Friends, since several of you have asked for my review of Spider-Man 3, here it is. Thanks again to Ken G., who organized the gathering of about a dozen of his friends, as well as Thomas K.Y. and fellow co-worker Mark H., on Sunday, 6 May 2007! We met for an early matinee at the IMAX theater next to Jordan’s Furniture in Framingham, Massachusetts, and found moviegoers already in line. Warning: There are a few plot “spoilers” below.
The superhero sequel had some of the same strong elements as its predecessors: spectacular fight scenes and computer-generated imagery (New York City has never looked so good) and good humor and acting (co-creator Stan Lee and genre veteran Bruce Campbell make more cameos). I also liked the themes of compassion and forgiveness.
On the other hand, as with the “Batman” franchise in the 1990s, “Spidey 3” suffers from sequel bloat: too many villains (Sandman, the “new” Goblin, and Venom), too long a runtime of almost three hours, and an annoying romantic subplot. The alien symbiote Venom was added over director Sam Raimi’s initial objections when the studio wanted a more recently popular villain. When Peter Parker briefly gives in to his darker side, the effect is more silly than scary.
I’ve always had a problem with the casting of these otherwise excellent Marvel Comics adaptations. While J.K. Simmons is perfect as bulldog Daily Bugle editor in chief J. Jonah Jameson, I’ve always found Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst too dour as hero Peter Parker and struggling actress Mary Jane Watson, respectively. Thomas Haden Church was convincing as the shape-shifting Sandman, as was Bryce Dallas Howard as romantic complication Gwen Stacy.
However, Topher Grace, who was so good in sparring with Laura Prepon on That ’70s Show, was more snarky than menacing as Eddie Brock/Venom. As for James Franco as the tortured Harry Osborn/new Goblin, I liked him and think he would have done well as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (along with Keira Knightly as Queen Amidala instead of Natalie Portman).
Overall, I’d give Spider-Man 3 about a 7 or 8 out of 10 — close to the first film, but not as good as Spider-Man 2, which had the best villain in Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. Even a weaker Spidey, however, is better than many comic book adaptations, in my opinion (see also more discussion with co-workers Ken G. and Brian F.).
Why do genre movie series tend to peak at the second installment? Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Superman II, X-Men 2, and now, Spider-Man 2 are all examples. Sure, there are some that barely get off the ground with a strong first installment but disappointing sequels (Highlander and The Matrix come to mind), and a few others don’t mature until later, such as the “Indiana Jones” or “Harry Potter” series.
My theory for the strength of certain sequels is that after re-establishing iconic characters, the second installments in many franchises have both the faithfulness to the source material and the freedom to expand upon their fictional universes. By contrast, the third and subsequent flicks tend to suffer from directorial excess (again, see the “Batman” franchise) or sacrifice fidelity to the tone of the source material for the sake of a larger audience. Having just rewatched Superman Returns this past week, I can only hope that Bryan Singer’s overly reverential reintroduction is followed by a strong sequel.
In the coming week, I hope to catch up on this blog with planned postings about travel, other entertainment, gaming, and work. In the meantime, as Stan “the man” Lee would say, Excelsior! -Gene