What a sharp turn a franchise can take with one film. After two endearing and enjoyable films in his Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi took a staggering blind left down Spider-Man street straight into a New York City manhole. Problems crop up everywhere. Poor character development, poor casting choices for those thin characters, poor dialogue between those thin characters, poor CGI effects in fight scenes between these unlikable characters, etc ad nauseum. What Spider-Man 3 manages to “accomplish” is turn the lovable Peter Parker into an oblivious, groan-inducing shell with the same face but none of the charm. In Raimi’s first two films, Parker makes a fool of himself but in an earnest, naive kind of way. He wants to take a picture of the girl he’s loved since she moved in next door, but right as he’s focusing his camera lens she is pulled away or he is bumped by the jock. His clumsiness and foot-in-mouth syndrome let us root for him to win the girl and save the day. But in the time between Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3, Parker has become completely self-absorbed, swinging into a parade in his honor and trying to solve his now girlfriend Mary Jane’s problems by telling her about his adoring fans and ridiculous detractors (“who could hate me? I’m a hero!” he doesn’t say that but he may as well have). Parker was annoying and clueless even before he adopts Venom and becomes Bangs-Down, extra-douchey Peter Parker. We go from rooting for a loveable goof to face-palming a clueless jerk.
Court of internet opinion, please allow me to outline the evidence that will demonstrate just how guilty the defendant is of ruining a beloved character.
EVIDENCE (CAUTION SPOILERS):
Exhibit A: “Need Tension? Ret-Con your Hero’s Origin Story”
There really is no need for the movie to dig back and change the story around Uncle Ben’s death. It appears that the intent is to make Peter despise Sandman’s character and give into rage. Just to be neatly tied-up at the end with an “I forgive you.” That moment of forgiveness should feel like a huge step for Parker. In reality if just feels like bad writing.
Exhibit B: “Need Tension? Make the Hero’s Best Friend try to kill him. Need time to develop other characters? Put the Best Friend on the back burner for a while. Just give him amnesia or something.”
Seriously what was going on with James Franco’s character? I personally enjoy James Franco 90% of the time, which is a pretty good ratio for a big name actor. But his role here is insane. He goes from appropriately villanous, to inappropriately goofy after a concussion, back to appropriately villanous, to forgiving, and finally to self-sacrificing. Like, Peter’s “I forgive you” moment at the end of the movie (which was happening while his best friend was dying yards away. Seriously Pete, wrap it up and go help the guy), Harry’s self-sacrifice should have been a huge moment for him. But we already had a mini-moment when he showed up to the fight after his butler (who had not spoken all movie), assumes a mini-Alfred role and convinces Harry (in two sentences) to forgive Peter Parker. Evidence indicates that his sacrifice was done just to tie up the loose end of his unraveling character.
Exhibit C: Too Many Super-Villains in the Kitchen Spoil the Soup
So we have Eddie Brock, Sandman and Harry Osborn. Three villains but not a single good one. Let’s look at their origin stories. After a few short minutes spent showing us the unlikable side of Brock, Bangs-Down Peter turns the rival photographer in for fraud, pushing him onto the road to supervillainy. It’s a stretch but sure.
We don’t know a lot about Flint Marko until he stumbles into a top secret research facility by jumping a fence, you know, the usual way of breaking into top secret places. But don’t worry there is barbed wire on the fence which he rolls straight through, so it was kind of tough. Marko falls into a pile of sand just as an impatient scientist flips a switch leading to molecular fusion of Marko’s DNA with sand. Thus Sandman is born.
The problem with these two origins partly comes from how coincidental the bestowment of super abilities appears. Both are in the right/wrong place at the wrong/right time. But so was Peter when he was bit by the radioactive spider so we can’t take off too many points. The difference is that Peter, along with Norman Osborn from Spider-Man and Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 are given time to ease into their abilities. For Sandman we spend maybe 90 seconds watching him figure out how to manipulate his new sandy body. Brock gets the goop and is instantly as strong as Spider-Man, no figuring out the powers or efforts at character development. We’re on a time constraint and the movie has a lot of villains to get through so we won’t take off too many points.
A huge difference between the duo of Norman Osborn and Doc Ock and the duo of Venom and Sandman is intent. Osborn Sr. and Dr. Otto Octavius turned evil through their own efforts. Osborn smoked the good green gas and Octavius devised his arms to aid in a science project. Their personality flaws lead to the creation of their abilities and their improper use of them. Brock and Marko literally stumble across their powers. One has it dropped on him. The other falls into it. This makes their characters far less compelling and less Frankenstein-esque.
Exhibit D: Gwen Stacy
Stacy is written in as a wedge between both Peter and Mary-Jane and Peter and Brock, the rival photographer who becomes Venom after he coincidentally visits the same church where Peter strips off the alien-being. She is one of the most poorly written characters in the franchise. Parker prevents her from falling to her death after a construction crane goes awry. (And by go awry I mean the crane becomes basically a super-Crane and appears to have malicious intent in carving up Stacy’s building). Later Stacy hosts a parade designed to thank the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. In that scene, Parker inexplicably encourages Stacy to give him the patented upside-down kiss from Spider-Man and referenced to in Spider-Man 2. The kiss comes out of no where. It would be one thing if Stacy begged Spidey to kiss her but he initiates after hearing the crowd cheering for the kiss. And we have no reason to think he would initiate. Not enough mortar is laid before the scene for the bricks to support the move. We spent a long time in Spider-Man building up that rainy, private, upside-down kiss. Here it is sprung on us at a sunny parade showing it’s not so much about the kiss as it is the spectacle. Another reason to dislike Parker when we really needed no reason to dislike him.
Exhibit D: Eddie Brock
An occasional foil to Peter Parker’s earnest, hard-working, self-sacrificing character, Brock steps into the movie as a rival photographer out to leap-frog Parker for a coveted staff job at the Daily Bugle. Willing to play to J. Jonah Jameson’s vanity, Brock is everything Parker is not. Fine. All well and good so far. But then Brock fakes a photograph and suddenly begs Peter to not hand over the evidence. Unfortunately for him, Peter is now Bangs-Down Peter and quickly shoves the evidence into the editor’s chest and hair-flips out of the office. Now Brock transforms into the vengeful character who goes as far as to walk into a church and ask God for one simple favor. To kill Peter Parker. I don’t know anymore about prayers than the next guy, but I don’t think you can ask God to do you a solid and commit murder, which is one of our worst crimes. Lucky for Brock, Brock has luckily walked into the very same church where Peter (who we do not know to creepily frequent creepy belltowers which I think we can all agree is a Batman-like thing to do) has come to rid himself of the meteorite goo. The venom has been barely explained to this point other than a cursory line from Dr. Connors that once this stuff gets on you, it’s tough to remove it.. But this gum-under-the-shoe villain drips onto Brock and increases his aggression and instantly turns him into a super villain faster than I burn coffee in the morning.
Exhibit E: Wasted Dual Personality Problems.
In both of the first two films, the villains, played very well and well by Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina respectively, are shown struggling with their evil sides, manifested by the Green Goblin and Doc Ock’s sentient arms. This angle could have been played to give Brock’s character some more depth but it is left unexplored.
Bottomline: A mistake on so many levels, Spider-Man 3 leaves a sour taste after an otherwise outstanding franchise.
Thanks for reading!
Flashback/Backslide’s Marvel Blogathon continues Thursday, February 26th with a review of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. In the meantime, check out the most recent entry in the Blogathon; a review of Ghost Rider written by Movie Rob.
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