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Home > Movies > My Spider-Sense Is Tingling, If You Know What I Mean

My Spider-Sense Is Tingling, If You Know What I Mean

May 6th, 2007

Vic and I went to see Spider-Man 3 yesterday…we and about a billion other people. I wasn’t surprised to see that it made an estimated $148 million at the box office over the three-day weekend, judging by the size of the crowd in the one of six auditoriums that was showing it at the local googolplex on Saturday afternoon.

I was probably more excited about this film than any of the other big, summer blockbusters. While the first Spider-Man flick was decent, I consider the sequel to be the best superhero-on-film to date. Did the latest chapter hold to that standard? Erm, no. Which is not to say that it’s bad, just that it’s very much a letdown after the transcendence of Spider-Man 2.

Spider-Man 3 pits the web-slinger against four terrible villains: Venom, the Sandman, the Goblin and Mary Jane Watson. Guess which one gives him the most trouble?

I first came to believe that Spidey’s girlfriend Mary Jane was a load while playing the Spider-Man 2 video game. All too many missions involved having to haul my red-and-blue ass across Manhattan in under forty-five seconds for a date with M.J., only to be chewed out for being four seconds late. Hey, sweetheart, sorry I couldn’t just drop everything for your Off-Broadway show; I’m a little busy SAVING YOU AND YOUR WHOLE DAMN CITY. And could you manage not to be kidnapped in every one of my films?

Multiply that frustration by about six, and that’s the Mary Jane subplot of Spider-Man 3. Yes, I know that it’s a well-established part of Peter Parker’s persona to suffer a panoply of personal problems (whilst picking pickled peppers), but scene after scene of “will Mary Jane fulfill her singing career?” and “will she pull her head out of her own ass long enough to notice that not everything is about Mary Jane?” made a two-hour-twenty-minute running time fly by like two-hours-forty-five. I began to wonder if Kirsten Dunst had it in her contract to appear in every other scene, and judging by the uncomfortable shifting in the seats and the occasional murmurs of the audience, I don’t think I was the only one.

The action sequences were, of course, thrilling. And even though nothing quite matched the elevated train battle of Spider-Man 2, I certainly felt as if I got my money’s worth in the visual effects department. There were fights galore, culminating in a four-way (five-way, if you count the soul-sucking presence of a certain Miss Watson) battle royale.

Perhaps the most breathtaking effect in the film was the birth of the Sandman: a long, continuous scene in which millions of computer-animated sand particles coalesced into a man-like figure that struggled repeatedly to rise to its feet, only to collapse again and again like a castle on the beach. The animators truly captured the sense of a malign intelligence in that living pile of grit. However many millions they spent on that one sequence, it was worth it. (It must also be said that Thomas Haden Church as the live-action Sandman was every bit the embodiment of the comic book character.)

Less impressive was the computer animation used to render Tobey McGuire’s single facial expression, a perpetual slack-jawed, wide-eyed look that the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000 once famously termed “dull surprise.” I swear to God, the guy has only one expression, even when he’s playing the part of evil Peter Parker (packing pestilent pickled peppers).

I did feel that the film excelled at juggling its many adversaries. The surfeit of supervillains never seemed forced to me (er, except for Mary Jane), as each represented different aspects of the revenge and forgiveness motifs running through the storyline.

However, the script is not without faults, including one of the most inept dialogue exchanges in the history of film not written by Ed Wood. (Warning: the rest of this paragraph, as well as the next, is all one big spoiler.) In it, Basil the Butler of Belated Exposition (possibly not his real name) explains to Harry Osborn that Spider-Man may not have murdered his father–the Green Goblin–after all.

His speech, as I recall it, goes something like this: “Harry, you remember how your dad got killed a couple of years back? You know, before you swore bloody vengeance and spent all summer building anti-Peter Parker Pumpkin Bombs? Yeah, that’s right. Well, funny story. Turns out that I tended your father’s wounds just off-camera, and that I noted that his fatal injuries were caused by the distinct blades of his own Goblin Glider. I don’t know how I knew that, nor how I could’ve distinguished those punctures from ones made by any other long, sharp object. Furthermore, I cannot possibly verify that Spider-Man himself didn’t simply stab your daddy with said glider. But I’m convinced that your former best friend Peter Parker was completely innocent of the deed. It just occurred to me to mention it. Perhaps I should’ve brought it up before you went insane and your face exploded. My bad.”

My friend Rob gave Spider-Man 3 a sideways thumb, and I think that’s about right. The action is breathtaking and the villains are fun. Evil Peter Parker is good for a few laughs. But whenever Mary Jane shows up on screen, you may want to take a bathroom break. Don’t worry, she’ll still be there when you get back.

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