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June 20, 2022

Spider-Man 3: Just Like the Old Comic Books, But Not Like the New Movies

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Sand says:

Back in the old days, 'way back, when a comic book cost 12 cents, I left off buying "Superman" or "Lois Lane" or the occasional "Batman" (never could abide Robin) when I discovered "The Amazing Spider-Man." At last, a real person behind the superhero's mask! A hungry kid, a worried kid -- a kid with a lot more problems than I had, and a superhero with a lot fewer super-powers or super-gadgets than most comic book heroes to get him by.

I mean really, the poor Spider-Man was the only thing standing between the city and the malevolent greed of Electro, (or the Kingpin, or the Green Goblin) and while he was getting the crap beat out of him and trying not to get fried, he still was trying to catch the eye of Betty Brant at The Daily Bugle, keep his grades up, earn some money selling photos to J. Jonah Jameson (who was a rude and demanding boss), avoid having his Aunt May hook him up with the then-unknown Mary Jane Watson, live with sneers from his acquaintances, AND try to keep Aunt May from having a heart attack before they could gather enough money for her to have an operation or doctor's care, or whatever. Every issue was filled with angst and worry and still another beating up of Spidey. Poor Peter Parker was a tragic soul, and sometimes all he could do was just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

So when I hear people say that there was too much happening in this Spider-Man movie, that the writers and directors and producers should have focused on ONE super-villain and ONE personal conflict, I find myself wondering if they ever read the old comics at all. One villain and one conflict? Peter Parker would have thought he was the luckiest kid in New York.

The special effects of the movie were spectacular, as we all have come to expect from movies these days. The fight scene between Spider-Man and the "New" Green Goblin was fast-paced and well-choreographed. When Spidey ran the Goblin into a low-hanging bit of architecture, bashing him right off his flying perch, I nearly applauded. "Gotcha," I thought, with a big grin. "Serves you right."

I was ready for a dead Goblin -- what a mean-spirited pain in ass he was! But Spider-Man instead remembers that beneath the chemical-induced mania, there was once a human being that was his friend. Out of mercy, he saves Harry's life, even though he knows Harry (James Franco) will once again become the Goblin and try to kill him. Peter Parker is just that much of a nice guy ... and he knows he is, too.

For me, that was the central point of the movie. Peter Parker has come to see himself as the ultimate self-sacrificing good guy. He dresses nicely and modestly, he speaks clearly and kindly, he saves people from nasty crime, and he is sweet to his Aunt and to his girlfriend. A hero is a hero, and a crook is a crook, and Peter knows which is which.

But what if the crook turned to crime in order to try to be a hero? Flint Marko, (played by Thomas Haden Church) a man convicted in the murder of Peter's Uncle Ben, turned to crime largely because of a disease -- a disease that is slowly killing his little daughter. His accidental transformation into the super-villain Sandman is incidental -- his only real goal is to get the money he needs to save a life.

A small alien glob of tarry goo from an asteroid attaches itself to Peter Parker ... and bonds with him, enhancing his strength and spider-like abilities -- and pushes him past that thin line between justice and revenge, between heartbreak and the ability to hurt others. Peter has to learn that he's just as capable of wrongdoing as the next super-villain, and that forgiveness is a super-power that means more than all the rest.

Learning humility isn't pretty. Neither is this movie. Some complain that Tobey Maguire looked like a jerk while he was playing Parker, strutting around, proud of how "cool" and "with it" he was. Well, guys, frankly, ANYONE who bangs through life thinking they've got it all together, posturing and posing and showing off their groove looks like a dope -- it doesn't just happen in this movie. I mean, duh, just visit your local mall and watch.

I liked Spiderman 3. The only difficulty I had with it was Kirsten Dunst, who played Mary Jane Watson. I kept looking at her reasonably tasteful wardrobe in the movie, but remembering her in the awful costumes she wears at Hollywood events, including the Spiderman 3 premiere.

Wonder how she would have dressed if the alien goo attached itself to her?

Bernie says:

Sand and I have come to one of those inevitable moments in married life where we have a difference that I feel is irreconcilable. She, I fear, thinks that this latest installment of the Spider-Man was good. Alas, I can not agree. Director Raimi must have been meditating on the old adage "if a little is good, more is better," and its corollary "if more is better, then way more is way better." In this movie, there are too many villains, too much to strain the credulity of the viewer, and way too much whining.

In this episode, Peter Parker has to duel with his own evil self, his girlfriend Mary Jane, the Sandman, the New Goblin, a guy named Venom, and a strange black goo that has traveled from the depths of space to crash land on Earth for apparently no other reason than to annoy Spider-Man. All of these characters are two dimensional, like the targets that pop out at the shooting range. The story would have been better served if two or three of these battles had been avoided. My vote would have been to drop Venom and the goo. I mean, c'mon, a story line that involves a black tarry substance that comes out of a hole in the ground and makes people do stupid things may play to our fears in the current world, but frankly it added virtually nothing to the plot of this movie.

Of course I do understand that this is comic book fantasy, so there are lots of things you can do that simply defy explanation. Getting bitten by a radioactive spider and as a result developing powers that go beyond anything seen before ... okay, that's a bit of fantasy that I can live with. It explains a lot. It's reasonably allegorical (life has a way of putting us in unanticipated situations in which we have to find the value). And once you've accepted that, then swinging from buildings and having a tingly spider sense can reasonably follow. But in this movie, there were things that just simply did not fit. The fight scenes, while marvelous technical film making accomplishments, were just way over the top in this film. The went beyond the laws of physics, which can be acceptable in this universe, by they went beyond reason, even reason as defined in the film's universe. The violence of the fight scenes was reminiscent of those of The Matrix films. There, the extremes of the violence (where the impact of a hurtling human body could bend huge steel I-beams but cause no serious injury to the body) were consistent within a world that after all only a virtual reality, a computer program. But Peter Parker exists in the "real" world. The ferocity of the violence in this film exceeded the laws of the physics of that world, and became unbelievable. Similarly, the humor, so effectively used in most of the good comic book movies, went over the line to pure slapstick -- funny, but distracting the telling of the tale. J. Jonah Jameson's vibrating desk and Peter Parker's disco dance number were funny, but out of place, and once again, not believable in Spidey's world.

And finally, this group of characters were better suited to daytime soaps then to comic books. They were the whiniest bunch! Everybody had a problem, everybody had a story, everybody had an excuse. One of the reasons we all liked Spidey so much to begin with is that he had enough angst in his life to be real. We could identify with having problems -- we all had them. But there's a limit. In this film, there were no bad guys, only people with really big problems. There were no bad deeds, only poor choices. And everybody wanted to talk about it!

As I've said many times before, give me a good special effects movie any day, and I'll go see it. Spider-Man 3 was rock 'em, sock 'em glitzy summer blockbuster, but it wasn't very good. Unless you're an avid fan, wait for the DVD.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-05-14
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