Saturday, May 05, 2007

Your Friendly Neighborhood All Singing All Dancing Spiderman

So, we saw Spiderman 3 last night.

I really liked the movie; but...

I think having what is possibly the most expensive movie ever made may have gone to Sam Raimis head. Of course it grossed $60 million yesterday alone, so maybe not.

Why do I say went to his head?

Well, for one thing, the entire movie was made as kind of a 1930s through 50s Hollywood style screwball comedy; mixed with a pulp action movie of the same era.


Seriously it's SOOO cool for the geek in me to see that. Pretty much Raimi was given an unlimited checkbook and told "Go make the movie you've always wanted ever since you were a kid".

...and he did it.

I like it, but it is a BIT much, even for me in some spots.

So, an illustration of what I'm talking about (very slight spoilerage. Skip the next three paragraphs if you don't want to know)

In the middle of the movie Raimi sets up an extended song and dance number, including a street dancing montage a la "saturday night fever"; followed up by Spidey doing a Gene Kelly dancing on the tables bit in a jazz club (It's a reference to a mid fifties movie that I can't remember the name of right now).

No, really.

And then theres the screwball set piece with Bruce Campbell as a Maitre D' in a french restaurant... BRILLIANT!!!

Not to say the movie was all comedy and style. There were some great action set pieces. The pacing in the action sequences was really solid; and they managed the transitions from plot and character into action pretty well.

The only real problem I had (other than the heavy stylization; which like I said is cool, it's just a bit much), was that there is too much movie here.

There are so many different side plots, and vignettes, and plot threads; that the whole thing is a bit too busy, and a bit overwhelming. I would rather have seen the movie simplified a bit.. thinned out maybe; and more time taken to develop those individual threads.

Theres probably three movies worth of really good stuff here, packed in and cut into one (admittedly long at 2hrs 20 minutes) movie.

Okay, lets break it down...

The good:

Thomas Hayden Church was excellent. He played the "dumb comic book villain with a heart" perfectly. Yes, he was chewing on the scenery, but they ALL were, this is a comic book movie.

Tobey Maguire was much less irritating than I usually find him. Or rather, he was less inappropriately irritating (believe me, his character is SUPPOSED to be irritating in this one). Peter Parker is supposed to be an emo-boy pussy, so I get it; it's just one of the least appealing aspects of Spider-Man as a whole for me.

Topher Grace gets a royal ass whipping of epic proportions; and also delivers a decent performance as a comic book villain (not what I'd like to see for Venom honestly, but still good).

Spidey gets MAULED. I mean absolutely pummeled; and shows it. That's the way it should be.

The screwball comedy aspects of the movie are brilliant. J.K. Simmons as J.J. Jameson is spot on again; and played for great comedy. Tobey actually gets to exercise some comedy chops here, as do the supporting cast. The dialogue in these scenes is snappy and fun and very Howard Hawks/Billy Wilder.

The entire 30s-50s (it's a bit of a mashup) hollywood feel that permeates the film is wonderful. If "Superman Returns" could have felt this way it would have been hailed as one of the best movies of the last ten years.

The effects are spectacular; in fact the entire visual design of the movie puts it near the top of all effects movies ever.

If they don't see a best visual effects oscar I'd be amazed, even with Pirates 3 coming out in a few weeks. I just don't see how Pirates is going to be able to do a better job than this. Their effects may be bigger and more overwhelming (though that would be hard to do as well), but theres no way they'll be able to integrate them as well into the full live action, and complicated daylight cityscape exteriors that are in this movie.

You can see where the $265 million went, believe me.

Oh, and a funny thing for FX geeks; the movie opens up with what seems to be a bad CGI shot; and then pulls back to show you it's a TV screen in times square that Peter Parker is watching spidey on. Neat little inside joke there for the VFX artists.

The Bad:

Too much movie. Too many plot lines, too much stuff unexplained, and too many opportunities left unexplored in general.

This also means that the wrapups on a lot of the plotlines were either non-existent, or a bit too neat

The entire Gwen Stacey character was wasted here. Even though it's completely out of the comic canon*, I'm hoping they'll use her more in the next one, Bryce Dallas Howard is worth watching.

* the scene in the other movie where Spidey saves MJ from dropping 20 stories was actually Gwen Staceys death in the comics - and should have been used at some point for Spideys character development in the first or second movie... May still be in the fourth one, who knows.

Maybe the stylization was a bit too much. I liked it, but it might be jarring on folks who aren't big 30s-50s movie fans. Also, with the huge number of plot threads involved, that stylization adds "size" to the movie that a lot of folks might feel makes it too much to swallow.

Like eating too big a meal if you know what I mean.

Sandman got a decent bit of character development; but Venom was little more than introduced in this one. He SEEMS to be killed at the end, but any comic fan knows, if there isn't a body (and sometimes even if there is one), then he aint dead; so I'm guessing that opportunity will be taken for the next movie.

The Ugly:

Well, Tobey Maguire, Topher Grace, and Kirsten Dunst are still irritating as all hell. There's nothing that can be done about that; they are just irritating people.

Special mention for Topher Grace... (spoiler alert) whoever gave this guy a career needs to be painfully eviscerated. He's tolerable as Eddie Brock, but once he gets infected and becomes Venom his inherent suckitude cannot be overcome.

I said above he makes a decent comic book badguy, and he does. He at least gets the slimy smarmy conman aspect of Eddie Brock (though not anywhere close to the physical aspects) but as Venom he just sucks. Venom is a sarcastic, hyper agressive, smartassed, obsessive, badass; Topher Grace is the pussyboy from "That 70s show".

Also, 2 hours and 20 minutes... The move would have been better served if he took 1:45 cut half the plotlines and subplots out of this one, and used them in the next one.

The Conclusion:

Seriously, it's a really good movie. It's fun, it's funny, it's fast, it's furious, it's feeling... Yes I'm doing this deliberately as an homage to the classic Hollywood feel of the movie, I'll stop now.

Go see it; I think you'll like it.

From Mel: (to be added later)