Basically, what it comes down to is the fact that this movie left me utterly disappointed.
From the very first scene, I found myself feeling a sense of dread. The film kicks off practically seconds after the last film ended (which in my opinion was the most perfect SPIDER-MAN film to date). Everything is peachy for Pete. He’s dating a Broadway singer. He’s selling Spidey pics at the Daily Bugle. He’s doing great in school and Spidey’s popularity is at an all time high. For the first time in Pete’s life, everything is going ok. But readers of the comics and moviegoers alike know that happiness is always fleeting.
During the first five minutes, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The script hits the ground running, but not in a good way. Characters just walk into screen with little or no “grand entrance” (something which should happen whether or not the character has been in the first two films or not). Everyone just kind of clomps into shot. In the first two films, the characters sprang onto the screen. In this one, every character (even the always entertaining JK Simmons as JJJameson) just kind of lurches into the story as if they are on their way into work on Monday after a long weekend of partying. Everyone seemed as if they had something better to do than give the energy that was good in part one and great in part two. MJ’s entrance especially, which consisted of an awful lip synching routine, lacked any type of electricity. The entire movie just kind of starts without the faint hint of a promise that you’re in for a good time.
Pretty soon the contrivances start. A symbiote-carrying meteor crashes to earth right near where Peter and MJ are gazing at the stars. An escaped con, Flint Marko, just happens to fall into a scientific testing facility while fleeing the police and becomes the Sandman when his molecules are bonded with the sand around him. This didn’t really bother me though. These are the types of contrivances that comics are made of. Lab accidents, twists of fate, unexpected turns that result in major challenges for our hero.
But there is a difference between contrivance and downright sloppy. Contrivances I can forgive if it serves as an homage or is somewhat faithful to the source material (which the above contrivances were). But sloppy storytelling is sloppy storytelling any way you slice it. There were scenes in this film so sloppy that you needed a bib and a wet nap. Sloppy editing: At the very beginning, Peter sees Harry leaving the Broadway show MJ is performing in and has words with his former best friend. End scene and somehow Peter is now backstage with MJ. Sloppy sound: The music sequence between Emo Pete and Harry in his mansion is cartoony and lacked any of the punch of the rest of music for the fight scenes in the film. Sloppy storytelling: Harry shows up in the third act sporting a scar when the audience wasn’t even made privy to the fact that he survived the earlier confrontation. Sloppy effects: Even the CGI fights between Harry and Spidey were often blurry or moved so quickly that you didn’t know what the hell was going on. Sloppy ending: The film just kind of ends, as if Raimi and Co. knew they had no idea how to wrap everything up and broke camp as soon as possible without a cool effects shot of Spidey swinging through the streets of NY or anything. And finally, the unforgivable: Don’t get me started on 3rd Act Expository Butler, Aunt May showing up juuuuust at the right moment to give Peter advice, and that fact that the entire cast cries so much in this one that it should be titled CUTTIN’ ONIONS: THE MOVIE.
And is it a bad thing that the Goblin riding a customized snowboard was the least of my worries while watching this film? Yes, my friend. Indeed it is. Complaining about that is like complaining about a hair in your shit sandwich. They got the look of the Goblin wrong in the first one, and despite the fact that they were pretty faithful in their adaptations of Sandman and Venom, they continued to get the Goblin wrong here. But I’ve accepted that fact long ago, kind of the same way I accepted the fact that my dog’s leg will never grow back.
But the sloppiest part of all was the under-utilization of the toys that Raimi and the scripters had at their disposal. Why not show Peter becoming darker in action rather than with awful dance routines? I know the “Pete’s a walkin’” scenes have been a tradition through the entire franchise, but did we really need to see it twice in this one? And the phone tag that goes on in this film is out of control. Characters dart around and bump into each other like water bugs in a bucket with little or no motivation other than to shove the plot along.
Instead of highlighting Emo Pete, why not show how powerful the suit made him? The wrong scenes (like the Jazz Club sequence) go on way too long and the right scenes are rushed through. Peter says he’s become more powerful, but we never really see it on screen. I understand shortcuts have to be made to make a film; especially an adaptation of a monthly comic book, but why undermine the relevance of the symbiote’s bonding to Peter? Why not extend that scene to have Peter try a few times to get the suit off, only to find it back on him. Why not clue MJ in on the fact that the suit is bringing out the dark side of his character. That builds something called suspense. Raimi’s familiar with it. I just saw A SIMPLE PLAN again the other night on cable. He gets it. Showing how the suit was hard to get off a few times. Highlighting the strong bond it formed with Peter would have highlighted the more horrific aspects of the suit and make the danger more palpable. Remember horror, Raimi? You used to do it pretty good. And I’m not talking about the horror of seeing Tobey McGuire dance.
So in the end, this movie turned out to be what everyone feared; too much packed into one film. It’s as if they knew halfway through that they didn’t want to pace this to please anyone and just wanted to get the franchise over with and fill it with as much crap as possible. The love story is completely misguided. It’s as if MJ and not Peter is wearing the black suit since she’s the one who gets jealous, cheats on Peter with Harry, and basically proves that she doesn’t have the self confidence that it takes to be the girl Spider-Man is dating. Gwen Stacy was completely under-utilized and unnecessary. Topher Grace was great as Brock, but once he became Venom, all style and grace left the building. Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman was fun, but the way the character ended up was both wrong and unsatisfying. And although this was James Franco’s best performance I’ve seen (which isn’t saying much), he still hams it up to the point of ridiculousness.
And the audience I saw it with wasn’t too thrilled with the film either. There were a few serious moments where the audiences burst out in laughter at how bad it was. As a fan of Spidey, I felt embarrassed. Any time Emo Pete appeared, the audience couldn’t help but giggle at his Fallout Boy haircut. But it wasn’t until the close up shot of Tobey McGuire at the end where he cries and winces as if he had eaten something that I ate and dropped from my @$$ that the audience roared out in laughter. This was supposed to be one of the most dramatic scenes in the film. A character of great significance to Pete had just died. It was not a good moment for the audience to be guffawing, but it happened.
What pisses me off the most about this film is that a ga-jillion people will be seeing it. This is what people think a comic book is like. People will notice the sloppiness and shallow characters and Swiss Cheese-like continuity and plot, and shrug their shoulders and say “Well, it is a comic book movie.” And that pisses me the hell off. I’ve read comic books since I was eight years old. And during that time, Spidey has always been in my pull, so I guess I qualify as some type of aficionado. Although Marvel’s current line of Spidey comics are pretty darn awful these days, Spider-Man has been the star of some of the richest and most well told stories in comics history. I understand that the Cliff Notes version of a comic book story has to be used to fit it all into a nice two-hour package. But this movie plays like the Cliff Notes version of SPIDER-MAN stories rewritten by the cast of THE OTHER SISTER.
I love Spider-Man. I love the first two movies. And there are moments in this film that are genuinely cool (most of them involving Thomas Hayden Church, pre-Venom Topher Grace, and of course, Bruce Campbell). But they should have saved Venom for a sequel instead of caboosing him in at the end. They should have beefed up Gwen’s part and gotten rid of the dance sequences and phone calls. They should have played up the horror and utilized the characters’ powers and personalities instead of making a melodramatic soap opera with action sequences awkwardly smooshed in. It seemed as if the magic was gone in this film.
Maybe it was because Avi Arad forced Raimi to use Venom when he admitted that he did not like the character. Maybe it was because the stars were starting to feel as if the films were beneath them. Or maybe it was because the script was the weakest of the series. Whatever it was, the heart that was there in the first film and grew to epic proportions in the second was never present here. Even the best parts of this film weren’t as good as the worst parts of the other two.
For the future of this franchise, I hope for one of two things: for someone new and fresh to come onto this series to write and direct and revitalize the series…
for Raimi to take a break and return when he wants to make a worthy sequel to his AMAZING and SPECTACULAR first two installments.
One more hope: that Kraven the Hunter and the Lizard will show up in the next one. Anyone who read KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT knows that this would be an amazing film and it’s the one I’ve been waiting to see from the beginning.
A Bug can dream, can’t he?
Oh, and one last thing.