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Spider-Man 3
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, James Cromwell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris and Theresa Russell
Director: Sam Raimi
Scriptwriters: Alvin Sargent and Ivan Raimi
Composer: Christopher Young with Danny Elfman themes
Columbia Pictures
Running Time: 2 ½ hours
Rating: PG 13
Film also in IMAX

Writing a review for Spider-Man 3 seems like such an effort in futility. Spider-Man fans will see it regardless of anything I might say and those who can't stand super hero movies will probably pass regardless of any raves. So let me step outside the realm of reviewer for a second and talk personally about my experience with the film.

I normally would have sent one of our staff writers, Jennifer, to do screen this but she was in Germany. So I went myself with no expectations since I am not a huge fan of either of the previous spidie flicks. I was not sure I could deal with another round of comic book predictability and Mary Jane's mopey-dopey character. I am always able to be unbiased with films to be fair to the reader but at the same time a film like this sort of needs a fans opinion. But I grabbed my complimentary popcorn and Sprite and settled in for the 2 and a half hour ride. And a surprisingly fun ride it was.

From the opening montage of the past two installments to the final credits there was a decent balance of action, humor, special effects and at times talented acting. The writing was still comic book at best but I kept reminding myself that Spider-Man is exactly that. But where the writing lacked, the special effects made up for it and then some. One of
Spider-Man's foes in the new one is Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). A man, fittingly enough, made of sand. The effects team may have secured themselves a Goldman for their creation and transformation of this new villain. 

Returning are Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), and Harry Osborn (James Franco). Staples from the past who add grounding and familiarity. I was also pleased to see Topher Grace (Eddie Brock) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy) added to the mix. Both are strong young actors who help bring life to the lackluster lines they are given. 

And of course there is the black suit. Venom. The parasite of a villain. Granted Spidey looks good in black even though it is in black that his own darkness betrays him. So this film is as much about Parker healing inside as it is about ridding the city of mean and nasty people. There is a lot of dialogue about forgiveness; vengeance; and facing the truth that is often
hard to acknowledge. Spider-Man 3 did not shy away from any of these issues and is better for it. Because even if we have ever donned a mask to fight villains; we all have them in our live, people we would like to see pay for injustice. Sometimes it is to the point of our own insides festering until we find a black persona draped about us. And by then it is hard to shake. 

Spider-man is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence. It is a little darker than the original two films but the action is no more violent than before. If you felt safe taking your family to the earlier ones then you will have no problems with this one. I give it 4 out of 5 black gooey things. It surprised me and kept me entertained for the entire time. That is
hard to do these days and so I commend it for that. With a look at the new web slinger. I am Matt Mungle.

The Mungle 5/4/2007

Matt is a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association (NTFCA) and hosts the weekly syndicated Indie Rock Radio Show Spin 180. Plus with his wife Cindy they do a weekly radio feature, The Mungles on Movies. For additional reviews and interview clips visit the website www.mungleshow.com


Spider-Man 3”has just about everything but the kitchen sink, and if that were a plot device for a villain, it would be there, too. Not only does your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man go against villains, there are three of them. Scriptwriters Alvin Sargent and Ivan Raimi went overboard here, as two would have been plenty. There is Harry Osborn (James Franco) who is Goblinized into using his late father’s equipment in a love/hate relationship with Spider-Man, add The Sandman (a bulked-up James Haden Church) who got siliconized in a sandpit and Venom (Topher Grace) who got licorice-ized (that’s what it looks like) by an extraterrestrial and looks like Spider-Man with “Jaws”-type fangs. What does a guy have to do to get a peaceful day to hang out (excuse the pun.)

The story has Peter Parker/Spider-Man about to propose to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), who in turn is starring in a Broadway play. Peter trying to get a marriage proposal right is one of the humorous elements in the film. In the meantime, Mary Jane loses her job (can’t project her voice) and is hired as a waitress. When Spider-Man rescues people with a dramatic flair, the city honors him and it goes straight to Spidey’s head. Mary Jane needs understanding, but gets ego, so goes to Harry for friendship. This love triangle lasts through the film as alliances come and go. The villains hatch plots, are beaten back and come for more. Each time we get to understand a bit more of their persona, such as Venom hates to be humiliated, Goblin, Jr. idolizes his late father and The Sandman is fond of his ill daughter. The city is their playground and you wonder what the tax base is here to rebuild what the main characters manage to destroy.

Special effects are spectacular, especially the chases between hi-rise canyons in the city. Then, there is the making of The Sandman from a human to a pile of sand to a gravel-creature.  Here is New York in light and sunshine on the good days, and looking dark and gloomy when Spider-Man is in his bad mood. You will think of a certain caped comic book figure when you see Spider-Man in his black suit sitting atop a building spire against the moonlight. 

The blob from outer space that inhabits first Peter Parker and then Topher Grace looks like string licorice. As usual, Mary Jane is in peril and we meet a new in-peril damsel, Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard from “The Village”) who is the daughter of the police chief (James Cromwell.) Of the chase scenes, my favorite is the first one in the film, between Goblin, Jr. and Peter.

Tobey Maguire gets to show what happens when Spider-Man exhibits a bit of evil when the extraterrestrial inhabits him. A slightly different hair-do, cocky walk and Peter is a bad boy after the ladies. He carries the change well.  James Franco has to go from extreme to extreme, too, and also handles his character with expertise. Kirsten Dunst’s “Mary Jane” has long hair that awkwardly hangs around her and is a distraction. Here is a girl with ego of her own and seems to want a pity party. Rosemary Harris is the advice-giving aunt while J. K. Simmons is the editor you love to hate. Topher Grace gives the word “smarmy” new meaning when we first meet him as a rival photographer to Peter Parker.

All in all, Spider-Man 3 is a worthy sequel and the writers have added enough items to the plot to keep your interest for over two hours. Emotionally, there is plenty for everyone. However, I think the film is better for kids over the age of ten. Christopher Young’s music score (with recognizable Danny Elfman themes) is a good addition and enhances the film.

Copyright 2007 Marie Asner
Submitted 5/6/07


The Spider-Man film franchise has, thankfully, become to modern American culture what the Greek myths were to their culture, or the Nordic folk-tales were to theirs. Ripe with the elements of good storytelling and rich with symbolism and imagery, the newest installment of Director Sam Raimi's trilogy one-ups the other two films and places itself near the forefront of the genre's best. Finally, American film has a folk-hero who unabashedly confronts moral issues with thought provoking sincerity, all the while engaging with fervent fans by way of fast paced, exhilarating action sequences and lots of explosions.

Indeed, the film is an incredible example of the marvels of modern CG. And yes, it is a collection of Hollywood star power. And yes, it is the product of one of the most successful film franchises ever. But even so, Spider-Man 3 has the qualities to stand alone as a great film. Granted, without an understanding of the evolution of the Spider Man character and the previous films this movie would not make a lot of sense, but that is the case with any trilogy. The Return of the King would make little sense to someone who doesn't understand the first two films; the same with Return of the Jedi.

The film is the latest in the adventures of boy-wonder Peter Parker, again played by Toby Maguire, the college student who was, in the first film, bitten by a spider and who subsequently was granted superpowers. But if you are reading this, you likely know that already.

In Spider-Man 3, Peter is forced to face his old friend Harry, who still hopes to avenge his father's death. Harry's character, played by James Franco, is one of the more engaging characters in the film. Franco seems to have a confidence and energy about him that was lacking in the previous films, likely due to his recent success in other films. Unfortunately, Spider Man must also fight the villainous energies of the Sandman, played adequately by a glossy eyed Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways), and Eddie Brock, played by a humorous but oddly cast Topher Grace (That '70's Show, In Good Company), who is transformed into a villain called Venom, Peter Parker clearly has his work cut out for him.

Many critics have warned that the numerous villains cause the film to get bogged down in the middle act. This commentary is true only as long as viewers allow themselves to lose sight of what the film is truly about: the character of Peter Parker/Spider Man. It has rightly been observed that there simply isn't enough time in the film (even though it is 139 minutes long) to fully develop so many characters with the preferred intensity, (particularly the character of Venom who, as a longtime favorite of Spider Man fans, was apparently an addition to the script that Raimi didn't want but was included to appease fans in case this is the final film). However, that is not the goal of the film-makers.

In Parker we see a character who is faced with the continued ramifications of his lifestyle--ramifications more serious even than those in the second film, and who is faced with having to grow up when he seems unready to do so. Thus, when Mary Jane is forced into hurting him he breaks down and becomes emotionally unstable, even hurtful and violent. Viewers cannot lose sight of the fact that in the two young leads we are watching characters who are college students. They are young and will often act accordingly.

Critics and fans alike have condemned Raimi's decision to make Parker into what appears to be an "emo-kid" in the middle of the film (for the sake of not spoiling the plot too much I won't go into details)--in fact, looking surprisingly like Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes--who struts arrogantly around the streets and bars of New York City, surmising that all the women want him. This little jab at American sub-culture is utterly good-natured and certainly should not be taken too seriously. And yet, it makes sense. Go to a local university or college, go to a local club or bar, go to a sporting event even, and you will see that this is exactly how young people often act. Sure, it is a bit over the top for humor's sake, but not much; surely, being the geek that he is, Parker would have considered such behavior "cool" or socially becoming. College students: look around, don't kid yourselves. I am one of you, after all.

This change occurs while Parker is forced to struggle with an evil symbiote from space which has fixed itself to him and caused him to transform into something slightly dark: as I mentioned, he becomes arrogant and loses sight of what his purpose is. This is the same creature which later transforms Brock into Venom. This new Spider Man begins to go out for revenge of his own when he learns that his uncle's murderer is still alive. Angrily, our hero pursues his enemy in hopes of destroying him, in so doing losing the battle with his inner demons, finally giving in to his impulses he had long kept at bay. While under the influence of this symbiotic creature Spidey finally forgets what his uncle reminded him in the first film: "with great power, comes great responsibility."

It is through this mini anti-aristeia mid film that Parker learns about himself, that we learn about him, and by which he takes one more step in his understanding of good and evil. And it is a moment not native only to this film. Heroes in many tales have had similar moments of self inflation: Beowulf as he stands upon his fallen foe, Robin Hood and King Arthur in numerous instances, and consider the myriad of characters in the Lord of the Rings who for a moment think too highly of themselves, or even Turin in Tolkien's latest published work. Indeed, the climax of most tales' lies in these moments of self absorption. The good guys come out of the moment understanding their fallen nature, as Parker does, or Samson, Saul/Paul, and King David did, and with a newfound vendetta against that which bound them. The bad guy is held by his own pride, and so cares not for others, but instead acts upon some impulse like anger or a desire for revenge and is thus in opposition with the forces of good--generally made up of the majority of the other characters. It is as ancient a formula in story telling as Romeo and Juliet's dreaded double suicide. And that is because it works.

Spider-Man 3 is a movie about the powers of good vs. the power of evil. That being said, there are profound instances of imagery in the film.

At one point we see a humbled and dejected Spider Man perched atop a cathedral overlooking the city as a brilliant sun sets behind him in shades of orange and red. He proceeds, amidst the clangs and chimes of the cathedral bell to attempt to shed the black suit in which he had been living. It was a scene reminiscent for me of the "Voyage of the Dawn Treador" where Aslan helps Eustace shed his dragon's skin, a scene also ripe with imagery and which also deals profoundly with themes like forgiveness.

There are also several moments of choice, both for Parker and other characters which are, in many ways, similar to scenes in Peter Jackson's aforementioned epic trilogy. Again, we see Parker, as Frodo did, grappling with the theme of responsibility, a theme which seems to be eternally present in such films. In the end, it is a decision of mercy and grace which Parker makes that carries the most moral weight in the film. Because he understands the depravity of man, as he experienced in himself (this time), Parker is able to forgive someone, and to make a moral statement absolutely necessary in our modern times. By way of comparison, it is not unlike the mercy Frodo shows to Gollum.

But my favorite piece of imagery in the film is one that many viewers found implausible and even ridiculous. Early in the film the symbiote which overtakes Parker, and later Brock, causing them to change for the worse and with which Parker is forced to struggle, crashes onto earth by way of a falling star near where Parker is star-gazing with Mary Jane. We see a black, sticky looking creature ooze out of a whole and attach itself to Peter's mope-head.

I have head many people complain at the nonsense of this idea. However, I saw it as a wonderful piece of imagery, even metaphor, for the way evil pursues good. We see this dark creature seeking out the greatest example of good the story knows, hoping to extinguish his light, hoping to wreak his good work. And, as evil does in all of our lives at times, it works. For a while.

In the spiritual world, there are few explanations for such things except that evil and good are at war. Spider Man, like any good tale of it's kind, whether Nordic folk tale, Greek Myth, or cinematic epic, exposes this battle and confronts it. That is why movies like the Spider Man franchise must continue to be made.

Though it does have problems here and there--yes, the acting isn't always great, the villains are under developed, and the script borders on cheesy several times--these are the kind of films our theaters need. Whether young or old, athletic or couch potato, nerdy or suave, comic book fan or not, we can all learn something from this film. But we must learn to watch with our eyes open.

If this is the Big Three's (Maguire, Dunst, and Raimi) last hoorah, then I thank them for several years of great fun, great stories, and great lessons. We forgive you for the few shortcomings. Peter did, we can too.  After all, isn't that what Spidey taught us to do?

David Kern 5/10/2007

David is a literature and film student, and enthusiast, who is a fan of folk music, European films, Wendell Berry, and Green Tea. visit his blog at www.besidethequeue.wordpress.com. 


 
 

 

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