By Noel Vera
Dir: Sam Raimi (2007)
If you look
at the reviews, the responses seem fairly consistent: "tired," one
critic wrote; "by-the-numbers" another observed; "clearly not enjoying
himself" a third one notes. Possibly they're projecting their own
reactions to the film onto the filmmaker; that said, this is easily
the most unwieldy installment in the franchise yet.
of it promises to be good--Raimi obviously has a great deal of affection
for The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church); he directs the actor as if
he were Henry Fonda playing Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath--a tragedy
on two legs--giving him a creation image worth of Genesis (The Sandman,
rising out of a sand pile like an apparition in a desert storm),
and a climactic confrontation that through sheer grandeur beats
anything Peter Jackson tried in his far more bloated King Kong remake
(there's nothing like lighting your monster with spotlights from
underneath and giving him a rippling-sand surface, including the
occasional wandering hollow block (oddly enough, that rippling effect
hearkens back to an unintentional (but still remembered, still beloved)
side effect found in the original Kong model, back in '33)).
from space that lands oh-so-conveniently behind Peter Parker's car
(Too fantastic? In a movie about a youth turned superhero through
a spider-bite?) seems like an equally interesting challenge, for
two reasons: 1) it gives Raimi a chance to pay homage to (rip off?)
both Superman 3 and The Blob; 2) it enables Raimi to play variations
on Maguire's Wholesome Boy image, paint our hero a few of shades
of gray, perhaps even do a few song-and-dance numbers, though the
end results aren't all that appetizing (possessed by the evil alien
blob, Maguire turns into John Travolta).
Even James Franco as Harry Osborne (who I often disliked, mainly
because his one-note "Spiderman must die!" mantra grew old in the
second movie) finally gets his moment of glory setting Maguire up
for a fall, then flashing his James Dean smile (a Franco trademark)
at the humiliated Maguire through a cafe window (though I'm less
happy about the amnesia bit--what was that all about again?).
I'll give credit
to Raimi for trying to visualize what fighting on a swinging web
line must be like: at every point in their battles you're aware
that the hero isn't flying, he's flinging himself, from building
to building, and that at any moment he could fling himself too far--or
not far enough--miss, and spatter himself all over the New York
city pavement. Raimi cuts a tad too quickly for my taste here, (in
his Evil Dead movies I thought his editing was better--lively without
being extravagant), but his swinging footage has a jerky, nervous
energy all its own.
I'm not happy with the CGI, but to Raimi's credit he seems more
master of them than mastered by them, less concerned with making
the effects realistic and more with having junky fun with them,
trying to capture--and surpass--the helter-skelter quality of the
battles found in the comic books.
The odd man
out in all this, apparently, is Topher Grace's Venom. Two predicaments
(The Sandman, an alien symbiote) is stretching things; add an ever-present
threat (Harry Osborne) and you're really pushing it; throw in yet
another supervillain (Venom) and that's the straw that breaks the
spider's back. I'm not ready to accept or try feel any sense of
menace from said character, much less feel any sympathy for him
(the way I'm asked to do for, say, The Sandman); at the point when
he's being created (roughly more than halfway through the picture),
it's time to pull things together into something resembling a reasonably
tight resolution, not add more complications to the mix (speaking
of coincidences, what was he doing praying in the same Catholic
Church where Parker was struggling with his symbiote? (Yes, I mentioned--and
dismissed--the unlikeliness of coincidences earlier; I also mentioned
something about spiders' backs)). Even Venom's eventual fate feels
arbitrary, tacked on (The Sandman's, however, seems beautifully
melancholic and ambivalent).
As for the
actors--Maguire does well enough, until he tries to do bad; Dunst
still screams helplessly from the sidelines (I'd call her bad singing
a masterpiece of characterization though, if I were more sure that
it was characterization); Bryce Dallas Howard looks nice but seems
more like an obligatory add-on (if I remember her character right,
she was very important to the comic book). J.K. Simmons is given
much more to do (always a good thing), and does it well; ditto Elizabeth
Banks (last remembered trying to sweet talk her monstrous hubby
into lowering his guard in James Gunn's Slither) and Mageina Tovah
(not to mention that to these jaded eyes they're both quite hot).
criticism of the movie's morality and while I can't dispute specific
points, my knee-jerk reaction is: holy moley, what's the big deal?
When there are movies out there with far more questionable baggage
moral issues--Stan Lee does his usual cameo in this picture, and
as usual my short hairs bristle at the sight of him (so when's he
going to finally give due credit to Kirby, Ditko, et. al.?).
passable entertainment, but the evidence at hand suggests that maybe
for the fourth installment they should be getting some other filmmaker.
Comments? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org