Friday, May 25, 2007


Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) is arguably the finest comic book movie so far, managing to hold tight to the actual comic’s origins and intentions, executed with a cinematic flair for texture and misc-en-scene, and packed to the gills with a giddy, humorous brio. His Spider-Man 2 (2004) arrived equally enticing, although it suffered a bit from it’s over reliance on doomy-gloomy love and souped-up comic style danger, by and large it satisfied both the fanboys and the movie masses. Raimi’s latest, Spider-Man 3 sports much more of the same delicious eye-candy and and jolts of celluloid rushes, but it winds down as something of a mish-mash, peopled with an over excess of villains, a weirdly jokey hero-goes-to-the-darkside sidebar, and enough plot contrivances to send you back to Comic Book History 101. Sure, Raimi’s too damn talented drive his franchise into that pure popcorn niche (Spidey 3 has more than it’s share of bravura sequences and indelible pop imagery), but this third installment feels more than a little rote, a touch too designer, more pandering than stimulating. It’s not exactly soulless, much of it is indeed rousingly good diversion, but its blockbuster-for blockbuster elements soak up far too much of the Spidey mojo. For the first time you can see and feel Raimi generating some good old -fashioned flop sweat.

1 comment:

mdoggie said...

I know that someone will accuse me of trying to write “ a review”. I’m not a writer, I just wanted to address some things that came to mind after seeing Spidey 3 and re-reading your short shrift of it.
Spidey 1 still stands as the benchmark against which all other comic book movies must be measured. It had the action, humor, graphic style and movement of a real comic book all grown up and bursting on a big screen beyond expectations. “Spiderman” stayed true to the mythic outline of the original comic book while successfully tweaking plot points to fit our modern times. In terms of it’s emotional content, it was true-blue to the Parker/Spiderman oeuvre. The mix of sentimentality, teenage angst, and coming-of-age drama is exactly what distinguished Peter Parker/Spiderman from contemporary comic heroes of that time and what ultimately carved out a special niche in the collective adolescent mind of a generation for Marvel Comics.
Other angst-ridden and relationship-challenged heroes and their besieged alter-egos emerged, but Spiderman and Peter Parker were I think the first to really indulge in the mundane melodrama of a heroes personal life. The comic book Parker/Spiderman loved and lost, struggled with financial reality, fell behind on schoolwork, watched friends, family members, and evil doers die in front of him, struggled with his identity, sense of duty, and the excesses and limitations inherent in his own special powers. All of the films have been faithful to these themes, playing them expertly to deepen out understanding of the hero and to great comic effect. Spiderman delivering pizza is beautiful.
“Spiderman” was surprisingly moving for me. Tears came for noble Uncle Ben as he lay dying, dear Aunt May as she took the news like a shot through the heart, and stoic Peter as he tried to be a man. I also welled up with pure joy and excitement at the first scenes of Spiderman web-slinging his way precariously through the skyscraper canyons of NYC. I shared his elation and presumably that of the filmmakers because they must have realized that they got that just so perfectly right.
Spidey 2 did not engage this depth of emotion; it was well done, but less personal. In ”Spiderman", the theme was overt and a call to arms for the post 911 age; “ With great power comes great responsibility.”
“Spiderman 2” has Aunt May telling Peter while packing up her stuff in the backyard “…Lord knows kids like Henry need a hero these days, courageous self-sacrificing people setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero.” This is all about our finest youths heading off to Iraq all pumped up with pride and nobility.
Spidey 3, like “Star Wars, Episode III, Revenge of the Sith” explores our dark-side, our fascination, flirtation, and occasional indulgence with our own seemingly limitless power and cultural hegemony. We have fallen into the pit of ego and gratification, invading, subjugating, torturing. When Peter throws off his “dark side” gooey suit and returns for the first time as his “real” goodness and light self, he lands square in front of Old Glory before launching upwards to save MJ.
The central theme of S3 emerges in Peter’s struggle with his relationship to MJ. I’d like to say “Peter and MJ’s struggles”, but alas, Kirsten Dunst’s MJ is totally reduced to an emotionally and physically abused stereotype in this one, smothered in the sticky black goo of male ego. Ironic, because the closest overt statement of the theme comes from Aunt May, in relation to Peter’s planned proposal to MJ, “ A husband has to be able to put his wife’s needs above his own, Peter, can you do that?”
As it turns out, Peter Parker cannot do that and in an unexpected plot turn, Harry Osborne can. In some shamanistic traditions, exorcists are told they must be willing to die for the possessed person. To be a true “hero”, it’s not enough to be willing and able to kill your enemies, you must be willing and able to die as well.
This third installment leaves us and Peter Parker/Spiderman feeling unresolved or perhaps unredeemed. I say this is laudable and again faithful to the comic’s decades long narrative and emotional arc. We all slowly and reluctantly come to realize who we truly are, and this happens only with age and accumulated tragedy. And hopefully some comedy along the way.
I’d like to say more about Sandman and Viper, (Hayden-Church was great) and the revealing of their inner natures reflecting hidden aspects of Peter/us, and how it all relates to the history of the world and a secret plot cooked up by aliens and the remnants of Nazi Germany but I have to go back to real life now. I look forward to more Spiderman chapters, are there any forthcoming?
Oh yeah, before I forget, awesome explosions man!