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Spidey review - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Spidey review
Okay, I don't think I've ever waited this long after seeing something to review it, but it's been an odd couple of weeks. I doubt there are any "spoilers" left for a movie that's already been seen by anyone with a mild inclination to see it at this point -- ;) -- but I'll cut anyway.

I liked this movie, honestly. I don't have any issues with coldness, or length, or any of the other things I've heard complained about. It wasn't perfect, but it was... quite enjoyable.

The first thing I should probably cop to is that I am movie-only in terms of Spider-man. I don't have anything against the comics, but I've never been much of a comic reader, and just don't know that much about Spidey comics canon, except that he's not, apparently, forty years older than he was when he started, and I sort of recognize the names of the girls. I'm invested entirely in the movie-verse. The second thing is... I don't give a rip about Mary Jane. No, I haven't taken to shipping Peter/Gwen (or Peter/Harry, for that matter), I just never could seem to summon much emotional investment in her, or worry about her romantic entanglements. She's kind of generic at best, kind of annoying at worst. (Sweetheart, if your boyfriend is off saving lives, he's going to miss the occasional curtain, and after this many years, you probably should have noticed that his superpowers don't include telepathy and you actually have to tell him that something's bothering you, and what it is.) On the other hand, I have, from the first scene at the field trip, loved the friendship between Peter and Harry, and been very invested how that situation would turn out.

After the first one, a friend very carefully said, "Uh, you do know he becomes the next Goblin, right?" which, well... that was fairly obvious from the set-up, and actually made the friendship more interesting. How was it going to play?

In other words, I was pre-disposed to like the major, pivotal role that this friendship played in Spider-man 3. After S2, I was a little concerned; that had been a bit cartoony, but even before Harry loses his memory, in S3, it's getting better. He's at MJ's play, when he talks to Peter, there's actual hurt as opposed to virtual mustache twirling, and Peter manages to screw up, too. When he loses his memory, the three actors all do a good job of making it feel like Harry is glad to have sealed away that crazy little part of his brain, but the script sets it up well so that when he recovers his memory, it's reasonable that he'd be pissed off at Peter freshly for trying to hide why (or that) they'd been estranged. He chewed a little scenery going back into goblin-mode, but I'll let him have that. The confrontation in the flat where he gets scarred was gripping, and great character work on Peter as well. And then...

...Talk about your sudden joyful turn! Great Tolkien, the second when the Green Goblin bomb hit the Sandman was a eucatastrophic moment. (Though I'm not sure Tolkien would appreciate being cited in a sentence including "Green Goblin bomb" and "Sandman"...) Harry, in full possession of his faculties, makes the choice to let go and be the man he should have been. I'd say, "If that were the only plot, I'd have been completely happy," but of course, it needed the other villains to serve as a catalyst. Wouldn't have worked if there hadn't been something so dire and threatening that Peter needed to ask for Harry's help. (And I loved that the commercials and trailers all suggested it was MJ he was asking for help, but it turned out to be Harry. Nice misdirection.)

So, moving on to our catalyst plot.

Sandman, Uncle Ben, Venom, etc.

The back story on how Sandman shot Uncle Ben was contrived and awkward, but whatever. He was an okay character. Not one in whom I was desperately interested, and I could have done with a little less in the special effects scenes. Yes, they were well done, but did I really need to watch sand moving around for what felt like hours at a stretch? (And am I the only one who could have stood some background on just what the heck the scientists were studying at that hour with sand and the particle generator?)

Venom... I liked the Eddie Brock character, and Venom was moderately interesting as a symbiote, but, um, I'm afraid my brain got caught on the dumbest thing, that being that a meteor crashing into Central Park, landing on the ground at approximately a meter across after atmospheric burn, would have vaporized a good chunk of Manhattan. Peter and MJ, a few feet away from the impact site, wouldn't have ever had to worry about supervillains or bad reviews again. Once that was over, it was handled interestingly. I liked the fact that it magnified character traits rather than creating them, and I just loved that Peter, when not being consumed by vengeance and anger, turned into an uber-dork. Hey, why would it just magnify one trait?

The repeated theme of forgiveness and grace was well played throughout (though they missed a mark not having MJ have a scene of, you know, forgiving Peter for not being perfect). Harry forgiving Peter, Peter forgiving Sandman (sorry, forgot his real name), Brock not forgiving Peter... all very nicely put together.

There are things I would have done differently. Of course, I haven't made a huge mega-movie, but hey.

The first is in the Harry plot. The butler contrivance was cringe-worthy. We'd already had a scene of Peter realizing something on his own, getting rid of the black suit... it would have made a nice mirror scene to have a sequence where Harry figures out, on his own, that there are things more important than revenge, and lets go of his anger. It could have ended ambiguously with him making a decision, and we don't know what it is until he shows up in goblin gear to nuke the Sandman, but I think it would have been better to have it emerge organically than to have the butler coincidentally tell him something that he's neglected to mention for quite a long time.

The Sandman plot... maybe cut a little bit of the angsting here and there. It wasn't all that compelling in the first place, and it just felt like too much time went to it.

I have to go with the critics on the dance scene in the jazz club. That was an eye-roller. Surely, something else could have set him off. (Honestly, I think I'd have been happier if they cut off the "tension with Mary Jane" plot altogether and spent more time making the villain plots cohere.)

What's with the "a man needs to put his wife's needs ahead of his own" thing? I mean, yes, obviously when you're in a relationship, you need to make compromises and learn to give and take, and... well, generally be a grown-up. It was all a set up, of course, for the fact that Peter didn't listen all that much to MJ when he probably should have, but in most cases, that wasn't a question of putting his needs ahead of hers, but of not being observant enough to notice that she needed something at all. Peter didn't open the movie with a lot of needs to put ahead of hers, and when he did get some needs that were more pressing, he still didn't put them ahead of her needs, because he was clueless about her needs. The whole plot line also went nowhere, as Peter only makes the slightest pass at understanding that he's missed something rather major, and MJ never brings it up again. The only thing it served to do was make it believable when she "broke up" with him, except that he still hadn't quite grasped it at that point, so it wouldn't have made it particularly believable to him. Then again, maybe if I cared about MJ, all of this would make sense. Who knows?

The last one is really petty, but it was distracting, and when I mentioned it to my roommate, she said she'd noticed the same thing (and was relieved that someone else noticed it)--the very last shot of MJ and Peter's clasped hands... er... Obviously, Kirsten Dunst bleaches her arm hair to make it invisible, but in that shot, the light caught it and made every damned hair glow. Cinematographer... what were you thinking? Don't shine a spotlight on bleached hair! It defeats the purpose. (Hey, I told you it was petty.)

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Comments
sarah531 From: sarah531 Date: May 26th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yay, I'm so glad you reviewed this! I like your reviews. :D

Harry, in full possession of his faculties, makes the choice to let go and be the man he should have been. I'd say, "If that were the only plot, I'd have been completely happy," but of course, it needed the other villains to serve as a catalyst. Wouldn't have worked if there hadn't been something so dire and threatening that Peter needed to ask for Harry's help.

Heh, the 'physically and mentally scarred young man with questionable father figure finds redemption' plot. Always liked that one. ;)

What's with the "a man needs to put his wife's needs ahead of his own" thing?

In truth, I assumed it was in there just so they could give Aunt May something to do/say. :p

Where d'ya reckon they should go with the story for Spider-Man 4? :D
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 26th, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, the 'physically and mentally scarred young man with questionable father figure finds redemption' plot. Always liked that one. ;)

Yeah, I'm nothing if not utterly predictable in my tastes. ;p

The problem they'd have with S4 is that they've definitely built it around the structure of the three of them--Peter, MJ, and Harry. Whatever they do now that Harry's dead will require making a bad change. They could go with solely MJ and Peter--in which case, MJ is going to have to learn to do something other than be menaced once a movie after complaining to Peter about how he's not paying enough attention to her. Also, it would be a little off-balance. They could introduce a new third, but that would have a bad "replacement" vibe about it. Or they could bring Harry back to life, which would (a) be a little cheesy and (b) set of wank the likes of which hasn't been seen outside of Harry Potter and Star Wars.
sarah531 From: sarah531 Date: May 26th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm nothing if not utterly predictable in my tastes. ;p

You know...it might be worth noting that in the comics, Harry's redemption plays out kinda Darth-Vader-style when he puts his son in danger. Heh.

The problem they'd have with S4 is that they've definitely built it around the structure of the three of them--Peter, MJ, and Harry. Whatever they do now that Harry's dead will require making a bad change.

I figure it's likely that Gwen will play a bigger role if SM4 comes about, so they could reassign the 'damsel in distress' role to her and have MJ actually helping Peter out a little. ;)

Harry could come back as a ghost! Uncle Ben and Norman Osborn both did, after all. :p
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ashavah From: ashavah Date: May 26th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's nice to see a review from someone who's not huge into the comics and therefore is coming much more from my perspective. (Mind you, I haven't even seen Spiderman 2, so yeah ...) I also really loved the stuff with Harry and like you would have liked that to have been sort of the main focus. I thought there was just too much stuff going on, too many shifts in who was the enemy and what was going on to make it seem like a good movie. I think that maybe one of the various plotlines/villians/whatever needed to be cut in order to strengthen the others.

But Harry pretty much made up for everything else.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 26th, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
See, that's the thing. I read so many reviews that didn't touch on the fact that nearly everything is made up for by the Harry factor.
ashavah From: ashavah Date: May 26th, 2007 06:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
*really doesn't have a slight crush on James Franco, not at all*

It's probably bad that part of the reason I love Harry so much is that James Franco reminds me of one of my OCs.

But independent of that, the Harry stuff was awesome.
darth_pipes From: darth_pipes Date: May 27th, 2007 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Harry making up the butler would fit with the Osbourne family history. In the comics and as you can see in the movies, both Norman and Harry suffer from schizophrenia (excuse my spelling).
akashasheiress From: akashasheiress Date: May 26th, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
What was with the A-Meteor(!)-Just-Happens-to-Land-Near-Peter-and-Just-Happens-to-Contain-Parasitical-Black-Goo-That-Fits-Into-the-Story?

All in all, I liked this film, though.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 26th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm willing to deal with the coincidence... it's the crater (or lack thereof) that makes me go, "Hmm." It's Very Special Meteorite.
jetamors From: jetamors Date: May 26th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like the theory that Harry was hallucinating the butler just like he hallucinated his father. Probably not what they intended, but it makes a lot more sense.

What I don't get is why Gwen Stacy was there. If they wanted to name-drop her or set her up for something in the 4th movie, they could have just kept her to answering the question in class.
darth_pipes From: darth_pipes Date: May 26th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great review, Fern. I really enjoyed Spider-Man 3 myself, despite a few problems I had with it.

The Harry plotline was the best. I agree with you that the butler thing shouldn't have been in there but otherwise, this storyline was played out in a very compelling way. I was thrilled at the end when Harry came in Han Solo-style to help out Peter. It was like the old Spidey team-ups in the comics. James Franco has been a favorite of mine since Freaks and Geeks and he did a great job in this film. His scene with Dunst was pretty good too.

The only two things that justify Sandman in this movie in my opinion was the incredible FX and the fact that it led to a great team-up at the end. Thomas Haden Church is a terrific actor but there wasn't much for him here.

Eddie Brock/Venom I liked. Brock was more of a Flash Thompson/brusier-type in the comics but here, Raimi made him more like a darker Peter. Topher Grace has tremendous comic-timing and plays quirky characters well and was fun in this role. While Venom wasn't in the movie as long as I would have liked, I thought they did a good job with him.

The Venom costume is from another world (out of The Secret Wars comic) so I was happy they kept the suit's other-wordly origins. But I agree, it was incredibly contrived how Peter just happened to be in the vicinity of it when it crashed. In the cartoon, Peter gets it when he helps a space shuttle land. That made a lot more sense.

The problem with Gwen Stacey is that a lot of her backstory was given to Mary Jane. Stacey was the first great love of Peter's life and her death (being thrown off the Brooklyn Bridge by the original Goblin) had a profound impact on Peter. But with most of her backstory given to Mary Jane, the character just doesn't have the same effect. Still, I liked her better than Mary Jane in the movies. Peter tries to give her good advice when she's down but she pulls this "But it's MY problem!" crap with him.

I really liked Dark Peter and I thought this storyline was strong.
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malabud From: malabud Date: May 27th, 2007 07:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I never posted my own review of the movie, but I think yours hits most of the highlights. I felt that the pacing was off in Spider-Man 3. The fact that they lingered on the individual grains of sand was indicative, I think, of the larger pacing problem. The whole movie needed to be tightened up a bit and it would've flowed a lot better. Like you, I also thought Harry's plot line was the best and strongest of the various plots.

I was a bit irked by Harry's butler, however. What reason did he have for concealing that vital piece of information anyway? He could have saved his young employer years of unhappy separation from his two best friends.

Are you much of a fanfic reader? I know that you write excellent fic, but I don't know if you read much of it. (Heck, even JKR thinks you write great fic, hence her endorsement of your Puff!Tonks. *g*) Anyway, I came across a wonderful post-Spider-Man 2 fic that only takes movie canon into account. The whole fic is from the viewpoint of an OC, and it definitely left me smiling. Here's the link if you're interested.: Just a Face On a Train.
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