Review of Spider-Man 3

When I was in high school I had a lingering suspicion that my teachers were not all capable of performing the tasks they assigned to us. This last week I assigned a critique of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, and tonight I went to see Spider-Man 3. I think this is a perfect opportunity to reach out to any kids who are as snotty and skeptical as I was and put their minds at ease. It will be difficult for me to stick to the strict 400 word limit I gave them for the body of the text, but here goes:

Spider-Man 3: A Fun Pop Song With a Few Off-Notes

Sam Raimi’s newest installment in the Spider-Man franchise is being beaten up (super-villain style) by most critics. By and large, they are missing the point. The general critique relates to the gimmick of the alien symbiote that changes Spider-Man’s costume black and makes him evil. Is this conceit cartoon-ish? Certainly. But that’s because it comes directly out of the comic book. That’s not to say the film is without flaws, but the most glaring mistakes related to choices that deviated from the comic book series, not the choices that were faithful.

The CGI action sequences were fun, and the scene where the Sandman gains his super-powers is nothing short of movie-making magic. Hayden Church and Topher Grace do all that can be expected with the parts they are given, and they aren’t alone. The leads play comic book roles with comic book overacting, which doesn’t seem out of place. They don’t have a lot of choice, since close-ups on their faces force them to telegraph every emotion. Like the acting, the dialogue is ham-handed and the story is clunky. Again, this felt faithful to the comic book genre, and any attempt to make the movie more literary would have been wasted on a movie about a man with super-powers delivered by a radio-active spider.

The biggest pitfalls came where screenwriters San and Ivan Raimi deviated from the comic book. William Shakespeare wisely avoided putting Rosaline on the stage with Juliet, because, beauty being subjective, half the audience might have felt Romeo picked the uglier girl. The Raimis falls into this trap in Spider Man 3. In the comic book, Gwen Stacy is Peter Parker’s first girlfriend, a looker, but no Mary Jane Watson in her heyday. She is caught up in the story of the Green Goblin and dead before Venom ever appears on the scene. Having missed the Gwen Stacy death storyline in his original movies, the Raimis opt to use her as an object of Peter Parker’s wandering eye and a motive for Eddie Brock, the future Venom, to envy Peter. The problem is that Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Stacy, is simply more stunning than Kirtsen Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson. According to the comic Mary Jane becomes a supermodel eventually, and though Dunst is a looker, Raimi was smart to give that occupation to Howard. This might not have been a problem if Gwen Stacy were a shrew, but the character is also likable, while Mary Jane, in this installment, is insecure and needy. When Parker uses Stacy as a means to make MJ jealous, he not only comes off as a jerk, but as a fool.

The song and dance sequences (you read that right) are silly, but not in a comic book way, so they didn’t fit. I applaud Raimi’s creative bravery, but for the reported $270 million the movie cost, someone could have told him that comic book silliness and movie musical silliness are to different, incompatible animals.

Ultimately, the inflated climax and the preachy voice-over felt like they could have been lifted out of a comic book, too. No single issue of any comic book should be the reader’s favorite novel, and this movie won’t be anyone’s favorite, either. But I’d come back for the next issue.

Word Count: 551

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So maybe I was right as a high school student. This teacher can’t pull off what he assigns. Students, feel free to lower my grade.