Here Comes A Spider-man: Three’s a CrowdPosted: April 30, 2014
With Amazing Spider-man 2 coming out this week, I thought I might reflect back on the wall-crawler’s history in film and how this franchise as much as any other reflects the highs and lows of superhero blockbusters.
After you start a franchise with a well-received and well-crafted first chapter, then follow it up with an even more respected and artistically successful sequel, what’s the next step? For an unfortunately high percentage of trilogy-plus franchises, the next step is a major misstep that tends to end the series on a sour note whether it was intended to or not. And for Sam Raimi and his collaborators, the next step was no different. Between the huge impact of the first two Spider-man movies and the overall failure of the third, it’s probably safe to say that Spider-Man 3 is one of the bigger letdowns in recent film history.
However, the most frustrating thing about Spider-Man 3 is that, unlike something like Batman & Robin (a complete absurd failure from beginning to end), Spider-Man 3 is a creeping, cumulative disappointment, with some actual decent moments that are interrupted by poor choices with increasing frequency as the film goes on. It’s a true disappointment to see Raimi lose sight of the main thing that made the first two films so great: the simplicity. He throws in three different villains, each of which carries a subplot with them, not to mention the Peter/MJ relationship issues, and unsurprisingly the film loses focus in a way that the first two films never did.
The Harry Osborn storyline in particular feels particularly useless throughout the second act, and just drags down the pacing and sets the stage for the more hammy and grating elements of the movie. After the opening action sequence (a well-crafted one, except for Harry’s dumb X-Games costume), there’s pretty much nothing about Harry’s story that works, from the needless amnesia beats to the ham-handed manipulation of Peter and MJ’s relationship. None of it adds anything to the story, and brings things to an ass-grinding halt when it comes up.
Of course there’s the much-maligned Bad Peter/jazz club stuff, which I’ve seen defended as evidence that Peter is such a good person he doesn’t really know how to be bad. It’s a nice thought, but the criticism that doesn’t really hold up when Peter still becomes violent and angry in dealing with the various antagonists anyway. Instead the goofier elements of this sequence just undercut the dramatic impact of the more serious moments (especially considering the subdued finale). But probably the worst development in my mind is the poor use of Mary Jane in the movie. In a manipulative effort to provide further drama, they turn MJ into a whiny self-involved starlet who is nothing like herself, and who takes everything personally regardless of how empathetic Peter is being. It hurts her character and makes the scenes between the two of them grating and eye-roll-inducing, as opposed to the first two films where their relationship felt so natural and engaging.
What’s most infuriating about movies like this is that the major sequences needed to produce a good movie are all in the final film, but there’s all these shit sequences mixed in that drag down the proceedings and keep the quality moments from really hitting home. The action scenes are still pretty solid, and I got a surprising kick out of seeing Peter and Harry working together like friends in the end. Thomas Haden Church does a good job with the little depth he’s given as Sandman as well. But so many other scenes are terrible, and even the half-decent scenes around them seem worse for being linked to the crappy ones. It’s amazing how people who seem to get it so right can go so wrong, especially when third installments come into play, but there it is. Unfortunately, Raimi’s Spider-trilogy is one of the many victims of this tendency, and in a particularly disappointing fashion.
Still, I wonder what might’ve happened had he gotten a chance to do “Spider-man 4” his way, because as we’ll discuss tomorrow, I didn’t like the alternative much better.