Thursday, May 10, 2007

Movie Review : Spider-Man 3

I guess that you can say that 2007’s Hollywood summer blockbuster season could not have opened with a bigger bang than the eagerly awaited “Spider-Man 3”. Fast becoming the biggest film opening week box-office collection ever, the film premiered in Malaysia on May 1st which was ahead of it’s US release date. I had initially given up hope to be able to watch it during last week’s Labor day holiday but as fate would have it, my brother rang me up late Monday night to say that he managed to score tickets from one of his friends. This person had reserved 12 tickets for another group to watch the film at Damansara Cathay Cineplex but had to cancel that group reservations at the last minute. It was for last screening of the opening day at 1:50am but since it was “Spider-Man 3” and it was at the Cathay Cineplex that I have never been before there was no way on earth I would turn down the offer.

At the start of “Spider-Man 3”, things are looking up for Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). After the events of the last movie, he doesn’t have to hide his secret identity from Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) anymore and the public adores him for his alter-ego’s past heroic deeds. The only thing that he had to watch out for was Daily Bugle’s editor J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) continuing tirade against him and the seething resentment still harbored by former best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco) who still thinks that Spider-Man/Peter killed his father. Things start to unravel when Peter becomes more enamored by his own popularity/success much to the detriment of others around him. The discovery that the person who killed his uncle was still alive and had recently escaped from prison further adds conflict to the young hero. This same escaped convict, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), would later become Sandman after he was genetically altered to be able to transform himself into living sand by a freak scientific accident.

To further complicate matters, Peter finds himself infected with an extraterrestrial parasite symbiote that enhanced his powers but at the same time amplified his darker emotional side. The symbiote even infects the costume that Spider-Man wears making it jet black to reflect Peter’s inner darkness as to the brighter red and blue costume. Eventually Peter realizes how much he has changed after a string of incidents that would have a major impact on his relationship with the people around him. It was then when he decides to rid himself of the parasitic intruder which would later find Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a fellow photographer at the Daily Bugle with a grudge against Peter. The new combination of Brock and the symbiote, now know as Venom, knew all of Peter’s secrets and begins to plot revenge against Spider-Man/Peter Parker with the help of the Sandman. Spider-Man does come up on top in the climatic battle with these two villains but not without a high price for his victory.

Watching the movie at 1:50 am when I’m usually already asleep at home notwithstanding, I was honestly a bit disappointed by the storyline. It felt that it was really two movies crammed into one. Between the new Goblin, Sandman and Venom, I thought there was one too many villains to focus on. As a result, although I have to admit that the villains were given a fairly competent backstory, there was not as much in terms of character development or focus on them compared to the villains in the first 2 movies. The film was also quite dense in narration and multiple conflict that the mish mash of elements felt slightly overwhelming to appreciate in a single sitting. I did have a little problem with the pacing of the first half of the movie as it took too long to set up the characters when most in the audience would rather see Spider-Man in action.

As for the action scenes, the frenetic pace of the battle between Peter and the new Goblin was really appreciated in the first hour of the film as it helped lift it from it's own meandering pace. Unfortunately for Thomas Haden Church, his Sandman battles were done mostly with his character in fully dispersed sand form which kind of defeats the purpose of the actor buffing up for the role. The final climatic battle with the combined forces of Venom and Sandman, while executed in a fairly exciting way, pales in comparison to the final battles in the previous installments. Given that the inclusion of fan favorite villains in this film, it is understandable that audiences had much higher expectations for this film and unfortunately the end product fell a little short of what fans were expecting.

Tobey Maguire continues to stamp his mark on the definitive interpretation of the character. The switch from the light to the dark side of the character was believable to watch although the progression went a bit over long. Kirsten Dunst’s character, however, seemed more as a repeat of the previous 2 installments although I has to admit that her acting at the bridge breakup scene was beautifully nuanced. If I were to give anyone high praise for acting ability in this film, it would definitely be to James Franco whose character whiplashes between best friend/worst enemy from scene to scene depending on the level of amnesia the character was in.

Thomas Haden Church’s character was played very movingly that audiences can almost forgive the overly wrought backstory that introduces the character but surely not for the final fate of the character. Topher Grace’s Eddie Brock/Venom character should have been given a film to fight alone with Spider-man. This fan favorite character was underutilize as a separate identity outside of Peter/Spider-Man and seemed more like an after thought in this installment. His final fate in the movie does open up the possibility of seeing the character again in the future but for now, the character was done a great disservice by the treatment received in this film. Equally disserviced and even more pointless was the characters of Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her father, Captain Stacy (James Cromwell). Seemingly added as a knowing nod to the comic fans, their involvement in the story was unsatisfactorily superficial and unremarkable.

While “Spider-Man 3” no doubt is a successful gate opener for the 2007 Hollywood summer blockbuster season, it could have been much better if it had only not overreach itself and tried to do too many things at one time. The movie would have been perfectly good focusing on Spider-Man and one of the 3 villains that they tried to unsuccessfully juggle in this installment. Much of the storyline here also seemed focused more on tying up loose ends from the much more entertaining previous installments. The running length of 2 hrs 20 minutes will need the patience of a saint to sit though especially by fans of the character from the original comic books who unfortunately have to see the shoddy way their favorite characters were handled. Still it is one of the must see movies of this summer so be warned that mileage may vary with this movie.

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