Saturday, May 5, 2007

Movie Review: Spider-Man 3

Three is a crowd on Spider-Man 3's villain roster.

Spider-Man 3, directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco. Columbia Pictures. Rated PG-13. USCCB Rating is AIII--Adults.

Read other reviews here. See screenshots here.

I kind of miss the previous Spider-Man films, the ones where I could actually tell what was going on during the action sequences.

In this third installment of the Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi appears at times to be trying to make a musical. Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has two (bad) songs to sing, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has two (bad) dances to dance, and two characters dance the twist precisely when the plot is taking a very predictable twist. After the insert of "Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head" in Spider-Man 2 went over big, the filmmakers apparently figured that if you like it once, you'll love it five times.

The plot goes something like this. Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, is doing well. New York loves him, he's a top student, and he's getting ready to propose to his sweetheart. But new villains are coming to test his mettle--three of them, to be exact.

Longtime friend Harry Osbourne (James Franco) is out for revenge for the death of his father, though the seizure-inducing, popcorn-vomiting, bouncy-camera action sequence in which he attacks Spidey ends with him getting a serious bonk on the head and some handy amnesia. James Franco has been my favorite in these films; it's obvious he's had enormous fun playing the character who goes from high school flunker to monomaniacal business mogul. His performance in this third film is just as fun but much more complex.

Meanwhile, petty crook Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church, who's beefed up significantly since he was on TV's Wings) has broken out of prison, donned a garish green-and-black-striped shirt, and transformed into a being made of sand. In true comic book style, the movie revises Spidey's origin story, making this the real killer of Uncle Ben.

On top of all that, Peter's competitor at the Daily Bugle is snotty photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), whose girlfriend Gwen Stacey is making Mary-Jane jealous of Spider-Man's loyalty.

And on top of all that, some goo from outer space has crashed The Blob-syle into the park, and no letter jacket-clad teens are around to prevent it from glomming onto Spider-Man, enhancing his power, and making him into a self-centered bad boy. When he finally gets rid of the goo, he inadvertently creates his nemesis, Venom.

When Spidey/Peter goes bad, it's hilarious. He combs his hair low and begins doing such evils as dancing in the street, hitting on the secretary, and eating cookies, giving the movie a very solid sense of humor. Sam Raimi has shown in previous films that he always knows better than to take his movies' subject matter too seriously, and he continues the tradition here, though some of the schlock is too blatant.

The script is admittedly tight. They managed to pack a lot into just a little over two hours, but perhaps they packed in too much. None of the villains, especially Venom, get as much screen time as they deserve. The greatest drawback is probably the action sequences. None of them are as strong as the big battle on the clock tower and elevated train in the last film, though an especially brutal fight between Peter and Harry comes close. Some of the sequences are quite hard to follow because of the weird camera movements. Whatever happened to those great gliding shots from the last movie?

The morality of the movie is excellent if a little over-explicit. The theme is forgiveness and especially the need to offer it. Revenge is portrayed as dangerous and is graphically depicted in the aforementioned black goo; it nearly consumes Spider-Man as he goes after Flint Marko, and it does consume and destroy another character.

The depiction of religion is more nuanced. In a very Raimi-esque one-liner, bad boy Peter Parker says sarcastically to Eddie Brock, "You want forgiveness? Get religion." As Spider-Man reflects on the monster he's become, we find him in the rain on the bell tower of a Catholic church. Later, he's inside the bell tower, desperately ripping the black goo off. The link between religion and redemption is obvious.

But down below, another character has walked into the church, blessed himself with holy water, knelt before the crucifix, and asked Jesus to kill Spider-Man. Shortly thereafter, the black goo finds him. Some of my fellow Catholics may react to this by getting offended, but I don't think that's warranted. The problem is not that the character is Catholic (as far as we know, he isn't) or that he's in a church. The problem is that he's seeking revenge instead of forgiveness even when the ultimate symbol of forgiveness is right in front of him. Shortly thereafter, the desire for revenge takes him over completely. As Venom, he becomes a tragic figure.

The trio of villains comes close to burdening the film. Venom gets no real development. Spider-Man's forgiveness of Flint Marko comes almost out of nowhere. Another, similar act of forgiveness is equally rushed. I won't complain, though. To develop everything, they would have had to stretch it out to three hours.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Spider-Man 3:

Myth Level: Medium-High (superhero action, universal themes, symbolic characters and events)

Quality: Medium-High (very good but lower than the previous film)

Religion/Ethics: High

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

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