Bloated and overcooked seems like a good way to describe this latest Spider-Man entry. Despite the fact that it fails to live up to the promise of the second installment, this one still delivers on the level of spectacle. The performances are good, for the most part, the effects are the pest of the three, and the action is thrilling. The problems lie within the story, script, and pacing, all of which have issues that threaten to sink it. The relationship is similar to X-Men: The Last Stand and X2, although not to the same extreme. This film is able to survive on the good will built up by the director, and the fact that there are more good points than groaners, though the good points aren’t strung together in a terribly strong fashion.
It is no secret that co-writer/director Sam Raimi is not a fan of the Venom character, and it is no secret that he had to use the character in this film. The inclusion of Eddie Brock and Venom adds way too much to cram into the movie and still allow it to be satisfying. As I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help but think that the original cut must have been in the three and a half to four hour range. There were parts of the film that seemed to have been cut short. Just as we were heading towards interesting character development, we are sent off in another direction. The pace drags along, while at the same time the story seems rushed. It was interesting to watch it play, as it started off so well before becoming a tangled web of dangling threads. Fun to watch, but ultimately left me hungry for something more.
The story picks up with Peter at a high point in his life. He is doing well in school, he is planning on proposing to his beloved Mary Jane, and he is having fun being a crime fighter. However, there is a downside. His former best friend, Harry Osborne, blames Peter/Spider-Man for the death of his father and has found his father’s stash of Goblin goods. He has taken this stash and has plotted his revenge using said materials. Meanwhile, there is a daring prison break and Cain Marko is on the run after being imprisoned for burglary. He is tied into the plot as the man who truly killed Peter’s uncle back in the first movie. Finally, we have the mysterious goo that arrives via meteorite and has the affect of amplifying repressed emotions in whoever it attempts to bond with.
The movie splits time between those three villains, as well as moves forward with the romance between Peter and MJ. This doesn’t even get into the professional and later super villainous rivalry between Peter and Eddie Brock. Man, there is so much ground to cover that it never really takes off on a narrative level. We jump back and forth, to and fro, with no story ever really taking hold. Harry’s revenge, Marko’s desperation, or Brock’s overwhelming hatred each would have been enough to fill out the feature. Instead, we are left with half baked stories that fail to really dive into what the character motivations.
While that left me flat, the action was excellent and featured the best effects of the series. There is an exciting battle between Harry and Peter over the streets of New York, through streets, down tight alleys, before an ending that is brutal, yet tragic. Also rather exciting was the inaugural showdown with Sandman in broad daylight during a bank robbery. The effects looked very good, and yes there were a few moments that still looked a little bit like a video game, but they were few.
Although I enjoyed the movie, the thing that I found most frustrating about it is the story. I know, I know, I keep harping on it, but it’s true. The performances, by and large, are good, or at least adequate. The effects are excellent, the overall look of the film is good, and there is a lot of energy and fun to be gleaned from it. Despite that, the story fails. Man, if only we could have gotten a better taste for Marko’s desperation and the true reasons for what he was doing and what he felt. If only we could have gotten more of the friction between Harry and Peter. If only we could have had more of Brock’s union with the black goo and a better execution of his hatred for the Spider. Then there is the effect of the goo on Peter himself. We get a brief look at the change, but it is played for laughs rather than any type of real soul searching. They did a better version of this type of effect on Smallville with Clark Kent and the inhibition removing red Kryptonite. What we get is emo-Peter who looks like a cross between DJ Qualls and Mike Myers’ Dieter from SNL. Peter puts his hair down and dances down the street acting geek-tough. What? Are you kidding?
Okay, Okay, I didn’t care for the way it all played out together, but the movie does have its good points. The fights were big and explosive. The rescue of Gwen Stacy was dynamic and exciting. There were moments that worked well, and all was not lost. There is still fun to be had. Unfortunately, it is more surface fun than anything else. There were moments between Peter and MJ that work. Harry gets a little deeper in his limited time, and Marko is a sympathetic villain. Venom is just cool in his small, half baked thread.
Except for emo-Peter, Tobey Maguire does another fine job of portraying our hero. Kirsten Dunst was a little whiny, but I liked her too. I could have done without the songs, but I can deal. James Franco gives some of his finest work as Harry. Then there is Topher Grace, who seemed like odd casting for Eddie Brock, but he does a fine job of playing Peter’s opposite. Thomas Haden Church was given little to work with for Sandman, but he made it happen. The smaller roles are also filled well: JK Simmons is irreplaceable as JJ, Rosemary Harris is sweet as Aunt May, and the usual Bruce Campbell cameo is funny.
Bottomline. Good or bad, you can go either way. I was sucked into the spectacle, allowing the story issues to wash over me. When I left I was disappointed as the story came back to bite me, but I still enjoyed the big colorful spectacle. It is a letdown from the second film, but still has enough heart to keep me among its supporters. I liked it and will recommend it, with some minor reservations.Powered by Sidelines