Written by El Articulo Definido
When Spider-Man first hit the big screen in 2002, I remember describing my enthusiasm as that of a 16-year-old girl on prom night. I could hardly contain my excitement. However, as Sam Raimi and company embark on the third installment of the franchise, I have quite a different phrase ringing in my brain: I didn’t love it! I wanted to love it, but it’s the weakest of the three, and a sloppy effort as a film.
What should have been a slam dunk instead reeks of producer and studio interference. Sam Raimi said from day one that he grew up with and is a fan of the classic Spidey stories and the classic villains. And he made it very clear that he was never a fan of Venom, and he would, therefore, never appear in the Spider-Man movies. But then word gets out that Spidey 3 will include the black suit and a certain brain-eating symbiote. So the questions start flying last year at San Diego Comic-Con and Sam’s extremely diplomatic response was that the producers thought it was time, that it’s what the fans wanted, and Sam agreed. Although, I don’t think in his heart of hearts that he did agree. And my question to Avi Arad is this: It’s what the fans wanted? Really? Did you beat the pavement, Avi, and ask them?
Now, I’ll admit that I am not a fan of the Venom character and see him as a representation of the Dark Age of comic books that was the 1990s, with brooding heroes and dark, sinister villains. The '90s weren’t really a “fun” time for comic books, and this movie, unlike its predecessors, just isn’t fun. But it’s not Venom’s fault. The problem is that this is two movies forced into one that leaves no room for complete story arcs for any of the villains.
Had this film found a focus and built its story around a specific set of conflicts, it could have been great, but instead it suffers from Part 3 Syndrome and seems to want to cram in as much as possible, just in case there isn’t a fourth installment. So, instead the film relies on a series of coincidences to force conflict, and put all of our characters at odds. Harry is the only one of the villains who receives a decent arc, and in fact, steals every scene he’s in. James Franco plays Harry as vengeful, yet also playful after an incident leaves him with no short-term memory. This, then, sets up a nice conclusion for the character, who is actually allowed to develop, unlike Sandman, Venom, and even Gwen Stacy.
Sandman is forced into the story as Peter’s origin is seemingly rewritten to give him motivation to fight Sandman. Flint Marko could have been sympathetic without having to put him on the criminal parallel path of Peter. One goes to jail, while the other is lauded as a hero. And Marko, just happening to fall into the experiment that turns him to sand, also feels forced. And it didn’t have to be.
Venom suffers from the same problem. In order to tell Venom’s tale, Peter has to reject the suit, but telling the tale of the black suit in a one hour chunk in the middle of this film makes Peter too dark and menacing, as opposed to building up over a year or so in monthly installments. Which, again, leaves everything feeling rushed. Peter rejects the suit and Eddie Brock just happens to be in the same church to receive the symbiote. Too coincidental, but there was little time to build as the rest of the film meanders around, trying to give all of these characters something to do and failing miserably.
And, why oh why, couldn’t Harry have been a Goblin? Making him something out of the Ultimate Marvel Universe again reeks of producer interference; especially considering the fact that we are shown an alternate Goblin mask during Harry’s introduction. What could have been a brain-melting third act battle sequence depicting three of Spidey’s villains instead becomes unappealing icing on a cake I don’t want to eat.
The visuals are great, the performances are strong, but the story and character development are lacking. We are given too little story in two hours and 20 minutes. If the Black Suit and Venom had been saved for a fourth movie, and the film was shaved by 20 minutes, this could have been right in line with the first two, but instead it seems the bar was set too high, and the producers were too scared to let the stories develop on their own.
It breaks my heart to have to say that this film achieves little more than a 6.5 out of 10. I could break it down and go higher on acting, and visual effects, but we go to the movies for the whole product, and the pieces that made this product are strong at times, but the film is just not good.