Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spiderman 3 review

I saw Spiderman 3 with friends tonight, and so I'm reviving a pattern I barely ever started, but one I long ago promised: a movie review. I've a feeling this summer may have a number of these, seeing as it promises to be filled with several blockbusters, from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End to Ocean's 13 to The Bourne Ultimatum to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (That last I probably shan't be seeing, as I've yet to see any of the other movies or indeed to read past the first novel, which I confess I had far fewer problems with spiritually than I did from a literary standpoint. It was, well... rather "blah," for lack of a better description. But that is another post for another time.)

Again starring Tobey Maguire in the title role, with Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, James Franco as Harry Osborn, and with Sam Raimi returning for a third time as a director, Spiderman 3 is both the first of the summer blockbusters and the first conclusion to a major motion picture trilogy since the premier of Revenge of the Sith two years ago; and it is the first of four such movies premiering this summer. I went in with fairly high hopes, having heard good things from those who had seen it (though it received mixed reviews from professional critics). In general, I make a point of entering a theater with as few preconceptions as possible, so as to be able to better evaluate it on its own merits, rather than on the hype (or lack thereof) surrounding it. There's a reason my favorite films range from blockbusters of the Lord of the Rings sort to the far more esoteric Stranger than Fiction. In this case, however, I needn't have worried: the movie more than surpassed my expectations on all number of levels.

The effects were superb - far better than in the previous installments, where computer generated elements were often easily distinguished as such. Here, even the prototypically comic book-ish character Venom was somehow believable, though by all rights he ought not to have been. Massive computerized set-pieces ranging from cranes smashing through buildings to immense sand structures were all realized at a level of quality far higher than that in Spiderman 2; indeed, I only found myself thinking, "Well, that's definitely CG" twice in the course of the film - and neither of those instances were character-driven, which is a pleasant change.

The movie is a superhero movie; there is no question of that. Superhuman feats populate the movie - and the fight scenes here are more intense (and more believable) than those in previous iterations of the Spiderman saga have been. However, unlike all but a few of the films in this genre, they do not dominate the movie: to the contrary, they are the icing on a very rich and very dense cake of rich characterization and plotting. The film tracks multiple plotlines, which ultimately converge in what has to be the single most satisfying finale to a superhero film I've seen. Raimi skillfully wove together the threads of Peter Parker's life, both as nerdy boyfriend and as acclaimed superhero; of Mary Jane's insecurities and her career struggles; of Flint Marko's passionate quest to do something for his daughter; of Harry Osborn's ongoing struggle with his father's death and his blaming Peter for it; of Eddie Brock, an antagonist for Peter in almost every way; of Peter's past and the way it continues to drive - and haunt - him; and of Aunt May and her gentle love for and belief in Peter. The number of ongoing plots in the movie sounds dizzying; yet Raimi skillfully integrated them and brought them successfully to resolution. There was a period of about ten minutes in the middle of the movie where I wondered if it was going to end up slowing down too much and dragging on, but Raimi successfully kept the plot moving forward; and it never plodded. The pacing was one of my primary concerns going in, having read other reviews, and I was pleasantly surprised that I only questioned once, and that only briefly, about the pacing of the film.

The acting was compelling, and from a variety of characters in a variety of ways. The inimitable J. Jonah Jameson was of course in good form as the humor character; and both Maguire and Dunst turned in fairly compelling performances that made the evolution of their characters believable. The supporting cast matched them well, particularly James Franco as Harry Osborn, who made for the film's most interesting character and development in many ways. The final "character," oft-forgotten but never unimportant, the score, was nicely handled by relative newcomer to the series Christopher Young, who took over from Danny Elfman. I actually found this score to be more emotionally compelling and richer thematically than those for Spiderman or Spiderman 2: enough so that I may invest in the soundtrack at some point (something I've not done for either of the first two Spiderman movies).

The movie impressed me on a number of levels. It's thematic development was top-notch, and though it flirted with heavy-handedness, it never actually got to that line. Unlike too many explicitly Christian movies I've seen, it never attempted to beat people over the head with its message - and this is, I think, why it succeeds so well in communicating some extremely important truths about vengeance, love, and forgiveness. Again, as in the previous movies in the trilogy, the notion of choice was emphasized, and strongly: that every day, we have the choice to do go or to do evil; and that choice has consequences... often significant consequences. By using these larger than life setpieces and superheroes/villains, the movie played out the reality of good and evil in a stark way that I believe our culture needs more and stronger doses of. When Peter Parker struggles with forces of external darkness that would control him, the film makes it very clear that he does so only because he is vulnerable because of his own decision to hold on to his anger and vengefulness. He experiences significant loss and suffering because of his choices, and we see played out in the extreme the consequences of embracing our sin nature. The power of forgiveness - and the need to not only repent but forgive ourselves - is clearly enunciated by Aunt May, who remains both Peter and the film's spiritual center, though she plays a relatively small part in the film. The motive of liberating truth makes a strong appearance, as well, in one of the most consequential scenes to appear in the series - which I'll not spoil for you here. The final moments of the film reinforce the power of love and forgiveness, as well as acknowledgment of our mistakes. That these themes were often woven into the context of explicitly spiritual settings (such as the church that is the setting for an important moment of choice, and even a nasty - but ultimately true - quip that Peter throws at an adversary) only emphasizes the underlying reality that this movie is hinting at - the metanarrative that we all recongize because it is the story of our existence: the story of the ultimate battle of good and evil.

There was little objectionable content, though several things are worth mentioning here. I recall only two uses of profanity, and those relatively mild. There was some light sexual innuendo, and some relatively sexualized dancing (though, it is worth noting, far less egregious in this sense than one might run into in most other films of this sort; it's also worth pointing out that this behavior is both mocked and condemned). If you find violence objectionable, you'll find this film objectionable: because there's a lot - though it is almost all bloodless. One moment that stood out to me was when, under the influence of a dark entity, Peter strikes Mary Jane in anger while in the midst of a larger brawl: it was hard to stomach (and I found myself angry when some wise guy in the theater thought it funny to clap at that moment: a sad commentary on the state of our culture that his rudeness got so many laughs in the theater). The film earned a PG-13 rating for all of the above, and it's not undeserved: the combat is intense and people do die, though far less than might be expected, thanks to Spiderman's heroics.

I have to recommend this film. It is one of my favorites. I'm not sure, but I honestly think it tops Spiderman 2 as my favorite in this series, and my first feeling is that it probably ties Batman Begins as my favorite superhero movie. It had a nearly perfect blend of drama, action, suspense, and character moments - not to mention an ending that made me want to literally cheer out loud at times. The development of Biblical themes throughout, combined with good acting, top-notch action and effects, and a score that I found significantly more compelling than previous musical entries, makes me add this not only to my list of favorite superhero movies, but indeed to my list of favorite movies.

In short: go see it! God bless, and good night.

- Chris


  1. okay ... you've made me want to see this film! actually, i've not seen any of the spiderman or batman movies ... they've been lost in raising babies and marriage stuff. perhaps, someday, i'll rent them.

    i have very little free time and rarely get to the movie theater ... but perhaps someday i'll get to see this film!

    you are an excellent movie critic ... i look forward to reading more of your critiques.

    how are finals going? this was a great way to take a mental break!

    my ex was/is really into movies and loved action movies of all kinds ... even kinds not appropriate ... i spent a lot of time in the theaters with my ears plugged and eyes closed till he gave me the okay to watch again.

  2. Excellent review Chris. Focus on the Family has an opening for a movie reviewer/editor.

    I'm not sure I would recommend any of the Batman movies except the last one, Batman Begins. Not that they were bad, I just never thought they were that great.

    My wife hates that I'm not a gung-ho theater-goer. I prefer the convenience of the home theater where I can hit pause and get a refill on my drink without missing any of the movie.

  3. Good review. You should try to connect to do freelance reviews for Plugged In. You would do it well.
    Looking forward to seeing you soon.
    Love you! Mom


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