Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spider-Man 3 Review

When I was growing up and reading Spider-Man comics, the black costume storyline, and the resulting character of Venom, was _the_ storyline. So when it was announced that Spider-Man 3, apparently the final film in the Spider-Man saga, was going to feature the alien costume, you can imagine how excited I was. And then after finding out all the other crap they wanted to cover at the same time, well, you can imagine how distraught I was, worried that Sam Raimi would be trying to cover too much in one film.

After the events of Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker is finally able to enjoy the romance with Mary Jane Watson that he's so long desired, but his life becomes even more complicated when his best friend Harry Osborne, who knows that Peter is Spider-Man and blames him for the death of his father Norman, takes up the mantle of the Goblin and intends to kill Parker. Throw into the mix the Sandman, and escaped convict who stumbles into a test facility and becomes crossed with sand. Sandman is essentially made of the stuff, which allows him to become virtually unkillable (how do you kill sand?), and Sandman also just so happens to be the man truly responsible for the death of Peter's uncle, Ben, in the first film.

When Parker learns this, he obsesses over finding and defeating Sandman, however the villain is just too much for Spider-Man to handle alone, and that's when the black costume comes into play. Crash landing to earth in a small meteor, the alien costume ultimately finds its way in Parker's apartment (and then takes 5 for a long while as other plot elements play out) and bonds with him, mimicking the look of his Spider-Man costume save all in black, and gives him the strength he needs to ultimately overthrow his enemies.

Taking a page from the retro-'90's animated series, the black costume increases Parker's aggression as well as his powers, turning him into a jerk who begins to pursue another woman, Gwen Stacy, over his true love Mary Jane. Make no mistake, the final Spider-Man film is the darkest of the trilogy with less gags and tongue-in-cheek humour than the previous two.

Overall though, the above is fine and would have made a great plot for the film, except Sam Raimi got it into his head to do the Venom storyline as well. So enter Eddie Brock, a rival photographer at the Bugle who clashes with Parker, and once Spider-Man attempts to kill and get rid of his black alien costume, it of course bonds with Brock to create Venom. Overall Venom was handled well and was a brief but formidable enemy for Spidey to overcome, however I really felt more time should have been spent with the black costume on Spidey himself.

If I were writing the script, I would have had Parker get rid of the black suit at the end of the film and set up Venom to be the primary villain of a fourth installment should one be made. The black costume was too important to the central theme of the film, the darker nature of it, to be cast away so lightly, but the church sequence where it takes place (symbolizing an exorcism of one's inner demons of course), was handled very well; I could feel Parker's pain as he ripped the costume from himself.

So there you have it, a plot that's more convoluted than the first two films that also happens to really feel like a comic book. Given all the material that Raimi wanted to cover, many points are handled well enough, but some explanations are never given among the characters themselves (Spidey keeps the nature of the black costume very secret from pretty much everyone, even Mary Jane) which takes away from the character focus the original films did so well.

Spider-Man 3 is big on effects and great battles, however. Parker's clash with new Goblin, black Spider-Man's battle with Sandman, and the final confrontation with Venom at the end are all beautifully shot and executed, dripping with comic style action and over-the-top effects. Danny Elfman returns with a strong soundtrack that expands on many of the musical themes established in the first two films, and I was quite pleased with the changes to the Goblin theme from father to son.

In the end, Spider-Man 3 is certainly worth the watch, and the film is entertaining as a whole (Bruce Campbell's cameo is hilarious as always), but don't expect the narrative splendour that you've come to expect from the series. Still, Spider-Man 3 is a strong send-off to everyone's favourite wall crawling hero.

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