Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Spider Man 3

(movie reviews)

Once again I'm a bit behind the times on this one, as a result of living out in the Japanese countryside. This movie never came to a movie theater near me, and only now is it hitting the video stores. But, better late than never, I'm chiming in with my two cents.

As I've previously written, back in my teen-age comic book collecting days I was a DC fan rather than Marvel. But if you're hooked by the comic book bug, you're always peeking over to the other side every once and a while to see what they've got.

The first Spiderman comic I remember reading was up at good ol' Camp Roger. A couple of my cabin mates had brought their comic book collections up to camp with them, including some old Spiderman books from the 1960s that somebody's uncle had given them. (Probably not a good idea to bring these classic collectibles up to camp with you, but kids do stupid things).

These comic books were passed around the cabin, and I remember being struck (as every Spiderman fan always is) by how this wasn't the story of an invincible adult hero like Superman, but about an insecure teenager trying to keep up in an adult world. At one point Spiderman even has to take a break from fighting the bad guys to call home and let his Aunt May know he's going to be out late tonight.

And it wasn't only Spiderman, it was his whole group of friends who seemed caught in above their heads. There was one panel where a teenage Harry Osborn is walking down the street tormented about what to do with the knowledge that his father is the Green Goblin. Mary Jane invites him out to socialize, but he blows her off and she yells out at him "You're more fun than a barrel of monkeys" as he hurries home.

A few years later I again stumbled across some Spiderman comic books, this time more current ones. This was about the mid 90s, and Harry Osborn was still around, but he had now gone insane and was in a psychiatric institution for supervillians. His wife and young son came to visit him, but he screamed at his wife, "Don't make my son weak. Don't make me embarrassed of him like my father was of me." Then the guards broke in and tranquilized him.

I was blown away by this. First of all by the idea that one of Spiderman's best friends would evolve into one of his arch enemies. (This idea may be a bit cliche in the comic book world, but when you're 13 and you encounter it for the first time, it seems something comparable to Shakespearean drama).

And secondly, I was fascinated that this story arch had taken 30 years to develop. This hadn't been some two parter episode on TV, these were characters with a relationship and history going back 30 years and slowly developing over time. It was this more than anything else that fascinated me about comic books, and made me want to become a collector myself.

(Ironically, it led me into the arms of Marvel's competitor DC, but that was because I hadn't learned enough about comics to understand the difference between Marvel's type of story telling and DC's types of stories. DC's characters had more nostalgic value to me because of Superfriends cartoons and the Superman movies. And I was aware that the DC characters were more iconographic and had longer histories going back to the 30s and 40s. I didn't know that DC had reset their history several times, but that's a different subject).

So, every comic book fan knows what it is that makes Spiderman great. The question is do these movies manage to capture it?

Sort of. As I wrote before, the first movie seemed to rush through the origin story a bit fast, and make too quick of a transition from normal teen to battling Super powered villains. But the second movie in particular did a good job of trying to show the traditional Spiderman angst as a guy facing all the normal problems of a college student and trying to be a superhero on top of that. (Although, I'm not sure Tobey Maguire was the best choice for Peter Parker. I know it's traditional for Hollywood to cast 30 year olds as teenagers, but by the third movie he's starting to look his age).

Obviously big budget Hollywood movies can't take years to evolve a storyline as their comic book counterparts do, but given the limitations of the medium, I think the writers made a good stab at showing the evolution of Harry Osborn from friend to villain over the space of 3 movies. Someone apparently made the call that Harry Osborn as the new Green Goblin wouldn't be enough to carry the 3rd movie on his own (which was probably right. It would have felt too repetitious of the original) so this movie also introduces Sandman and Venom.

And, as every other reviewer has already pointed out, 3 villains might be too far in the other direction. Especially since both the Sandman and Venom have their own backstories, adding to the muddled plot of this movie.

But as easy as it is to take this movie apart piece by piece once you're done watching it, I'll say this for it: I never felt bored while it was going on. Judged by the standards of summer movie popcorn flicks, this is a great movie to chomp down popcorn to. There's plenty of great action scenes, and enough different plot lines to cater to your ruined attention span.

My only big criticisms:
1). That scene in the jazz bar was just a little too weird. I think this would have been a better movie if that had gotten left on the cutting room floor.
2). I don't really understand why Mary Jane went along with Harry Osborn's plot to break up with Peter. I know he threatened Peter's life, but I don't see how she felt she could help anything by going along.

I was going to say something about how I thought the whole Harry Osborn amnesia bit was too cheesy and cliche, but after checking wikipedia, it appears that this is part of the character's history in the comic book, and the movie was just being faithful to the source material. (I know they made all sorts of other changes from the comic book and various judgement calls, but I won't get on their case too much about it.)

Link of the Day
Project Censored Releases List of "Top 25 Censored Stories" of 2006-2007

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