Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Spider-Man 3

Directed by Sam Raimi.
2007. Rated PG-13, 139 minutes.
Tobey Maguire
Kirsten Dunst
James Franco
Thomas Haden Church
Bryce Dallas Howard
Topher Grace
Rosemary Harris
J. K. Simmons
James Cromwell
Bill Nunn
Theresa Russell

Peter Parker (Maguire) is finally in a good place in life. He’s excelling in college, his relationship with MJ (Dunst) is in full bloom, and his alter-ego Spider-Man is the beloved protector of the city. The only area of his life that’s a bit dicey is that his best friend Harry (Franco) is trying to kill him. This is a bit of a spoiler for Spider-Man 2 but Harry now knows that Peter is Spider-Man, whom Harry blames for the death of his father. Harry has also began using dad’s tech to become the “New Goblin” while trying to separate Spidey from life. However, even this works out in Peter’s favor. During a particularly heated exchange between the two, Harry suffers a head injury that affects his short-term memory. Therefore, when he wakes up, he doesn’t even remember why he wanted his buddy dead. As all this is going on, Flint Marko (Church) escapes from prison while serving time for murder. He gets himself into a chase with police and winds up in some thingamajig that turns him into the shape shifting Sandman, who seems to be made of, well, sand. Not surprisingly he uses this ability to make himself a better criminal. And meanwhile, meanwhile, a strange alien parasite lands on Earth. Eventually, this thing makes itself very familiar with Spider-Man.

Over a decade after this film’s release, it’s become well-known that director Sam Raimi did not have as much creative control over this movie as he had over the first two entries of the series. Without knowing that, it’s easy to tell that something is amiss with this installment. Parts 1 and 2 pulled the various plot strands together in a seamless fashion. Part 3 feels like four different movies competing for screen time. The first movie is all about Peter’s relationship with MJ. The second features Harry trying to kill our hero. Third, we have Sandman, on the run from cops, but desperately wanting to make amends with his family. Finally, there’s the story of the parasite, called the symbiote from here on, that would eventually become Venom (Grace). Aside from being tangentially related to Spider-Man, they function independently of one another. Within all of them there are some good things happening. When they eventually try to form a single unit, it doesn’t function properly.

What works best is not the storytelling, but the individual characters. Kirsten Dunst’s MJ continues to be a perfect dramatic match for Maguire’s Peter. Admittedly, she might be a bit too damsel in distress for 2019, but the chemistry she’s built with her co-star over the course of three movies is unmatched in cinematic superhero history. J. K. Simmons continues to play J. Jonah Jameson exactly the way comic book fans have always imagined him. Then there is the perfection that is Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. Her screen time is somewhat limited in all three films, yet she wrings every emotion out of every frame she gets. Many of the most poignant and touching scenes in the series belong to her. She does it once again in this movie. When Peter informs Aunt May of his intentions to ask for MJ’s hand in marriage, Harris goes from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other in the span of a handful of minutes, and every bit of it is believable. Sally Field, as we’ll see when we get to the next set of Spidey flicks, plays a good Aunt May. In the MCU, Marisa Tomei gives us a sexy version of the character. Rosemary Harris just IS Aunt May.

The other character that really works well is Thomas Haden Church’s Flint Marko, aka Sandman. I have my quibbles with the idea of Raimi and company retconning their entire first Spider-Man movie by switching gears and making him responsible for the murder of Uncle Ben. On the other hand, everything else about this character is handled beautifully. We come to feel for him because of his backstory. We understand him not as a bad person, but a person who has made bad decisions. Church brings it across in his performance. Amazingly, when he really is just a pile of sand, he doesn’t lose one iota of the humanity Church put forth. The scene where Marko first becomes Sandman is one of the best transformations in movie history. It’s both visually stunning and heartbreaking.

Speaking of visuals, that’s another place where the movie shines. Given that part 3 has the largest budget, and comes latest, meaning better technology available, it’s no surprise that this is the best-looking film of Raimi’s trilogy. It’s starts with Sandman but extends all aspects of the film. Another showstopper is a mid-movie clash between Harry and Peter that sees Peter swinging through the city without his costume. It’s one of the more remarkable moments of the film. Venom is also nicely rendered and captures the character’s volatile nature.

Unfortunately, Venom as a character doesn’t work so well. Neither does Peter and Harry. The problems with Venom and Peter are interconnected. First, the Venom storyline isn’t given sufficient room to breathe and develop. I don’t like saying that the reason something in a movie doesn’t work because it’s different from its source material, but I feel it’s warranted in this case. It’s not that anything was drastically changed, just truncated to the point where it couldn’t be effective. What transpires between Peter and the symbiote transpires over quite a few issues, more than a year’s worth if I remember correctly. Here’s it’s stuffed into the few pockets left over from the other stories. Then, to show how this thing is affecting our hero, we get an eyeliner, all-black wearing emo/hipster busting his stereotypically whitest dance moves while bopping down the street. It might have worked in different hands, but Maguire botches all of it. It feels like Raimi and company wanted it to be a menacing turn for our hero, or at least a disturbing one, but realized Maguire couldn’t pull it off so they tried to go for laughs. Sadly, the only ones they got were unintentional. It’s a mess that damages both characters. On the other hand, Harry does all the damage to himself. I’ve not liked James Franco’s performance in any of the three movies with this one being by far his worst. Try as he might, he never gives us even the slightest fright. Instead, he comes off as an annoying, whiny brat. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have much chemistry at all with Tobey Maguire. Part of that is the writing because I never feel the deep friendship between Peter and Harry that both characters keep telling me is there. The writing of the very first movie told us that Harry and his father weren’t really all that fond of each other. That makes it kind of hard to manufacture all the angst the movie is going for. To boot, Franco gives us some of the goofiest facial expressions of all-time. It’s almost like he was already practicing for his future part as Tommy Wiseau.

I’ve spent more time on the positives of this movie, but the truth is the negatives weigh much more. Most of the good things are things that happen along the way while the bad things are the aspects that the film is focused on. Therefore, we get our goodness in small pockets tucked between large swaths of inadequate storytelling. The constant cycling through half-baked plots is frustrating. Frustration turns to pain when some of these plots get stuffed to the gills. There’s the MJ’s crumbling relationship with Peter, Gwen Stacy’s (Howard) infatuation with him even though she’s dating Eddie Brock, and Harry’s amnesia, and sorting out the details of Uncle Ben’s death. It’s a lot and it gets crowded fast. We never settle into a groove before being thrown into the all-out hysteria of the final act. There are enough plusses to for us to be entertained, enough minuses to make us scratch our head, and really terrible stuff to make us laugh. It’s not a good movie, but not as bad as its reputation, and a far cry from Raimi’s first two Spidey flicks.


  1. As much as I love Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Rosemary Harris will always be the definitive Aunt May. She just had the right touch of wisdom, grace, and understanding.

    The film is a total mess as even though there's some good parts such as the scene with Bruce Campbell as the French maitre'd, Peter Parker being all cheesy, and some of the action. It feels like they did too much as the person to blame for all of this is producer Avi Arad as he so wanted Venom in the film.

    I didn't like some of the retcon stuff as it related to Uncle Ben which I thought was unnecessary and idiotic. Seeing James Franco camp it up a bit was fun but wow... what a let down Venom was and Topher Grace was just wrong as Venom.

    1. Amen to Rosemary Harris.

      Yeah, the infighting over who should/shouldn't be in this movie is evident. Venom feels shoe-horned in. And agreed, the Uncle Ben stuff was totally unnecessary.

  2. I've still never seen this one, but my husband is a huge Spidey fan. He agrees it's a weak movie but some of his favourite characters are in this installment so he tries to find the good in it, too!

    1. There is some good to be found, but the overall product is not good.

  3. You know Dell if you do a review on both Amazing Spider-Man films for Into the Spider-Week, It'll be even easier.

  4. Good Luck with your review on Spider-Man: Far From Home, Dell!

  5. Man, some of these bots are out of control lol.

    I have a lot of issues with this movie, it's one I' perfectly fine with never seeing again.