auto-pilot performance.
Harry Osborn (James Franco): Franco's come a long way since his turn as Harry in the first film, and his flip-flops between sanity and madness have been fascinating to watch. Like the haunted figure of the comics, Franco's Harry is completely eclipsed by the shadow of his father, making his (pleasantly) surprising redemption all the more uplifting. I feared Harry's story would get short shrift when I heard about both Venom and Sandman appearing in Spidey-3, but Raimi managed to finish Harry's story with style, clarity and humanity.
Aunt May (Rosemary Harris): Like so many great actors who've appeared in so-called "popcorn movies" (such as Alec Guinness in Star Wars or Brando in Superman), Rosemary Harris brings a real legitimacy and respectability to all of the Spider-Man films. Her character's warmth and wisdom help ground the movies in some form of recognizeable reality. Though she didn't have as large a role as in the previous two films, her contribution to the movie's emotional heft was much appreciated.
Eddie Brock (Topher Grace): Grace did an adequate job as the greasy Brock. It was a small, sort of two-dimensional role, but Grace did a good job with what he was given. As I recall, the comic book version of the character wasn't that complex either, so in that respect, a successful jump to the screen for the Brockster.
Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church): Every superhero movie has that magical "aha" moment when a fictional character suddenly comes to life before your eyes, and Marko's emergence from the sand pit as The Sandman was definitely the "aha" moment for Spider-Man 3...much moreso than even Venom. Maybe it's because I've enjoyed Marvel's Sandman charcter ever since I first encountered him way back in Fantastic Four #148 (1974). His shifting to sand form was exactly what I used to picture in my mind's eye with panels like this (from FF #148):
I thought the addition of a sick daughter to Marko's backstory, while calculated, brought some dimension to a character who's been little more than a blunt instrument for most of his history. Further pushing the envelope on the Sandman character was the decision to weave him into Spider-Man's origin. Though I'm not jumping with joy over the ret-con, it doesn't bother me as much as I feared it would. Uncle Ben still dies as a result of Peter's apathy, so that aspect of his origin remains intact. That said, Peter's forgiveness of Marko at the end of the film felt forced, as was Marko's sudden return to rationality (after smashing up downtown as a mountain-sized sand creature). But, I guess the Sandman "aha" moment was so strong for me, and Church's haunted performance so strong, I could ultimately overlook the odd wrap-up.
"Bad Pete" (Tobey Maguire): I thought this version of Peter was so entertaining, I'm considering it a separate role. I'd read that Maguire was pretty excited about getting to play a darker version of Pete, and his scenery-chewing performance confirmed it. What I enjoyed the most about the role was that Bad Pete wasn't actually cool...but rather a caricatured version of cool only a nerd like Peter Parker would think is authentic. I also appreciated how his turn as Bad Pete was a real struggle for him, seemingly overcoming his initial dip into the dark side, only to run back to it in a moment of weakness. For some, the emo hair was undoubtedly too much, but as with most aspects of this movie, it worked for me.
Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard): Though she certainly looked the part, Gwen Stacy really could have been any female character. Yeah, I liked how Raimi managed to plug her in somewhere, but being aware of the enormous dramatic history behind the character becomes a mild distraction. Happily, her role was pretty small, so no damage done. Nice, sweet performance by Bryce.
Now for the non-human, but no less important roles of our CGI guys:
Venom: Though a smaller role than I originally assumed, the screen version of Venom made for some fantastic visuals and, most likely, some pretty hellacious nightmares for the kiddies in the audience (Hello, parents...PG-13?). I was curious as to how they'd handle Venom's extraterrestrial origins, and was amused to see they settled for something straight out of The Blob.
Spider-Man: Still the undisputed star of the show, the CGI Spider-Man sequences are more breathtaking than ever. They've come a long way from the rubbery, weightless Spidey of the first movie, creating aerial battles that burst with momentum, mass, impact and topsy-turvy vertigo. It also helped to increase the amount of maskless face time for the actors, making the combatants a bit more realistic when glimpsing human faces (even though they were most likely CGI) while simultaneously stoking the actors' egos. The black Spider-Man costume was striking, joining the traditional Spidey costume on the top shelf of superhero movie costumes.
Of course, I adored the inevitable Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell cameo appearances, and J.K. Simmons as Jonah Jameson was spot-on, as usual. Even the "little moments" were memorable, like the boy pleading with Spider-Man not to accept a girl's kiss, or the gentle friendship of Ursula, the landlord's daughter (Mageina Tovah).
Was there too much "soap opera"? Short answer: No. Read the comics....the drama has always been a big part of Spider-Man. Did you want unrelenting, wall-to-wall action? Visit the Spider-Man ride at Universal Studios. If you're disappointed in the movie, please...don't let me talk you out of it. As for me? I'm rating it a solid four out of five Spidey Heads!
And so ends an extremely busy Spider-Man Week. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Seven consecutive days of original material (some more complex than others) isn't something I'm pining to repeat anytime soon, but if something else comes along that I love as much as Spider-Man, who knows what'll show up here on Comic Coverage?