Saturday, 5 May 2007

Spiderman 3 - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriter: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (comic)
Runtime: 140 min
Certificate: 12a
Release Date: out now

Concluding a trilogy is like tying your first shoelace. Careful manipulations should result in success but a fumble with the final loop undoes all your good work. Famous fumbles include Superman 3 (Richard Pryor!), Batman Forever (rubber nipples!), Terminator 3 (saggy nipples!), The Godfather Part 3 (Sophia Coppola!) and Return of the Jedi (Ewoks!). With Spider-Man 3 director Sam Raimi is putting the final touches to his holy trinity of comic book adaptations in what is rumoured to be the last of his web slinging adventures, but it doesn’t quite come together as many had hoped.

Shortly after the events of the second film we find Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) happier than he has ever been. Peter finally has the love of his life Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) by his side and his Lycra loving alter ego is beloved by those of all ages for cleaning up New York City. As expected things don’t stay hunky dory for long as a triple threat looms on the horizon for Parker. His Uncle’s true killer Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) is on the lose and boasts the ability to turn into sand after accidentally stumbling into a genetic experiment (as one does.) Swiftly behind the human beach is Parker’s former best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) who is sporting his deceased father's old Green Goblin duds to avenge his death. Meanwhile, an alien symbiote in the form of some nasty black goo is stalking Parker and feeding off his increasing anxiety but giving him desirable power in return. On top of that all the usual is goings on, he and Mary Jane are having problems, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) continues to grieve the loss of her husband and Peter has a new rival photographer at work Eddie Brock (Topher Grace – who any keen comic book reader will already know has a fateful meeting with the aforementioned black goo!)

If you think the previous paragraph was bloated you should try and see all of that narrative fighting a battle of superhero-sized proportions to get its claws into the 140 minute running time. Whereas the previous two films have successfully balanced the soap opera of Parker's life with the heroics, linking key themes of responsibility, power and being true to yourself into a streamlined narrative, this outing fails. There is simply too much plot to get through and Raimi’s strong insistence on character development cripples the film. He is bringing his tried and tested template to a film universe he seems unwilling to acknowledge has expanded massively. Sandman, a personal favourite of Raimi and Maguire, is given an ill daughter backstory to justify his villainous ways in a move similar to the sympathetic portrayal of Doc Octopus. Yet despite solid work from Hayden-Church the character goes nowhere and fades away (literally) by the films conclusion.

On the other side of the fence is the inevitable appearance of Venom, Spider-Man’s monstrous doppelganger who has become one of the most revered comic book villains of all time. Raimi has previously voiced his dislike for the character and while he has caved to the pressure of the fans (seemingly to make up for the lacklustre Sandman) his blasé attitude for Venom is evident. The wasted Topher Grace’s hilarious turn as Eddie Brock is thrown into the mix as an after thought and Venom’s big appearance is not given much pomp. Brock is supposed to be a desperate broken individual who turns to Jesus to beg for the murder of Parker and sees the symbiote as a blessing from God. Instead the most violent and dark of the Spider-Man villains is simply another slobbering beast to be dealt with and it’s a terrible waste.

The flip side of the Venom origin story, Peter and the Symbiote, is similarly mishandled. Maguire has his simpering nerd shtick down to a tee by now and seems ready to deal with the accentuated dark side brought on by the alien substance. But instead screenwriters Ivan Raimi along with his brother Sam have something more ‘comical’ up their sleeves. Peter’s dark side turns out to be an emo fringe, a bad ‘tude and a disturbing penchant for crotch thrust dancing. Maguire is a good actor, but his attempts to pull this behaviour off are not quite menacing, and worse; not very funny. Elsewhere he and Dunst perform admirably with a script that is noticeably reduced in quality from the previous films, far too often events conspire from authorial contrivance instead of organic character. The villain plot with the most emotional baggage, and the best performance from James Franco, is also given little time when it could have been a film chapter of its own. Thankfully though Raimi has peppered the world of Spidey with the recurring characters we know and love; J.K. Simmons’ wonderfully crazy newspaper editor J. Jonah Jamieson and Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell’s cameo as a Maitre D’ who is “French, honestly!”

The action set pieces continue to astound. While Spider-Man himself has always looked a little rubbery, the new special effects and CGI team perform more difficult live action and computer generated integrated sequences with aplomb. The aerial battle between Spidey and Harry is dizzy vertigo inducing fun and the first melee with the seemingly unstoppable Sandman is a thrill. The quieter moments are also memorable; the birth of Sandman has an awkward beauty and the Peter/MJ relationship being taken through the emotional ringer reminds us that from the very beginning this was a story about a boy in love.

In a world overcrowded with hastily put together and sloppily managed comic book adaptations, Spider-Man was one of the last pop icons given the proper treatment from an increasingly greedy Marvel Comics. Far too many of their, and other's, graphic novels are being handed down to second class directors and it’s sad to see Raimi strangle himself in his own web when he should be setting the standard. Raimi has fumbled with his final loop, and if he is tempted back for Spider-Man 4 then someone better give him a pair of Velcro’s.

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