Three Years Later… "Spider-Man 3"

The transformation scene of Flint Marko de-materializing and then forming in to a human once again through his sand abilities is rather incredible. Raimi just outdoes himself here and the sequence is mesmerizing. There’s even a scene where Sandman balloons in to a humongous sandstorm pounding down on Spider-Man. But, again, no one really cared. Venom was the attraction. What do you expect from the fans? Venom is more popular than Spider-Man himself! But you have to give it to Raimi for at least trying to take a considerably lame villain and attempting to bring him to the attention of movie goers alike. He even retcons the entire origin of Spider-Man by making Sandman one of the folks who took part in the death of Uncle Ben.

So what all seems like a quick crime turns in to a pretty lame moment where Ben tries to talk Flint out of stealing his car and is shot by his partner for his resistance. All things considered, it’s a shame because Thomas Haden Church is a doppleganger to his comic counterpart and his strong performance is just forgotten. Venom is obviously shoe-horned in to the movie due to his sudden introduction in the second half because Raimi commits a heinous crime by completely reducing him in to a second rate villain. With that Raimi makes his position clear to both fans and the studio. He wanted Sandman to take center stage, Venom just isn’t important.

In the comics Venom is a pure force to be reckoned with. He’s a psychological and physical being who takes Peter Parker and completely ruins his life and threatens to kill everyone he loves. His tormenting is seconded only to Green Goblin. In the basic storyline behind Venom, he is inhabited by a man who absolutely despises Peter. Venom is an alien entity who also despises Peter but for completely different reasons. The monster basically fell in love with Peter’s powers and his ability to submit to the whims of the living suit, and hated him when Peter rejected it. So Venom is a personal nemesis who is more powerful than Spider-Man can ever hope to be. Here Venom is just a whiny really cheesy second banana who enters so abruptly and makes short work of Flint Marko convincing him to bring down Spider-Man once and for all.

This leads us to the chaotic finale where it’s Sandman and Spider-Man fighting to the death as Venom stands in the corner looking for a way to enter in to the rumble and get his licks in. It also doesn’t help that the character looks terrible. He resembles a monster from “Aliens” more often than not and lacks the bulk that sets him apart from Spider-Man. Venom is completely mishandled and Raimi’s treatment comes off as self-aware sabotage. The big turn of events in the film is supposed to be the symbiote that attaches itself to Peter Parker and sets its sights on turning the wall crawler in to an individual it can control. In effect Peter gradually becomes sadistic, twisted, and rather evil.

This is a development that is crucial to the foreshadowing of Venom’s entrance because it gives us an idea of what pure poison this alien sludge is to the character of Peter Parker. Here Raimi just turns it in to a joke. In a string of utterly embarrassing and excruciating sequences Raimi turns Peter Parker in to a comically evil being. I stress the word comical. Whether it’s Maguire’s inability to portray dark and brooding or Raimi’s misconception of what descending in to darkness should look like I can’t quite decide, but Peter’s take on evil is hilarious. He dresses in dark clothing, wears eyeliner, droops his hair down over his eyes, struts in the middle of a busy sidewalk at a slew of good looking girls conveniently passing by him, he crashes a night club and proceeds to dance with a lot of women, makes his timid next door neighbor make him cookies and feed them to him, he flirts with Betty Brant, and (in a rather terrible moment that just made me want to give up on comics altogether) he stops mid strut and dances disco in front of a crowd of passersby!

Watching it again on a clip at Youtube makes me recall how absolutely stunned I was seeing this. Even if Raimi didn’t want to include Venom or the symbiote, he could have at least taken the opportunity to hone Maguire’s ability to be menacing and use that downward spiral in to madness as a key point that decided the fate of his relationship with his family and friends. When we later see Peter tear the alien being from his body we don’t particularly see Eddie Brock’s formation as an evil persona. Sure the entity consumes him and he accepts it but the madness behind the decision is completely downplayed and glossed over and Raimi stresses how little significance Venom possesses in his vision of the Wall Crawler.

This is also mirrored by the casting of Topher Grace who is good at playing a pompous braggart but has zero chemistry with MaGuire. In most incarnations Eddie Brock is a somewhat honest individual who towers considerably over Peter and is older. Here Grace is scrawnier than Maguire (Is that possible?) and just plays a heel for most of the film. Grace seems to be trying hard to portray Brock as this memorable antithesis to Peter, but simply can’t get enough screen time to make an impression on audiences and stress the impact Brock would have on Parker.

To make up for this Raimi gives Grace more face time by simply folding back Venom’s face whenever he’s talking to Parker. Which makes no absolute sense since the appeal of Venom is his jagged teeth and massive jaw and slithering tongue. None of that menace is there as Brock’s face is shown more often than the symbiote and he manages to grow some fangs of his own. How is that possible?

Grace is a very talented young actor but he is just wasted here. It’s also sad that the only way Venom can think of getting back at Peter is by kidnapping Mary Jane. That poor girl just can’t catch a break, can she? The villains just don’t want to aim for world domination or power in the underworld, they just want to kill this red haired tart and move on with their lives. Couldn’t Raimi have been a bit more creative, here? Oh what am I saying? Peter Parker performed a Tony Manero halfway in to the story! Speaking of wasted: Raimi does a huge disservice to the fan boys who recognize the absolute importance of the character Gwen Stacy.

In the comics she became a huge turning point in Peter Parker’s life because she was his first love who died horribly at the hands of the Green Goblin breaking her neck in mid-air in what is considered one of the most shocking moments in comic book history. Here she’s very similar to Mariel Hemingway in “Superman: The Quest for Peace.” She’s injected in to the story to create obligatory conflict in the life of Peter and Eddie. She’s only a prop to connect Eddie and Peter together and to create sexual tension that’s lost once Peter and Mary Jane get together. It’s a crime because the character is very pivotal to Peter’s development as a superhero and because Bryce Dallas Howard is absolutely needless. Sure she looks very sexy as a blonde, but Raimi plays up on her physical assets and neglects any and all relevance to the characters in the story.

Here she’s reduced to being a damsel in distress much in the tradition of Mary Jane and flirts with Black Spider Man for the remainder of her screen time. That’s a great disservice to the career of Howard who is basically on the track to becoming one of the best actors of this generation. Stacy is just one minor obstacle in Peter and Mary Jane’s romance and she becomes quite a nuisance even when Raimi attempts to garner some sympathy with her difficulty keeping Eddie Brock’s delusions at bay. James Cromwell is also pissed away as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father, who is rendered useless in situations involving his daughter in peril. In this movie the police are basically without a purpose whenever Spider-Man is dueling with Sandman and Venom, so it’s quite laughable when you see them standing around and waiting for Spidey to help out.

One of the many aspects of the story that many have mocked is the conveniently placed butler to Harry who becomes his Aunt May. As Harry’s rage and anger becomes more and more troublesome Raimi hands us Harry’s butler who is all knowing and is able to magically bring Harry over to the light revealing that his father Norman basically killed himself and his own evil deeds were his undoing. This gives us a rather clumsy look at Harry’s own turn in to a hero who arrives to save Peter just in time and sacrifice his life for his pal and Mary Jane. Raimi seems interested in displaying this heroic feat with some build-up that falls painfully flat. Further digging the film in to a pit, Harry manages to defeat the whiny Eddie Brock with fancy hand grenades.

It’s an anti-climax that will go down in history as one of the bigger foul ups in Raimi’s film career. Venom simply vanishes in front of the exploding bombs and Peter manages to pep talk Sandman in to giving up his evil ways. He then fades away in to the wind slowly. How noble. See? He’s a good guy after all. He has a sick daughter, you know.

“Spider-Man 3” is just awful to sit through again and again and after repeated viewings I honestly don’t plan to watch it any time soon. By part three it was pretty clear that everyone was on auto-drive. All the major villains of the Spider-Man universe had been explored and now Raimi was going to begin tapping the lesser known baddies. But Sony doesn’t care. Neither do any of the cast if you really watch the movie. I mean everyone here looks bored and the Raimi brothers just basically go over the same motions repeatedly.

Hell it’s pretty obvious three was going to be a bust if you ever take a look at the interviews. Everyone apparently is collecting a paycheck, most of all James Franco who doesn’t even look like he wants to be at the press junkets when the movie was released. The interviews during talk shows were lethargic and no one had any excitement when discussing this project. And it reflected on part three which would have probably been bad even if Raimi had carte blanche, because the story was broken before Venom was implanted.

So after constant news reports about Raimi battling the executives at Sony and with constant problems with the script fans got the unfortunate revelation that everyone who appeared in the first three movies were canned and all ideas by Raimi and co. were immediately forgotten instantly destroying any future ideas the director had planned for the final three films, and quickly nixing the planned “Venom” spin-off. But it was forecast in advance what with talks of Raimi upping the budget for the fourth entry, and the possibility that Kirsten Dunst was going to drop out of the role of Mary Jane. But even in the face of this cinematic disaster fans were still extremely vocal about Raimi and his creative team being kicked to the curb. Now Sony wants to restart the series with less money and rewind the entire origin to feature Peter back in High School dealing with teenage problems.

They’re making the series “darker and grittier” and that seems to be about all we know at the moment. A lot of fans on the web attribute this reboot to Sony’s awareness that Raimi’s third film, while successful, was horrible and left no real opening for a fourth film. One of Peter’s only friends Harry died, Aunt May became pretty pointless to Peter’s personal life, and Mary Jane and Peter are in a very deep relationship leaving very little tension and obstacles for future films.

One of the major flaws of the Raimi reign is that he introduced Mary Jane much too quickly. Sure she was more recognizable, but Raimi would have been wise to introduce Gwen Stacy first, have her die at the hands of Green Goblin by the end of part one, and then set the stages to introduce Mary Jane which would have allowed for more tension and character development and leave the door open for more sequels.

By part three it was clear the writers were in a rut with no way out. As we’ve seen in many sitcoms and television dramas once the guy gets his girl all of the chemistry and tension is lost and the writers quickly run out of ideas. Raimi would have either been forced to break them up, which in the long run would have been way too melodramatic, or stick to his guns and keep their relationship frozen, which would have meant much less character progression and dullsville.

What kept Spider-Man’s life going was his constant ins and outs with Mary Jane. What else to do but start over and begin a new timeline that’s flexible enough to allow progression in to these relationships and bonds? Hey, they do it in the comic world all the time. The fan base has been split down the middle with folks who wanted to see Raimi continue with the series and possibly fix the mistakes he made, while others want a new take on the character. I’m in the latter portion because while the series was influential and while Raimi is an excellent director his vision for Spider-Man was pretty much a departure from the material and watered down most of what made Spider-Man so attractive.

I mean I’m a fan of Raimi’s as well, but let’s face it, his take on Spider-Man was far from perfect. In one of the cheesiest moments of “Spider-Man 2” (an otherwise entertaining sequel), Peter Parker is unmasked in front of a crowd of subway riders and is carried along the crowds who proceed to cradle and protect him in the face of his menace Doctor Octopus. In Part three this was completely forgotten. Why didn’t anyone report this? Why didn’t anyone call out to him when he became Black Spider-Man? Why didn’t Peter ever mention it again? You’re telling me no one took a picture of him? Did Robbie ever actually know that Peter was Spider-Man?

That being said, storywise I wanted to see more of Peter in high school but Raimi pretty much glossed over that as a means of setting the spider bite in to motion. I assume he also sped through Peter’s high school life because it was impossible to believe Franco and Maguire were high school seniors. Not to mention most of the stories for the series were so melodramatic and depressing and failed to entertain the younger crowds who came to see action. Raimi should be applauded for wanting to include an interesting story but in the mix he forgot to add what made Spider-Man so appealing. The fact that he’s a nerd through and through and takes his job with a smirk. Even in the face of extreme danger Peter always had a one liner in response. Peter in Raimi’s story was just too whiny to actually give his villains a run for their money and he only chucked out a few clever one liners here and there and just became a brooding basket case.

And when put to the test, Maguire and Dunst were all wrong for Peter and Mary Jane. Maguire was dorky but too goofy at times while Dunst just didn’t exude that adventurous spunky sexiness we love about Mary Jane. Raimi turned her in to this dysfunctional shrill romantic interest. Raimi’s series was already dark so if Sony wants darker, I suspect we’ll see Spider Man doing his best impression of Batman. Since “The Dark Knight” every studio wants their superhero films to be dark and gritty hoping to match that success. Clearly they’re missing the point. And did I mention it will be in 3D?! That will get asses in to seats.

But I’m welcoming this reboot because it may be interesting to see what new director Marc Webb has planned for this story. The man has a great vision for detail and knows how to portray human relationships as was evident in “(500) Days of Summer,” plus there are reports Brian Michael Bendis, writer for “Ultimate Spider-Man,” has been a consultant, so there may just be hope for Spider Man yet. It might be better than what Raimi had planned for part four which included The Vulture (likely played by John Malkovich), his assistant The Vulturess who (according to rumors) was to be played by Anne Hathaway who’d portray Felicia Hardy (another important supporting character in the Spider-Man universe) only as the Vulturess and not the Black Cat, and a Spider Baby.

Yikes. What would he have planned after? Pre-school?

Don’t worry, Raimi will land on his feet.

Either way Sony has set a major overhaul in motion and the child in me who loves surprises is fascinated to learn what they have in store for comic geeks around the world. Maybe corporate greed will benefit our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in the long run and this reboot will be the shot in the arm Spider-Man needs. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.