Hollywood is in love with comic books. News of Iron Man, new Hulk and Magneto spin-off movies abounds, it looks like there will be no end to men in tights on film. Even when the movie barely resembles the pages their favorite character comes from, nerds all over rush to the theaters in droves, pay their $22, then rush back home to register their disgust on the Internet. Who can blame them when there’s sooooo much to grump about?
So much, in fact, The Grump Factory is going to up the ante. In celebration of Spider-Man 3’s gargantuan release we’re going to revisit EVERY superhero movie we CAN before our synapses snap like New Year’s Eve party favors, or at least before our senses of self-worth kick in. Overkill? You bet. It will be arduous, it will be long, but it will be worth it, nitpicking every single detail of every hero flick from Superman to Blade to Punisher. And who knows, maybe I’ll say something bad about Batman.
A grump this superheroic can only be called…
(Spider-Man 3 review within)
The Spider-Man series, directed by Evil Dead’s Sam Raimi of all people, has come a long way in a fairly short amount of time. In just five years there have been three movies, and if all the marketing’s any indication, Spidey’s reached a level of public recognition only
Jesus Jack Sparrow could match. Though Blade and X-Men were the first of the new wave of superhero flicks, Spider-Man arguably gets the credit for bringing comic book angst to the mainstream. It just took one fun and entertaining summer blockbuster with humor, heart and slyness as only the guy who gave us the Necronomicon and Ashley J. Williams could deliver.
A lot of people bellyache over the campy, childish tone of the first movie, as if they wanted a super-serious dark anti-hero from the get-go, but Raimi went in the right direction at the beginning. Starting with voice-over narration from Tobey Maguire’s innocent Peter Parker, it’s clear we’re getting a fairy tale coming-of-age wish-fulfillment romance fantasy. The costumed superhero epic stuff comes second, so naturally that gets the least amount of attention. It’s “a story about a girl.” But I don’t think it’s childish! Because I like it! Does that mean I’m a big, lumpy man-child? No! Well, maybe a little.
Spider-Man is definitely child-like. Like I noted, it’s the ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy. I identify so completey with Tobey Maguire’s amiable, push-over Peter Parker. A skinny nerd wakes up to find he’s a superhero stud. He doesn’t even need glasses anymore! How awesome is that? The majority of the movie’s success lies in feelings of wonder and whimsy like that. The scenes of Peter discovering his Spider powers are by far the best part as he crashes into walls and reacts with spot-on joy to each newfound ability. Tobey Maguire knocks all of his scenes out of the park, even those mushy monologues to Kirsten Dunst. The gooey romance center makes for the perfect date movie – and it was.
The movie has something for everyone, breezing by, innocent and sunny, quickly and simply introducing all the characters. J.K. Simmons is a riot as J. Jonah Jameson and Rosemary Harris’ Aunt May is a friggin’ angel. Cliff Robertson provides a memorable, brief turn as Peter’s noble and fair Jiminy Crickett, Uncle Ben. If only everyone had an Uncle Ben. There’d be a lot less dicks in the world.
Not everyone’s perfect in their role though. Kirsten Dunst is so woefully miscast as comic book hyperbabe Mary Jane Watson it’d be a travesty if she couldn’t at least act decently. Granted, it’s unfair, also impossible to compare her to the steamy succubus she is on ink but… Kirsten Dunst?! Couldn’t they get someone less doughy? And James Franco is such a blank slate as Harry Osborn. Rewatching it I start to wonder if that’s the point because the poor kid’s so hated by his father, Norman Osborn played by the outrageously hideous, scene-chewing Willem Dafoe.
Providing the craziest parts of the movie, I love Dafoe in this. The scene where he tells Aunt May to “FINISH IT!!” is a bizarro scene Raimi will conjure later for Spider-Man 3. All of Willem’s time onscreen demands your unyielding attention, for his stretchy, hideous face has that kind of power. No way do I believe he spawned the ridiculously handsome James Franco. Nor do I believe anyone, even Norman Osborn, is that huge a mean bastard to everybody, including his employees, whom he kills after he turns into the Green Goblin, who looks like some guy in a cheapo Halloween costume in the comics but in the movie he’s a retarded green-armored Power Rangers reject. What a weird guy! And all his dialogue is delivered with a cranky, old Evil Witch of the West growl. “Misery, misery, misery. That’s what you’ve chosen.”
I suppose if you’re a kid or an old fogey that’d be scary as shit, “Those horrible yellow eyes!” right? But for everyone else, what a joke! What is the Goblin even doing in the movie’s second half? Just what kind of plan is he trying to accomplish? He torments Spider-Man for some reason, I guess just because he gets in the way of him murdering his co-workers. The only part where Goblin’s actions seem to make sense is when his son Harry is heartbroken over Mary Jane dumping his pathetic ass, so he goes after M.J. and Peter because they made his little boy cry. He failed as a father, as Norman, so he’ll make up for it as Green Goblin. The idea is sorta there but it’s not fully realized, not the way it was in the awesome 90s animated series where Norman Osborn felt more like a character and not just some nuisance. He doesn’t feel like a full-blown supervillain.
Not only that but his weapon of choice, the pumpkin bombs, make no sense and provide the movie’s most disturbing image of human beings getting their flesh vaporized, leaving only standing skeletons cowering in fear until the skeletons themselves crumble to dust. This scene always made me give a great, big what the FUCK. I guess this was a special pumpkin bomb, because at no other time do these explosives have a hint of that kind of power. Peter Parker gets one exploded right in his face during the climactic fight but he just gets part of his mark ripped away. What the HELL?
There are also absolutely terrible moments of cheap, plastic-looking CGI and obvious greenscreening, particularly whenever the Goblin’s zipping around on his hoverglider. The most egregious example is when Peter’s having fun with his spidey powers. He’s jumping and running across rooftops, then it cuts to a wide angle of him landing on a roof and for whatever reason, Pete turns into a rubbery Nintendo 64 cartoon character. Why? They couldn’t film Tobey running across a rooftop? Was he sick that day? The graphics don’t even hold up to Tony Hawk’s fucking Pro Skater. What a load!
Let’s not forget the boring, fuck, the downright stupid Matrix rip-off scene. The trend seems to have cooled off now but back in the early 2000s EVERY single movie, didn’t matter if it was an action movie or a fucking documentary about ocean wildlife, every movie had a bit that ripped off the scene in the Matrix when Neo dodges bullets. So you had every action hero dodging every sort of projectile imaginable. Steven Seagal dodging cantelopes. Vin Diesel dodging tennis rackets. Here, Spider-Man dodges pumpkin… uh, not bombs exactly, pumpkin… razors? Look, whatever, it’s just dumb as hell and severely dates the movie. Thank god movies grew out of that.
Too bad product placement isn’t out yet. Why the hell does Spider-Man drop by a Macy Gray concert?
Another thing: why doesn’t anybody at Peter Parker’s high school put 2 and 2 together and realize he’s Spider-Man? You got a kid performing outstanding feats of agility and athleticism, shooting lunch trays with webbing and brutalizing the school bully with fists so fast E. Honda would be jealous, yet NO ONE bats so much as an eye. They just kinda shrug and chalk it up to Revenge of the Nerds-style aggression. So, the villain’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde plot is weak and the story meanders like nobody’s business in the second half, the writing is so breezy and the motivations are so simple… yet it’s a perfectly accessible movie. It’s the type of movie to show your kid when you think he/she’s ready for “darker” movies. It’s sunny and colorful but then you got parts like Green Goblin getting stabbed in the crotch by his own glider.
Now, I’ll mention the drippy 9/11 sentimentalism, when the New Yorkers rally behind the vigilante American flagpole-huggin’ hero Spider-Man and throw tomatoes and wrenches at the terrorist Green Goblin. “You mess with one’a us you mess with all’a us!” What a load of sap. I suppose the movie did come at exactly the right time, when the country needed a radioactive spider-blooded hero more than ever, and that could definitely be attributed to its overwhelming success – and hey, New Yorkers are feisty fellows – but it still comes off as dopey, meat-headed nationalism. It could also just be a big cosmic coincidence anyway, since most of the movie was filmed before the tragedy. The same sad thing happens in classier subtext in Fellowship of the Ring (Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times.”) and Final Fantasy X (Yuna: “The people and the friends that we have lost, or the dreams that have faded… never forget them!”), both released closer to the incident, in the fall of 2001.
After five years, I think it’s safe to say Spider-Man has become a modern classic. Everyone knows it. The imagery is iconic. If we don’t all have it on DVD, we at least catch it on various TV channels. There’s no excuse! It’s on the TBS Superstation. All. The. TIME. The special effects don’t hold up but we still got a live-action web-slinger and MAN, does it look good when he’s swinging through the skyscraper canyons of New York. It’s still exhiliarting. Little did anyone know the sequel would shatter all expectations with improvements in every single department. And, in the end, it would be the only Spider-Man installment with so little to grump about.
Spider-Man 2 is everything a sequel should be. Better action, bigger scope, deeper characters… All the introductions are out of the way so it can just get down to business. Every actor and character returns – even Willem! – and every new character adds something special, including the minor cameos. Each important plot thread from the first movie grows and twists organically. Nothing feels skipped or cheated, everything adds up. It may be nuts to say this is the Godfather of superhero movies but it may not too far from the mark, and as much as I love Batman Begins I will acknowledge that Spider-Man 2 is technically the superior film. …Or not?! It’s so close.
I mean, heck, the opening credits are amazing. The combination of Alex Ross’ recap artwork with Danny Elfman’s now-almost-memorable theme music (which is used more often) is the perfect opener for the ensuing magic. Unfortunately, the movie itself starts off with Kirsten’s dough face plastered on a billboard. She still looks like she’s about to fall asleep in a pile of her own bread by-products and though there’s tension in her scenes with Peter Parker, it’s usually on Tobey’s side, who friggin’ carries the movie farther than he did the first. Peter’s always making promises but he disappoints everybody, even his pizza delivery boss. His fallibility takes center stage and Tobey, once again, sells it masterfully. The movie’s got a sense of humanity unmatched in superhero movies.
Plus, the movie’s grounded in a more believable reality than the first. No Rita Repulsa hang glider villains here. I know it’s crazy to say a man with four mechanical arms grafted to his body is more believable, but trust me, it works. Somehow. The marriage of practical effects like puppetry, models and far superior CG is such a vast improvement over the Green Screen Goblin. Alfred Molina and those puppeteers belong in the goddamn Smithsonian for their accomplishment.
Especially in the operation scene! Sam Raimi’s horror roots come to the fore when Doc Ock’s taken to the hospital to get his mechanical arms off. Hospitals are naturally creepy as fuck but the way the tone shifts here at a moment’s notice, it’s fucking masterful. Total silence. No music or anything, just pure primal sounds of agony. The first movie attempts this in the final fight between Spidey and Goblin but this time Raimi nails it. The doctors’ screams, the sounds of scratching nails, it’s all just suggestion but it replaces full-on gore and the effect is far more powerful. It’s a fanboy dream come true. All the zooms and pans – the CHAINSAW – it’s completely Evil Dead! And that low shot of Doc Ock blindfolded, as the arms whip and thrash all around him? So cool! It’s all completely unexpected. We get Saw installments every year and tons of horror movie wannabes every month but Raimi puts them all to shame in one single scene in a fucking Spider-Man 2. When I first saw it I thought “Holy fuck, I can’t WAIT to see what Raimi does with Venom.”
And he still manages to make the villain sympathetic, not a mean jerk like Norman Osborn came off as. Doc Ock does the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing again but it works better this time: there’s an actual discrepancy between the personalities. Once he gets the arms he’s bad and stays bad. Making the arms the source of his evil’s a good touch, cementing the Spider-Man series’ stubborn insistence that science makes supervillains. Science made Green Goblin, Doc Ock and eventually, with startling disregard for safety or reason or anything, makes Sandman in Spider-Man 3. This dynamic reaches anime-style proportions like in Fullmetal Alchemist or Steamboy. You have big haughty speeches about how science be used for good! But also, evil! “SCIENCE!” is tossed around so much and Peter somehow understands it all, I suppose this would be the movie’s one major flaw. However, Doc Ock’s turnaround and subsequent final sacrifice kills me everytime, particularly the last shot of him sinking in the river. It took me a while to notice his trademark sunglasses in the corner of the frame. And that final line, “I will not die a monster!” Great stuff.
Obviously the movie’s all about redemption and sacrifice. It’s right there on the promo poster. It’s what Aunt May’s signature speech for the movie is all about, though the movie supports it just as well with its Greek chorus of New Yorkers. Spider-Man 2 is fiiiiilled with regular people. New York is no longer as obnoxious like the original and Macy Gray’s nowhere to be found. Instead, everyone has a face and some of them get the best lines of the movie. Spider-Man’s humanity and everydayness is the movie’s major theme. Much of it reminds us how Peter Parker is just like any of us. He faces disappointment more often than he fights Doc Ock. He can’t make an 8:00 curtain so he’s “just another empty seat” to M.J. He has to do his laundry, commute, get dressed for the theater, pay rent, escape his landlord, even take the elevator. We finally get to see the costume up close in a long, single shot with Spidey simply standing next to a regular guy. It’s a cool Spidey outfit but we learn it rides up in the crotch. Even Spider-Man has to adjust himself. He even gets sick and loses his powers, making a trip to the doctor necessary. We get to know his neighbors, or at least the landlord’s daughter, who is somehow so cute and so weird-looking at the same time. She’s her own little hero when she offers cake and milk to a despondent Peter. It’s adorable.
Aunt May’s “hero in all of us”, reaches its peak is the runaway train sequence. Spider-Man tries to save it but fails. When he unmasks, becoming Peter Parker again, that’s when he throws caution to the wind and sacrifices himself to save the train. Before he falls Phil LaMarr and a few others catch him and carry him, in true cruciform fashion, into the subway car to marvel at their unmasked hero. One guy utters in disbelief the line of the movie: “He’s just a kid. No older than my son.” Link this with Aunt May’s inspiring words and you got a more natural and far better upgrade to the 9/11 bridge scene of the first movie. It’s a level of affection and universality that I never expected in a Hollywood actioner, and if the Spider-Man movies are one thing, they’re universal. Universal as hell. If I was a bigger curmudgeon I’d fuckin’ hate it all if it wasn’t handled so well.
The sequel revisits the original several times. We get another burning building scene, this one far less retarded. Rather than Green Goblin pretending to be an old lady, Peter Parker falls prey to his own inadequacies. Braving flames and smoke as a regular guy isn’t enough and “a poor soul is lost.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the scene’s sort of baptysmal. He realizes he needs his spidey powers, and though it’s not until Mary Jane’s kidnapped in the cafe-car-chucking scene he does regain his strength, he recognizes the need to be reborn. So, there’s a weird little spirtual theme running throughout the movie.
Okay, maybe not little, it’s kind of heavy. Spidey 1 had this with Aunt May praying the rosary and I think there was a crucifix hanging in their Queens home too, but Spider-Man 2, being all about self-sacrifice and giving up our dreams to do good for people is much more honest about it. Peter makes leaps of faith when he tries to regain his powers. And he falls. Mary Jane makes sure to point out she’s getting married to J.J.’s son in a church, not on a hilltop. Aunt May thanks a statue of an angel. Peter, in a of bout of guilt and helplessness, visits Uncle Ben in a shockingly white… heaven.. thing… in his mind. Peter’s hippie doctor equates losing your identity to losing your soul. And, of course, Spider-Man on the cross in the train. It’s a big “duh” the savior themes come with the superhero territory – is Superman about anything else? – yet somehow it took a few views to finally notice it in Spider-Man 2. Guess I’m a big DUMMY.
Another improvement over the first: the comic timing is much, much better! Spider-Man 2 is actually an intentionally funny movie! Humor’s always been a part of the comics and it finally shows in the sequel. Pete spends a solid minute noodling his way out of a broom closet. The way his pizza boss guy yells “GO!” is fantastic. Every bit character is great. The bitchy receptionist, the Asian violinist, “Cool Spidey outfit” elevator guy, those musical montages, Ashy Larry… and there about 16 or more shots of women screaming directly at the camera. It’s excessive and sexist and awesome. Good thing Spider-Man 2 didn’t go the subtitle route of naming sequels otherwise it would have been Spider-Man 2: Bitches Yell At You. Right? That was one of the ideas, right?
Oh, before I end sign off on the second movie, I gotta mention the superb final shot. Mary Jane calls off her wedding to Hunky Astronaut and runs to confess her undying love to Peter Parker. They make out, decide to work it out even though he’s Spider-Man and he’s summoned off by wailing police sirens to don the mask again. Mary Jane FINALLY says “Go get ’em, tiger” and Spider-Man webslings up Fifth Avenue with an army of helicopters and fire trucks and police cars as Denny Elfman’s theme blares triumphantly. Fuckin’ exhilirating way to end your summer blockbuster right? PSYCHE, we get one last final shot of Mary Jane, sighing, looking worried as fuck. The music winds down into this dark, threatening tone that’s so foreboding you’d think the world ended right there for her. It’s the single best bit of acting she’s done in both movies and the feeling is downright somber. LOVE it.
Then you got Spider-Man 3. One word sums it up:
Sam Raimi’s made the strangest, most bizarre and uneven superhero movie since Ang Lee disappointed everyone with Hulk. Hulk was supposed to be dark and psychological, and I guess it sorta was, with scenes like Daddy Banner tormenting his baby son… but I remember the mutated poodles and Josh Lucas spinning towards the audience like a tie-dye T-shirt a whole lot more. All the strangeness took the forefront. It was difficult to take seriously yet despite the wackiness, I consider it to be some sort of gem. Mora will talk, uh, more about Hulk later on.
Spider-Man 3 may be the exact same way, though a tad more successful because Ang Lee was earnest as hell. What a loon. Here, Spider-Man 3 has its share of darkness, but for the most part the movie is out of its fucking mind and Raimi knows it. He has to. No one is more self-aware than the guy who made Evil Dead 2. But why isn’t anybody taking notice? Internet trolls are calling it lame, the worst of the trilogy, a waste of time and money (with a budget apparently over half a billion, maybe they’re right), defaming it because there’s a lot of scenes of crying or whatever. Yeah, there’s a lot of scenes of A LOT OF STUFF. The movie is bonkers! Yet critics are deriding it for all sorts of other reasons, like Kirsten Dunst singing or stuffing so much into a single 2 hour movie. Exactly! What a feat! The movie’s three movies in one! With its breakneck pace and multiple subplots it resembles the 90s animated series more than anything, which I can’t believe I was able to follow as a kid. I’m unable to follow it now! Look for yourself, it’s not much crazier than Spider-Man 3, which has moments of brilliance and disappointment alike, but what’s really disappointing is how so few seem to notice what a complete mindjob it is. It’s easy to call something crap. It’s another thing when Raimi’s fun-loving mad genius has come to its zenith. Clearly, he’s either had it with the superhero series and wants it go out with a ridiculous reputation-wrecking bang, or he wants to take this beloved character in a new, ultra-wacko direction. By the end I wouldn’t have been surprised if Peter Parker landed in 1300 A.D. with Oldsmobile in tow to rid the land of the Deadites.
And I loved it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It is completely unlike any superhero, comic book adaptation before it. Peter Parker dances down the street, aggresively pointing at people like the biggest dickwad of the century. There are big, fat loving close-ups of him stabbing his fingertips at supermodel babes, repulsed by his ultra-idiotic behavior. It’s something I never thought I’d see in a Spider-Man movie, though the first movie has skeletonized businessmen and Spidey 2 has him delivering pizzas. But it gets crazier.
Remember all those jazz night club scenes in the comics? No? Well, neither do I but Raimi gives us a few anyway. Peter takes Gwen Stacy – yeah, I know, GWEN STACY – to one where Mary Jane works, just to have Peter go fucking crazy, play the piano, do a whole steam heat routine, all just to prove to Mary Jane what a raging hot stud he is. About when that dolley shot zooms into Gwen and makes her hair blow back as if Peter’s invisible dong slaps her in the face, that was when I was ready to accept anything Raimi threw at me.
Peter Parker’s behavior is augmented by his discovery of the alien symbiote, black goo from outer space that hurdled down earthside when he and M.J. were stargazing one night. Nevermind the absurdity of parasitic outer space goo, anyone versed in Spider-Man lore knows the arrival of the symbiote means Spider-Man’s awesome costume change from red and blue to jet black, and the entrance of ultimate archnemesis favorite Venom. The movie hints at all that and, well, we still only get hints of it. Which is weird considering the fucking emphasis you would think there’d be on his getting a NEW costume – the black alien symbiote! What a fucking crock. Those posters and trailers and commercials and action figures of Venom and the black-suited Spider-Man? Wasted. Wasted, wasted, wasted potential. The black costume is used maybe once and Venom is merely an extended cameo in the last 15 minutes. And he goes out like a fucking punk, another victim of the Goblin’s nonsensical pumpkin bombs. I can absolutely understand any disappointment regarding Venom. Raimi took the character and concept and turned it into a huge joke. I should be fucking angry, my thoughts and expectations reach all the way back to my first time watching the Doc Ock operation scene. I should feel betrayed, my hopes dashed against the sidewalk, just so Peter Parker can sashay down one like a douchebag. …But I love it anyway. Peter’s transformation into a reprehensible doofus is by far the highlight of the movie.
The other big surprise is James Franco’s Harry Osborn. He completely sheds his mopey psuedo-Hayden Christisten persona and turns in a performance so demented, in a movie where everyone looks like they’re having fun, Franco is in a league of his own. Stretching his face to its limits (like his movie dad, Dafoe!) and smirking so hard it’s as if something broken within him. He’s a conniving, twisted bastard and the wonky script has him all over the place. Early on he gets amnesia, because that still happens in movies, right? So he’s this happy little amnesiac suddenly charged with keeping Mary Jane from jumping in the Hudson because Peter’s off kissing other girls and shopping for black suits. Together, Harry and M.J. cook an omelette while dancing to Chubber Checkers’ “Do the Twist.” It’s a sweet, deranged little scene, mostly ‘cuz I was wondering if Harry was just faking it the whole time. I thought he’d clobber M.J. in the head with the frying pan. Nope, totally innocent. Earlier, I don’t remember the exact reason why, Harry playfully knocks M.J. on the head and goes “Boop!” It’s so awkward, so fucking out-there, how could anyone not notice something’s up?
I struggle to say the villains are the weakest part because they provide the best action scenes of the trilogy. Filmed in amazing long shots, the aerial fights reach new levels of head-clobbering brutality, no small thanks to the stunning CG the series has been begging for since the beginning. Sandman’s birth scene is the best bit of digital acting since Gollum, the way he sadly wills himself together so he can pick up his sick daughter’s locket. It’s basically watching a cartoon, but it’s a damn good one. If only the human actors got so much attention. Thomas Hayden Church and Topher Grace do manage to squeeze in some memorable parts. Topher is a caustic sonuvabitch and Hayden Church convinces me he’s a sad guy even if his dialogue is mainly “My DAUGHTER. My DAUGHTER is SICK.” but he ceases to make a lick of sense by the finale.
Venom shows up and offers to team up with Sandman to kill Spidey. How does Venom know about his daughter? Why does Sandman agree to such an awful plot? Then Spider-Man forgives him at the end? Thank goodness Aunt May showed up to deliver the movie’s message of forgiveness. Otherwise, it would feel tacked on and cheap! Or tacked on and GAY. Gay, like Harry’s old gay butler who appears out of NOWHERE, dispensing similar old person advice and knowledge that he would never, ever have any way of knowing. Why is this character so important all of the sudden? Who IS this character?
The script by the Raimi brothers makes so many bizarre leaps and bounds. It almost, barely, sorta escapes with making Sandman the REAL killer of Uncle Ben, but making Flint Marko into Sandman in the first place?! Who the fuck WERE those scientists in the beginning? What the hell were they doing?! Where exactly was Flint running to anyway? “The marshlands?” The marshlands of New York fucking City?! I appreciate trying to skip the bullshit and getting straight to Sandman, but wow, the absolute negligence of those physics lab technicans. “SCIENCE!” It’s the apex of the series’ irresponsible science.
I suppose one-armed Dr. Kurt Connors would be the antithesis of this crazy anti-science. (C’mon, Aunt May, what’s more important, forgiveness or penicillin?) Kurt’s the good-hearted college professor who looks out for Peter, so much so he warns him of the symbiote’s destructive nature but the last time we see him, he’s on the phone with Pete, who’s completely under the suit’s douchebag influence at this point, cooing at the landlord’s daughter to bake him cookies with nuts in them. Oh, and to get him milk. I swear, this fuckin’ movie.
It could hardly be considered a Spider-Man movie. Spider-Man rarely shows up. Peter Parker is the star – not surprising, right? – but in Spidey 3 he’s actually the center of the action. When we see him webslinging or fighting Harry Osborn he’s not in costume, he’s Peter freakin’ Parker. Not Spider-Man. Movie should’ve been called Peter Parker: Bat-Shit Insane-o Goofball.
Spider-Man does show up to showboat for a big celebration where Gwen Stacy kisses him the same upside-down way M.J. kisses him in the first movie, and she gives him the key to the city. Everyone shows up to applaud and root for him, kids and parents turn out to buy Spider-Man plush dolls and merchandise. Weird, it sounds… almost exactly like… our world! At a time when no one can turn on the TV, turn a magazine page or watch a movie without seeing Spider-Man 3 ads, it’s all strangely meta. I liked that the first two movies had big crowd scenes – it directly mirrors the cinema’s ability to unite the public – but here it doesn’t really serve any function other than to polish Spider-Man’s spider-knob. …Yuck.
All this adulation makes Peter Parker supremely confident at the start, happy as a clam. Manhattan loves him, but hates Mary Jane, who gets scathing reviews from all the Broadway critics and gets dumped from her gig. She watches, anonymously, from the crowd as some tramp steals her trademark kiss with her man. Similar to Franco’s Looney Tunes turn, it’s a genuinely surprising turn for the character, allowing Kirsten Dunst to do much more than be a plot device. She’s actually the only one who takes anything seriously, making her feel more like a person than a damsel in distress. She’s a convincing jealous girlfriend and she actually looks, admittedly, pretty. When she walks into the French restaurant? Meow!
Double meow to Bruce Campbell, making goofy cameos the whole series, gets his juiciest role yet as a big fat French stereotype waiter! The movie suddenly turns into Duck Soup or some similar screwball comedy. He even says something like “I love romance! I am French!” Then you got serious stuff like weepy Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy hand-fucking the shit out of Peter Parker’s shoulder while Bruce and his goons are fumbling around in the background. What the hell, Raimi.
What the hell’s with that bug-eyed news reporter too? Jesus Christ, I thought his swollen skull was gonna explode. I fuckin’ hate news reports in movies, they’re such a stupid shortcut to set up a scene. And who’s entertained by news reports? Anybody? Seriously, unless you’re Paul Verhoeven news reports serve no purpose in serious movies. Good thing Spider-Man 3’s nowhere near serious.
Well. Kind of. It’s that perfect kind of comic book serious. The movie is, ah, dark at points. I know “dark” is the thing to say these days. Everyone’s dark now. But what else do you call Topher’s Eddie, after having lost his job and girlfriend to Peter Parker, walking into a Catholic church and praying to God to kill Peter Parker? I mean, besides awesome? Harry Osborn somehow survives another stupid pumpkin bomb (do they skeletonize anymore?!) but not without a horrible scar on the side of his face. This ruined the end for me. No way would they let handsome boy-man James Franco live through to the next series entry looking like that. Ugh, his eye’s all filmy and awful!
Like Spider-Man 2, the final scene is a remarkable piece of melancholy storytelling. Mary Jane’s singing “I’m Through With Love” at the same jazz club Peter tears up earlier in the movie. Pete comes in, she stops singing, they look at each other with pained expressions. Then they hesitantly get together and hug, uncertainty hangs in the air. Fade to black. This is how Raimi ends the zaniest summer blockbuster to date. Man.
I gotta wonder how nervous the studio suits felt when they saw Peter Parker sashaying into a store only to gyrate out and start humping the air rhythmically. Or how about the fear and tension they must have felt upon the discovery that Mary Jane not only opens the movie with a song, but closes it with one as well? What about James Franco losing his mind? The tone shifts and varies all over the place. There’s no balance of action, comedy and drama, just the absolute extremes.
Were you not entertained? I feel like I got my money’s worth. Spider-Man 3 is a maniacal, out-of-control masterpiece. Raimi and all those involved should be commended for all the stuff he attempts but Spider-Man fans and moviegoers would rather have his head. Three years of hype and unbelievably zealous marketing and we get 2 hours and 11 minutes of complete lunacy. I was disappointed. Well, I was, but I still got a worthwhile. Movie. Thing.
Before I end the feature, I’d like to thank John Mora for reminding me of all the points I should hit on for this thing. Be sure to look for his Up, Up and Straight My Ass articles! And big thanks to my brother for providing The Grump Factory with the first statement from director Sam Raimi, regarding the less-than-enthusiastic response to his new film.