|By Zach Patterson||Wednesday, 9 May 2007|
Just a note, there’s spoilers in this review.
When I looked at the synopsis for this movie, I knew there was gonna be problems before I even saw it. I’m not usually an “I told you so” type guy, but back when the buzz around 2 died off, and everyone was craving Venom to appear, I just had this bad feeling about introducing him. That said, I wouldn’t have had a problem with the movie if that was the main focus. However, we also get Sandman and a new Goblin, making 3 villains for a new movie. History has shown this rarely works out well. The Batman film series has run the gamut as far as villain overload. It has shown us it can work great (Batman Begins – Ra’s Al Ghuul and Scarecrow), mediocre (Batman Returns – Catwoman, Penguin, and Christopher Walken), and abhorrent (Batman Forever and Batman and Robin…let’s just leave it at that). But one thing of note, some of the more highly revered comic book movies have dealt with one villain. X-Men had Magneto. X2 had Stryker. And notice X3 began to fall apart when it introduced more villains to the mix instead of focusing on one. Even the Spider-Man movies previous to this have really focused on one at a time. First it was the Goblin, then it was Doc Ock. There’s dozens of examples.
However, this still could have worked. The problem came down to villain choice. Venom requires you to introduce the black suit. It’s an alien symbiote that’s already hard to believably integrate into a movie, and here they barely make an effort to make it set up the story. A meteorite with black goo in it falls near Peter’s moped and hops on for a ride. Awesome. Furthermore, the implications of the black suit require you to show Peter in love with the suit at first, then slowly losing control and realizing it’s taking over. Finally, he realizes it has to be removed and he succeeds, only to have Eddie Brock receive the symbiote and proceed to make Peter’s life hell. Then an epic fight, Spidey prevails, etc. You get the point. It’s a lot of stuff to introduce into one movie. In fact, that sounds like a great outline for Spider-Man 3 to dedicate the entire time to developing.
The problem is that all these plot points are addressed, but it is done in such a way that is either too quick or entirely glazed over. The symbiote’s intelligence is barely indicated, and for most of the movie is just shown as a black suit. Peter is shown waking up not knowing what has happened, much like the comics, but there are no dire results due to this. In the comics, the suit went out as violent vigilante while Peter slept. This was one of the big reasons he needed to get rid of it. He had no control. They address the anger and mood swings, but almost entirely as Peter Parker and not Spider-Man. His problems keeping himself from killing thugs and supervillains was another source of problems. But here, you see him confront Sandman once while in such a state. And you aren’t entirely sure that the fight is that much out of character considering the circumstances. Regardless, we get Brock being humiliated by Parker in a similar fashion to the comics, which I feel is one of the few things they really did well in this movie. Topher Grace isn’t really an ideal actor for the typical portrayal of Eddie Brock, but he makes it his own and fills the character with a little bit of his own sarcasm, humor, and anger, and incorporates essential parts of the Brock character as well. However, then we get to Venom. After Peter ditches the suit, we have Venom to deal with. This is really something that should have been a cliffhanger for a 4th movie, but considering that might not be made, they had to stuff Venom harassing Spider-Man and attacking his weak points and making his life miserable all in a few scenes. The result is an okay portrayal, but a shadow of the great story arc it could have been. There wasn’t even a scene where Venom seriously threatened to reveal Spider-Man’s true identity, the ultimate payback for Eddie. Very disappointing handling of this story.
But it isn’t a surprise when the movie is also dealing with the subplot of Sandman’s escape from prison, turning into Sandman, committing crimes to save his daughter, and then teaming up with Venom for the final attack scene on Spidey. Sandman is actually made into a great character for this movie, and Thomas Haden Church does a terrific job adding depth to an essentially one-dimensional character from the comics. If the movie would have focused just on Sandman as the main villain, I would have been very happy as well. Then there is the subplot of Harry Osbourn wanting to kill Spider-Man, then having amnesia, being Pete’s best friend again, then wanting to kill Pete again, then being friends again. This whole plot would not work near as well if it wasn’t for the fact that James Franco is just a really great, likable actor. You on one hand hate him one minute, then can’t help but love his goofy charm the next. Finally you get the relationship trouble Mary Jane subplot, which has a large amount of screen time. This entire part is very sloppy, with the addition of ANOTHER character (Gwen Stacy, add another with her father in a small but important role) and a forced tension between her and Peter that pushes MJ away. This is all way too much story to cover for a 2+ hour film. The result is exactly as you think it would be: a feeling of mishmashed, half finished ideas that are rushed through and not near as good as they could have been.
Then there is the matter of the cheese in this movie. I mean, I know the other 2 had some cheesy moments, but this one is almost over the top. The “evil Peter Parker”, as many have already discussed, for some reason had to be portrayed with eyeliner and an emo-band style haircut, prompting laughing from the crowd at many moments when the movie wasn’t trying to be funny. This didn’t happen to Venom. Then there is the cheesy “Peter being cool” musical montages. While they have some sort of goofy charm to some people, I just found them groan inducing. There’s a fair share of lines throughout the movie that are like that too.
Another problem was uncharacterisic behavior from some main characters. Why would Peter Parker risk being unmasked in front of all of New York for a half-masked kiss for the cameras? Why would he show any interest in Gwen to start with if he’s really that into MJ as the movie tries to show? Would Eddie Brock really being that mad at Peter Parker for getting him fired from a freelance photo job and taking his would-be girlfriend that he would team up with another villain and put on some elaborate scheme to kill Spider-Man? You could say the suit has something to do with it, and I guess I can accept that, but I still wasn’t completely sold. Why did Sandman think it was a great idea to just keep growing bigger and bigger? What kind of idiot thinks King Kong size is a great way to swat two very quick targets? Why wouldn’t MJ just talk to Peter about struggling to find an identity with her boyfriend being Spider-Man? And why….WHY is Spider-Man unmasked so fucking much? Holy hell. I can barely remember a time in the comics when Spider-Man was out in public freely unmasked and not seeming to care. His identity was a huge deal in the comics, and here he seems to have no problem showing any villain just who he is. He did this in Spider-Man 2 as well, and it bothered me then, but it was forgivable because the movie was much better.
So I’ve pretty much laid out what I didn’t like. There were some good parts. As I have already said, Sandman and pre-Venom Eddie Brock were laid out very well. Harry’s redemption was done well too, for the most part. The final battle was a visual treat for action fans, and all the Sandman action scenes were great. While his corny “falling into a giant science experiment” origin could have been improved, the whole sequence of him reforming from sand was absolutely amazing. Gwen looked the part and was great in a role that didn’t really need to exist in this movie. Venom looked pretty fearsome. Bruce Campbell was perfect. He stole the entire movie in a short scene. Ted Raimi was great too in his small cameo.
Overall, the movie was certainly watchable, as all 3 have been. But if they had removed either Venom or gone only with Venom in this movie, it would have been a much stronger film. As it is, it feels like more villains were put in the movie to sell more merchandise. Also, for the most expensive modern movie made to date, some of the effects here and there looked a little weak. Specifically a few times when Spider-Man is jumping around, and when the building is collapsing due to the crane accident. Most of it looks great, but there were definitely a few spots where i looked at it and immediately saw computer generated graphics instead of a building collapsing or a super hero swinging from buildings. Regardless, this review won’t stop many people from seeing it anyway, but just be warned that this movie definitely isn’t at the standard set by the second film.