4 June 2007

Life is a great big bang-up— / Wherever there’s a hang-up, / You’ll find…

Posted in I don't wanna believe that all of the above is true, I'm a sweetheart genius reckless jerk, maybe everything that dies some day comes back, people you've been before..., this property is condemned at 12:07 am by indecisive79

Warning, spoilers (for multiple movies/shows, actually, but mostly just S3):

A friend of mine recently reported that people who had read the Spiderman comic books liked the third installation of the franchise better. Possibly. But the problem with Spiderman 3 wasn’t knowledge about comic books. (And I should note that I think comic book movies always have to be evaluated on how they hold together as movies; it’s OK if you understand more if you’ve read the comic books, and I’m certainly willing to allow for certain latitudes based on conventions that apply in the comic book genre but not really anywhere else, but they need to stand by themselves from (and be judged by) a narrative /film aesthetic perspective (and by the way, they actually can do this and still be (mostly) true to the comic book, if the comic book was a good storyline to begin with).) I’ve never read a Spiderman comic book, but I thought the first movie was great and the second was pretty good (perhaps it was these expectations that lead me to judge this movie so harshly, or perhaps that I’ve seen A Simple Plan recently; Sam Raimi just has too much talent to create this kind of film). However, the third was kinda-OK for nearly two hours until it became utterly unwatchable in the third act. The dialogue completely fell downhill, the New Goblin’s butler came in as a deus ex machina to completely change things around unrealistically, and they tried to end the movie on a sappy note in which everything turned out well (even the two deaths, one to an incredibly underdeveloped character, and the other a sacrificial death of someone seeking (and desperately needing) redemption, can’t really be called sad in any sense).* Remember the note of sadness, the tragic loneliness that was Peter Parker’s plight at the end of S1 (~ “I can’t get close to people b/c I’ll only put in danger those I love”) or the tension-filled relationship that ended S2 (Parker and MJ are finally together, but Parker’s commitment to helping people still is leaving a rift in the relationship, revealed in MJ’s only slightly forlorn “Go get ‘em tiger.”). S3 really had nothing like this to give a sense of the complication of life (except maybe the Sandman’s potential legal problems…).

But the real fault of the movie is that by the end of the movie, there was no real villain except a meteorite. A METEORITE! When a meteorite fulfilled a villain role in the Superman movies, there was Lex Luthor (or others) behind the employment of kryptonite, but in this movie, the meteorite, a malevolent force that nonetheless had no apparent personality of its own, temporarily ruined Peter Parker’s social life and ended up destroying the annoying kid (sorry, one of the many annoying kids) from That 70’s Show (for which it should be applauded, by the way), but that’s not enough to really make it the only villain.

The other possible villains really weren’t too villainish. As I said above, Venom/Topher Grace’s character was underdeveloped, and he was more the victim of circumstance than evil; he was really mad (who wouldn’t be) at Parker for stealing his blonde girlfriend (who, by the way, looked (and acted) much better as the blind redhead in The Village)**, but then that black goo fell on him, forcing him to become evil. The Sandman was too noble, trying to provide for his crippled daughter (how manipulative can you get!) and being himself a victim of a science experiment; the one man that he killed (if I remember correctly) was Peter’s uncle, which was an accident by a desperate thief (oh, and by the way, happened two movies ago, though we only found out about it now). Yes, I like complicated villains, but not utterly redeemable ones, which The Sandman becomes at the end (yes, the whole forgiveness motif at the end could have been a nice touch, but it is much more affecting/effective if that forgiveness isn’t so completely deserved; that’s certainly the Christian story, anyway; for a great vision of this kind of forgiveness, watch The Mission). And the best friend/New Goblin becomes Spiderman’s sidekick until he dies about fifteen minutes later (in both screen time and story time). So none of those three could be real villains. Leaving only an inanimate object. And for any kind of action or comic book movie to work, you have to have a villain. A real villain with an actual personality (and yes, inanimate objects can have personality if you try hard enough; take, for example, Frodo’s ring; the black goo, creepy as it was, didn’t have it). You can actually go pretty far without a real hero (say, for example, Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher), but not without a real villain. Some reviews claimed that the problem was too many villains, which @ the 1:30 mark I agreed with, but at the end, there weren’t enough of them.

*I think Joss Whedon is right about this: in order for a happy ending to work, there has to be a tragedy that the survivors go through, like the death of a well-liked, well-developed, good character (hello Anya, Wash, and the entire cast of Angel (OK, bad example, since it wasn’t that “happy” of an ending; it was quite cool, though, to see a show kill off nearly everyone (well, except Harmony and Lorne); in S3, Grandma Parker might have worked, perhaps, but I doubt it)).

**Which I only saw recently; it worked poorly as a “go ahead, try to outsmart me kind” genre of movie (but then again, I’ve always thought that way of watching a movie was rather childish, especially when otherwise very smart people do it), but interesting as a utopian attempt to solve/protect oneself from the potential dangers of living in society.


1 Comment »

  1. DC said,

    I think you’re making some assumptions about what “good” means to a summer megahit. Of course, I don’t know what it means myself. I’ll point to the Harry Potter movies again as an analogy. People loved the movies, but only in that they were bringing the books to life in some way – the movies didn’t actually tell the whole story. Perhaps this was okay.

    Of course, with all that said, I still didn’t think Spider-Man 3 was a great movie. But I did think it was way better than the lower-tier comic book movies of recent times like X-Men 3 or DareDevil.

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