Spider-Man 3

The blockbusters are back and what a relief! It has been a long post Oscar season with nothing worth seeing for week after week. But now we’ve reached the end of garbage time to arrive in the land of event movies with big explosions.

First in the sequel parade is Spider-Man 3. Now these movies have redefined the word “profitable” and are as close to a sure fire bet as there is in Hollywood or possibly in this world. I’ve heard that 3 is one of the most expensive movies ever made but nobody’s calling it a risky investment.

At least not financially. This level of success brings with it several concerns, however. For one thing there’s a tendency to adhere to the formula. Nobody wants to mess with the gravy train, so we get the same movie over and over again only with bigger stunts and better effects. Which can also be a problem. There is an imperative to top the previous movie. In the superhero genre this can lead to big stars playing the villains and stacking them three to a picture. Look at what happened to Batman after Tim Burton left. And finally there is a certain tendency toward self parody, which comic book fans are very sensitive about.

Most of these things are going on in Spider-Man 3. Fortunately Sam Raimi is a good enough director to reign them all in to make a decent film.

But only just barely.

He accomplishes this by a script which is pretty good at using these potential flaws as story elements. The black suit, which eventually creates Venom has always represented Peter’s dark side and he has to make a choice between that power and his soul. Flint Marko, the Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) made a bad choice years ago that resulted in Uncle Ben’s death. Now he can’t support his family, especially his sick daughter. And Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), in his zeal to land a staff photographer position at the Bugle makes a bad choice. I can’t tell you about Harry Osborn’s choice without giving away a key plot point. Even the presence of Gwen Stacy provides Peter with the classic dilemma of his adolescence.

So you see, it’s a film about choices.

On the downside, the plot meanders a bit, Thomas Hayden Church as the Sandman and Topher Grace as Venom are underused. And the scenes where Peter is under the influence of the black suit cross the line into camp. Let’s leave the comic relief to J. Jonah Jameson.

I don’t know if Raimi is losing interest in the these films or if he’s unable to hold back the commercial interests at the studio who are trying to sustain this cash cow by creatively killing it, but Spider-Man is showing all the signs of an aging series. They got by in 3, but I am very worried about 4.



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May 2007
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