cinema, Column article, Film Review, Magazine article, Mr. and Ms Magazine

Spiderman Trilogy (2002 – 2007) by Sam Raimi

I scoured the World Wide Web a couple of nights ago looking for my lost blogs or blogposts. Thankfully, I found some of my posts from my very first blog, M-Reality. One of the posts I recovered was my review of the Spiderman 3, which was published in Mr & Ms. magazine.

SPIDERMAN 1 and 2

Spiderman (2002) surprised the critics at how good it turned out to be. Many were quite entertained with the idea that a very un-macho guy like Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker / Spiderman) could actually portray a superhero. With the movie starting when Peter, MJ and Harry were still in high school, the movie became a teen rites-of-passage film with the characters grappling with parents and parent figures, love, work and responsibility. Peter had to grapple with an additional quality – power. Spiderman was a sensitive comic book superhero whose guiding principle was “with great power comes responsibility.” To protect the love of his life (MJ), he was willing to sacrifice his love for her.

Spiderman 2 (2004) was even a bigger surprise for the critics. Alvin Sargent’s screenplay got rave reviews and Sam Raimi’s directing got high praises. Tobey Maguire’s acting improved and Alfredo Molina’s portrayal of Doc Ock raised the level of the movie considerably.

At the movie’s end, Spiderman revealed his identity to MJ. But Peter insisted that he still could not be with her because it would be too dangerous for her. MJ left her wedding (to John Jameson, national hero and son of Daily Bugle chief, J. Jonah Jameson) and ran back to Peter. Peter agreed but with another crime going on in the city, Peter as Spiderman left her in his apartment while he answered the call of duty.

Meanwhile, Harry Osborn, Peter’s best friend, discovered that his father was the Green Goblin.

SPIDERMAN 3: OVERKILL

Maybe there is really such a thing as a “threequel” jinx. A threequel is the one that follows a sequel; it is the third of the series. In the Superman movie series of the 1970s / 80s, the first two were great while the third was a great disappointment. The first two X-Men movies were very good but the third was not. The Godfather 1 and 2 both won the OSCAR Best Picture Award but the third did not.

The viewers would be overwhelmed by Spiderman 3’s many subplots, number of arch villains, and the “weepiness” of the macho super hero and super villains. Spiderman 3 is a male weepie romantic story disguised as a comic book superhero film.

The scriptwriters and director went overboard this time. First, Spiderman has THREE arch villains to contend with, not counting his own Evil Self which was nurtured by the extraterrestrial symbiote that clung to him.

In both Spiderman 1 and 2, Spidey had to contend only with one super villain, The Green Goblin and Doc Ock respectively. In Spiderman 3, Spidey has four super enemies, the New Goblin, the Sandman, the Venom and the extraterrestrial creature which transformed the friendly neighborhood Spiderman into a Black Spiderman with revenge in his heart and rhythm in his walk.

Aside from the arch villains, there are many subplots and characterizations. In the first sequences, we see Spidey naively proud of what he had become — a superstar! Then, he turned into a vengeful guy with a swagger and dancing feet. And then he went back to being a fighting superhero. But oops, he needed somebody else’s help – the New Goblin’s help. The New Goblin was thus transformed from super villain to a superhero. There are so many transformations – from good to bad to good again – in this film.

And there are his love interests – Mary Jane Watson, who turned from a Broadway star into a has-been in one day, and Gwen Stacy, who also gave Spidey “the Kiss”. And there are the love triangles of Peter – MJ – Harry and Peter – Gwen – Eddie.

There is also his aunt May Parker and his dead uncle Ben Parker, who had to come back for cameo. And there is the subplot of the wedding ring. And so on and so forth.

HEROES AND VILLAINS

Comic book fans like their villains fully characterized and highly motivated to do whatever they had to do. The fans do not want their villains 2-dimensional and patsies. They want some real flesh and bones and even spirit in their villains. It is like going to any sports matches. Fans want to see real fight between champions.

Fans of James Franco or the New Goblin would surely be disappointed. Spiderman 2 ended with Harry discovering the true identity of the Green Goblin. Many expected to see James Franco as the New Goblin getting a lot of fighting time. Harry Osborn, after all, was Peter’s best friend and on-and-off love rival as well as the son of the Green Goblin. In other words, Harry Osborn / the New Goblin was the perfect antagonist of Peter Parker / Spiderman.

A whole film could be made with only the New Goblin as the major antagonist. The love triangle of Peter-MJ-Harry could be fully exploited. The additional MJ-Peter-Gwen love triangle could add even more spice. The almost asexual Peter / Spiderman could be made more amorously adventurous. But that was not the director’s intention. Raimi seemed to be more concerned with male-bonding.

Director Sam Raimi was also not content with one perfect antagonist. He had to put in Eddie Brock / the Venom, who is almost a replica of Harry Osborn / the New Goblin. Eddie is Peter’s rival photographer in The Daily Bugle and also his rival for another love interest, Gwen Stacy. But the Venom did not have much time for character build-up. And how in the world did he become so powerful? The extraterrestrial goo was supposed to merely enhance a person’s inherent characteristics and power. Eddie was just a normal guy with no supernatural powers.

Fans of the Venom would be disappointed. All the brouhaha about the Venom and/or Topher Grace during the promotional stage was not borne out in the final product.

But Raimi was still not content with two antagonists / love rivals. In fact, these two became even secondary to Spiderman 3’s biggest protagonist – the Sandman. And with him comes a complicated back story.

Sandman is the only one who got good characterization and some motivation. He also got some very nice scenes – great computer graphics. It is bad enough that the writers had to resurrect Uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson looks bloated) and the whole murder scenario just to give motivation to the characters of Peter and Flint Marco / the Sandman. Worse, the whole thing turned out to be just an accident.

CRY BABIES and SLIM BODIES

The Americans’ preoccupation with the so-called male’s “sensitive” or “feminine” side was obvious in this movie. All the supposedly macho heroes seem to cry at the drop of a hat, or at the sight of a memento like a locket or a ring.

Not so long ago, super heroes or super villains never cried. In fact, men or even boys, as a rule, didn’t cry.

It is also interesting to note that although the young actors were required to add pounds of muscles, Tobey Maguire, James Franco and Topher Grace do not boast of biceps and abs like those of Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Eric Bana. These guys look more like nerds, wimps or twinks than superheroes or super villains.

Are we looking at a re-definition of a he-man? It is interesting to note that the lovely mature Demi ‘GI Jane’ Moore chose wimp-like Ashton Kutscher, Topher Grace’s co-star in the TV sitcom “The 70s Show”, to replace ex-hubby he-man Bruce Willis.

MORAL OF THE STORY

Every tale has a moral. In Spiderman 3, the theme revolves around filial love, friendship and the very New Age concept of asking forgiveness from your perceived enemies. The moral of Spiderman 3 then is to honor your parents or surrogate parents, love your friends, forgive and ask forgiveness from friends and foes alike.

And so be it.

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Published in Mr. & Ms. Magazine, July 2007

 

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