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May 04, 2007

Kurt Loder (heh-heh, heh-heh) Pans Spider-Man 3

I've got no love of MTV's supposedly gravitas-dripping gasbag, but his review tracks with my worries about this sequel. When it comes to action movies -- especially superhero movies -- I'm a big fan of the Keep It Simple, Stupid principle.

You have a hero. You have a villain. They torment and frustrate each other for an hour in Act II. Then they have a decisive showdown in Act III and the hero kisses the girl.

Superhero movies keep deviating from this winning structure in a misguided effort, I think, to "escape" the simplistic sort of storytelling in comic books. They get overly plotty -- X-Men 2 and then X Men 3 were big offenders in this regard, with machination and counter-machination we just didn't care about -- as were most of the Batman films, overstuffed with Special Guest Villians with different goals.

Batman Returns, for example, had two main villains -- Max Schreck and the Penguin -- as well as a third semi-villainous love interest in Catwoman. If you're throwing a lot of shit at the wall in hopes it will stick, well, maybe you should revisit the basics of your story to make sure it's not shit that needs to be cast about in such scattershot excess to keep the audience from twigging on to the fact that no single story element is strong enough on its own to sustain the movie.

Batman Begins was also overly busy, but it was also an origins tale, something that tends to get busy due to the need to connect up the origin with the major conflict in the move. Still, I would have preferred simpler there, too. I'm just more forgiving of the complexity in that case, seeing it as a hard-to-avoid problem in origins tales.

Anyway, Spider-Man 3 has three villains, a fourth "villain" for much of its running length in the form of an alien symbiote. And on top of that, it introduces a new love interest.*

There's too much story, is the problem. (The movie is a good 15 minutes longer than the preceding films, and it feels longer still.) And as cool as they may be individually, there are also too many villains.... (In a flourish worthy of a script that's willing to wheel in dying daughters, Harry's menace is conveniently neutralized, for a bit, by a bout of short-term amnesia.) And as if all of this weren't jeopardy enough, Harry's dad (Willem Dafoe) is actually still around as well, stirring up trouble from beyond the grave. ("Make him suffer!")

Exacerbating this overload of villainy is a small black ball of tar-like outer-space gloop called a symbiote... Soon this malevolent goo has taken over Peter's body, forcing him to sexy-up his hairstyle and turning him into an obnoxious disco stud who vamps around town with a demented leer for every passing babe. (Watching the straight-arrow Peter go to the dark side is funny at first; but the caricature gets pretty broad, and the routine goes on too long.)

...

In a way, it may be good that there are so many bad guys. Otherwise, we'd have to endure even more of the gas-passing colloquies that litter the script (written by director Raimi and his brother Ivan, along with "Spider-Man 2" screenwriter Alvin Sargent). The scenes with Aunt May are particularly bromidic this time around ("Learn to forgive yourself," she sagely advises)...

"Particularly bromidic this time around"? Good Lord, I had managed to tie the noose and throw it over a light fixture on the theater's ceiling by the time Aunt May got done with her repetitive, wisdom-of-the-elderely "What A Hero Means To Me" speech in Spidere-Man 2. And you're telling me the old gasbag toes on for even longer this time, saying even more cliched crap?

That speech went on for -- guestimating here; I didn't have a stop-watch -- about forty-three hours and twenty-five minutes. Just to say "heroes are good," "bravery is good," and "heroes who act with bravery are good."

Can't wait to hear her new pontifications. "Water is wet, Peter. The sky is blue. Night is dark, and puppies are cute."

"How do you come by such wisdom, Aunt May?"

"It's a mystery of the aged... much like the mystery a strangely-British accent in an old broad from Queens, NY."

...Most tiresome, though, is Mary Jane, who is given little more to do than whine and shriek throughout the movie. M.J. is now an actress, and as the film opens, she's won the lead role in a Broadway musical — a part from which she's fired after opening night. (We're supposed to sympathize with her, and we do; but we also sympathize with the show's director, who, like us, has heard her sing — Dunst isn't a bad vocalist, exactly, but she's not Broadway.) From this point on, Mary Jane becomes very needy, and there's little relief from her po-faced pouting until Venom gets his hands on her, at which point the shrieking kicks in.

MJ is problematic -- she's supposed to be this gorgeous stunner of an actress (well, model/actress), a sassy extrovert with head-turningly good looks -- and yet she's really more like Gwen Stacey, the awkwardly-cute and shy girl. Every time these movies focus on MJ's career, it just seems... unconvincing.

I'm not really sure how Kirsten Dunst has a career as a big sexpot-ish starlet, so it's kinda hard to see how a chracter she's portryaying does. (She's cute, just not a sexpot.)

Anyway, I know I'll see this, but I do have a feeling a lot of the movie is going to fall into the "I Just Don't Care About This Crap" file, and big other chucks into "Why Are You Showing Me This Lame Shit?" file, and other parts into the "Aunt May's Are Best Seen Not Heard" file.

Hero. Villain. MacGuffin. Torment. Confrontation. That's really all you need. Why do they keep gilding the lily and getting it wrong?

* Actually, Gwen Stacey is an older love interest -- the more-cute-and-sweet-than-beautiful girl Parker dated after he couldn't land Mary Jane, and the girl who was killed by Green Goblin before the Green Goblin was killed by Spider-Man (sort of). But they've bolloxed-up that plotline, and so now Gwen Stacey appears after Parker's basically engaged to MJ and after the man who killed her, Norman Osborne, is himself dead. Why they're introducing this complicating plot element now, with so much else going on in what seems to already be an overly-busy plot, is beyond me, but whatever.


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posted by Ace at 01:44 PM

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