Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Spider-Man 3

I’m coming late to this party, but not as late as I am to the TMNT party. (Yes, that’s a review I should have gotten around to weeks ago. Whoops.) Please note that I’m making no attempt to hide spoilers here. It’s my firm belief that nothing I say here will “ruin” your enjoyment of the movie, but if you disagree with that on principle then you should probably wait to read this posting until after you’ve seen the film.

I’ll wait.

There’s a danger in reading reviews before watching the movie, especially when the reviews are generally full of pure vitriol. Between the nitpicking and the hyperbole one can become so jaded as to enter the theater already hating a movie one hasn’t yet watched. In some cases the angry reviewers are right (X-Men 3), in some cases they’re dead wrong (TMNT). What about Spidey The Third?

The most common complaints I read in the reviews were that there were too many villains and that the plot was held together by coincidence after coincidence. I disagree with the first assertion, mainly because of how the writers worked the Peter-and-Harry situation into the villain-busting antics. Mind you, I’m not impressed with the grand finale combat sequence, but I can at least understand the reasoning behind the tag-team setup. A movie with Sandman alone would have been like watching The Mummy Takes Manhattan, and we’d have been subjected to even more Uncle Ben Angst. (More on that in a minute.) Focusing entirely on Venom might have worked better except that there’s only so much arachnid-on-arachnid action you can really come up with to run down the movie’s clock. In that version of the movie there’d have been no real use for the Peter-and-Harry drama, as it’s not like you want Goblin Junior getting the last licks on the movie’s sole villain. (More on that, later.)

My actual complaints with the movie are twofold: Coincidences and camp. Let’s run down the list of just what I can remember two days later…

  • The Venom-symbiote meteorite lands meters away from Our Titular Hero. Just think about that for a moment.
  • Sandman just happens to be the guy who really killed Uncle Ben. Sure, because Spidey was short on angst triggers this week. Puh-leeze.
  • Harry gets (temporary) amnesia which just happens to blank out the precise period of time covering the events which made him hate Spider-Man and/or Peter. Lucky break, wot?
  • Eddie Brock just happens to be in church (praying for Spidey’s death, which shows how firm a grasp on “Thou Shalt Not Kill” he has) at the precise moment Peter is shedding the symbiote.

Those are just the really big co-inky-dinks. It’s positively Rube-Goldberg-ian the way this plot operates.

The camp is more subtle. It’s not that the movie becomes actually painful to watch (despite the complaints about “emo-Peter,” I found those sequences more amusing than expected), but rather that the attempts at humor are so obvious that you end up rolling your eyes while chuckling. There’s very little of the genuine feel to the lighter moments such as we enjoyed in the previous two franchise entries. I won’t say that it all falls flat (and Spidey 3’s now-required Bruce Campbell cameo is actually a damned hoot) but I felt myself missing the cheerful joy of the earlier movies.

Speaking of which, while I’m no aficionado of Spider-Man canon, isn’t it true that one of the webslinger’s defining characteristics is his wisecracking during combat? There’s only a bit of that in the first movie (makes sense, he’s just starting out) and quite a bit more in the second (welcome, and delightful), but it’s nearly absent here. What happened? No idea.

So after all of this ripping and ragging on the movie, it probably behooves me to point out that it’s not nearly as unenjoyable as you might suspect. There’s drama, and humor, and butt-kicking, and screw-ups, and redemption, and all of the stuff we want to see in a better-than-average superhero flick. That said, there are a few things I’d have changed (in addition to some simple fixes for those stupid coincidences I mentioned earlier):

  • Peter’s romantic interests need to be portrayed as having more than a thimbleful of common sense. For instance, he’s trying to give MJ a cheer-up when she comes to his apartment after reading her first dreadful review. If she’d actually listened, she’d have noticed that what he was saying was completely relevant to her situation. Instead, all she heard was “blah blah blah Spider-man blee” and tuned out the content. A great deal of pointless drama could’ve been avoided. And, the less said about her visit to Harry’s place, the better.
  • Sandman needed to be a generic villain. I’m not knocking the actor (who did a fine job, really) but his sensitive backstory coupled with the “revelation” that he was on the grassy knoll responsible for Uncle Ben’s death took up considerable screen time that could’ve been used to a) shorten the movie a tad and b) let the writers provide more plausible scenarios which wouldn’t rely upon absurd coincidences. Keep the tag-team, lose the angst-and-woe.
  • The tag-team should’ve gone differently: Let Harry have his dream of “killing Spider-man” by letting him finish off Venom. He has all of those wonderful toys, I’m sure that a sonic resonance device isn’t beyond his ability to manufacture or procure. I mean, what the hell? A couple of low-yield incendiary rockets was enough to take Sandman out of the battle? Sure, sure. (The less said about the “implosion bomb,” the better.)

I’ve probably rambled just about long enough, so let’s sum up.

Spider-Man 3 is not a bad superhero movie… unless you compare it directly to its predecessors, in which case it’s a bit of a disappointment. While the notion of “detach your brain and enjoy the ride” still applies here as it does in many other genre experiences, it’s really hard to overlook some of the glaring, painful problems with this franchise installment. That said, it’s still far better than the average film of its type and not quite as bad as the scathing reviews would have you believe.

It’s also far better than X-Men 3, another trilogy-ending flick which left fans more than ready for its franchise to be given a rest…

4 Comments

  1. Lisa

    I agree on most of your points, but…

    “If she’d actually listened”

    This happens all the time in Real Life. One person is upset about something and the second person tries to relate to them. Person One is too caught up in their own shit to listen to what Person Two is really saying. Drama ensues. I’ve seen it before and (alas) participated in it even, though I’m much better about listening now.

    Ha, I couldn’t figure out what the heck TMNT stood for. Yay Google. 😉

  2. GreyDuck

    I’ll grant you that one, and I suppose without Petey/MJ Drama-o-rama it wouldn’t be much of a Spider-Man story.

  3. Kitten Crush

    Not enough Gwen. NEED MORE GWEN.

  4. GreyDuck

    If they could’ve made her more than a mostly-vapid third-wheel throwaway part, sure. Her introductory scenes weren’t so bad but she got… worse… as the movie progressed.

    A waste of a perfectly good & classic Spider-Man character, that.

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