Monday, May 7, 2007

Review: Spider-Man 3

The third installment of the Spider-Man movies was released today (Friday, May 4th) and alongside a test engineer, the guy in charge of the Network department and the Vice President of Business for the company I work for, I skipped a bit of work to see the movie. Basically, in this episode Peter Parker thinks that he's finally has everything sorted out between his identity as Spider-Man and his personal, love life which involves Mary Jane. Unfortunately, such things don't last. His suit turns black, which brings him into an inner conflict with all the worst aspects of his personality. And then he has Sandman and Venom to deal with as well.

Okay, now that we have what the movie's about out of the way, let's look at the three taglines provided by the studio on the movie posters:

  • Next summer, the greatest battle lies... within
  • The battle within
  • How long can any man fight the darkness... before he finds it in himself?
These aren't nearly as horrible as those for Æon Flux, and that last one is actually quite well done.

Our cast of characters is once again expanding. Of course we have Peter Parker (Tobey McGuire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Then there's the secondary cast of Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson and the other characters at the Daily Bugle. The other characters of note were Harry Osborn (James Franco) as The New Goblin - an incredibly stupid name, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace).

Peter Parker here is a much more complex character than he was in either of the original two movies. Hence the taglines of battles within and what not. This complexity is offset by Tobey McGuire's performance. While it's not horrible, there are definitely times in the movie when I was cringing at his acting abilities. Kirsten Dunst though provides another great rendition as Mary Jane while Franco's Osborn seems exactly the same as he did in the previous two movies. The two new villains were really done well though. Church provides a great performance (though shoddy makeup) as the Sandman, lending a dignity to such a funny character concept.

But the performance that shone was Topher Grace's. He's smarmy as Eddie Brock and has the thought of an insane maniac down perfectly while in the venom guise. I'll be honest, when I first heard that Topher Grace (he played Eric Foreman on That 70's Show) was going to be Venom had some serious reservations over it. After all, he's a comedy actor. He's ERIC FOREMAN! Much to my surprise, he did not live up to my expectations of granting a flat performance. He did great. You really believe that insane glint that was in his eyes.

The other character to note is Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard), not because she does anything special in the movie, but just because I'm a geek. First, remember that Mary Jane got her role in the first movie (the bridge scene where Green Goblin tosses her off a bridge is a comic book classic moment). But the real thing I was amused by was the choice of actresses for Gwen. That amusement stems from the fact that they got a blond and dyed her hair red to play Mary Jane and then got a redhead and stuck a platinum blond wig on her to play Gwen. Maybe it was just me, but it was something that I found funny.

The plot is listed up there in that first paragraph. It's really a lot more complex and a darker movie than the previous two movies. Peter is dealing with a lot more issues here than he was in the first two movies. Mainly because a lot of the conflict here is internal to Peter - which is a good thing, especially for this character (the only superhero with more angst is Batman). The theme revolves itself around that inner conflict, the concept of fighting your inner darkness. And it's as well done as one can expect in a 2 hour 20 minute movie.

Of course, since I'm primarily a reader, both of these fall rather short of what I would have preferred. Of course this is a limitation imposed on the film due to what I like, and the simple fact that I prefer the complexity available in the written word (i.e. I like books better than movies).

Outside these things, you have a hilarious cameo from Bruce Campbell (hey it's a Sam Raimi film, it HAS to have Bruce Campbell in it) and the usual Stan Lee appearance.

Then you have the special effects. For the most part, these things are great. Sandman's transformations are beautifully rendered and the Venom stuff is even better. There is a failure in the effects though - and that's during the fight scenes and when Peter is webslinging through the city. Especially in the webslinging scenes, it's obvious when they switch from real movie to the digital stuff. Apparently, they lost the visual effects supervisor after Spider-Man 2, and in those scenes this loss shows.

Overall, I was extremely happy with this movie. It was a fun superhero flick and a great addition to the Spider-Man franchise. There was nothing mind-blowingly dramatic, but at the same time it was not nearly as bad as Æon Flux as far as being mindless action sequences sans storyline.

In the end, I give it a solid 3 out of 4.

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