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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spider-Man 3 is not that bad (if viewed with irony)

Spider-man 3 poster

Like most people, this is my most-anticipated film of the year, so I was absolutely excited when it turned out that I've gotten tickets to Hitz.fm's sneak preview of Spider-Man 3 just a day before its nationwide release (Spidey 3 is premiering in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and numerous other Asian countries on the 1st of May whilst people of USA can only catch the film on the 4th of May, YESSSSSS!!!).

I've long placed SPIDER-MAN 2 high up the pedestal as my favourite superhero movie of all time, because everything about it appealed to me, the humour, the action, the character drama, the romance, everything clicked so well that there was nothing I could complain about the film at all.

SPIDER-MAN 2 had pushed the bar so high that, since then, every single big-budget superhero movie that came out, with the exception of BATMAN BEGINS, seemed just like kiddie movies. Mindless popcorn entertainment that may satisfy only hardcore comic book fans. X-MEN 3 was entertaining for its major explosions (but nothing much), SUPERMAN RETURNS was so overwhelming in its sheer seriousness (and its attempt to make Supes suffer from girl problems like Spidey) that it left a bad taste in my mouth some time after I saw it, GHOST RIDER was rubbish, FANTASTIC FOUR was amusing sometimes (but only because I was in a good mood when watching it, and Jessica Alba convinced me that the film ain't that bad).

SPIDER-MAN 2 is near perfection, and represents, to me, commercial filmmaking at its best, when the artsy fartsy poser types start speaking haughtily about their disdain for Hollywood films, I point at SPIDER-MAN 2, I said that a film like that impresses me much more as some self-indulgent incoherent rubbish that packages itself as 'high art'.

And because of that, I never expected SPIDER-MAN 3 to surpass its predecessor, I'd be happy enough if the drop of standard isn't dramatic, and that it can still be nearly as good as SPIDER-MAN 2. Hearing that there would be three villains in the film had worried me initially, making me fear that the film would end up becoming something like BATMAN AND ROBIN, crushing under the weight of the numerous characters and subplots it needed to juggle.

Thankfully, SPIDER-MAN 3 is still enjoyable, despite a (not small) drop of quality from SPIDER-MAN 2. Less emotional and deep, but definitely more action-oriented (too much?), with much larger action setpieces that made me 'whoa' and 'wow' at.

In SPIDER-MAN 3, Peter Parker's (Tobey Maguire) life has turned for the better. Spider-man is idolized by everyone in New York, he's also going to propose to his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). Unfortunately, things stop looking so good for Spidey when he encounters numerous major threats.

First, there is Marko Flint (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict known as Sandman after his DNA had bonded with sand particles during a molecular fusion experiment he ran into. He might actually be the true killer behind Uncle Ben's death (it makes you reevaluate Spidey 1), even though he is a fundamentally decent guy forced to do some bad things and is guilt-ridden about what he has done.

There's also Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a cocky rival photographer of Peter's who is trying to get the best photos of Spider-man for the Daily Bugle, and turns into Venom when consumed by the alien symbiote. It is the very same alien symbiote that gave Spidey his black suit and drew from his darker impulses, making Spidey more aggressive and ruthless and transforming Peter Parker into er, a bad boy.

Former best pal Harry Osborn (James Franco) is still around, nursing his hatred for Spider-man, whom he mistakenly thought to have killed his father Green Goblin in Part 1. His story, which has started since the first film, finally reaches its climax here, which means that he finally gets into action instead of merely brooding. I personally think that his character is the most well-developed in this film.

The amount of villains does give the film a grander scope, and some insanely awesome action scenes, but ultimately, this is really more about Spidey turning (briefly) to the Dark Side. And then, hurting the woman he loves, and trying to win her back again. And because of the numerous subplots and characters involved, some drama and character development are sacrificed.

Newcomers like Eddie Brock and Marko Flint seem to have some stories to tell, and I would rather that they have interacted with Spidey/ Peter Parker more. Especially when it is shown that Eddie Brock and Peter Parker are mirror images of each other. Eddie Brock is also a guy struggling to make ends meet, and win the heart of the girl he loves, who happens to be Gwen Stacy (took me a while to remember that she was played by Bryce Dallas Howard).

Due to so many things happening at once (Harry wants revenge + Flint becomes Sandman + Alien black goo? + Spidey turns black + Peter and Eddie's budding rivalry + Mary Jane and Peter's relationship problems etc.) Gwen Stacy's inclusion in the film feels a bit more like fan service than anything else. Plot-wise, she's just the girl Eddie is pining for, and a romantic rival of Mary Jane due to her obvious crush for Spider-man, which leads to a very public kiss after Spidey saved her life. I actually wanted to see more of Gwen Stacy too. Hmm.

Film's running time is around two and a half hours, longer than its predecessors, but film never gets boring (there is just too many things happening), but a little tedious and exhausting. The many subplots mentioned do come together towards the end, and tie themselves up neatly (... perhaps a bit too neatly. Deus ex machina?) Watching Peter Parker's bad-boy makeover is much too fun, especially when it leads to this dancing sequence... which I will not spoil here. Of course, by turning bad, I meant he acts more like those pathetic jock-type characters in 80s teen movies (walking down the streets with silly disco dance moves, demanding milk and cookies from the girl next door), than turning into another Anakin Skywalker (obviously, Spidey's not going around killing people).

Watch this with irony.

Despite my enjoyment, I am worried about Spider-man 4. With so many things resolved in this film, what is there to explore in a fourth Spidey film? Like, what is there for director Sam Raimi (provided that he's still directing) and company to achieve now? Don't think they can really recycle that many things from this trilogy without feeling redundant and old.

Sorry, I tend to have a pretty bad feeling when a film franchise expands beyond a trilogy.

Unless J. Jonah Jameson's secretary, Betty Brant, has more to do in the next films. :D Yay!

Elizabeth Banks as Betty Brant

Signal Fire by Snow Patrol. From the Spider-Man 3 soundtrack.