Monday, May 14, 2007

The Spider-man 3 Report Card

The first thing that strikes you about Spider-man 3 is its overly ambitious plot. Director Sam Raimi must have been full of beans in the weeks during which he must have agreed to commit it to film. And the second thing that strikes you is how the story collapses under its own weight. It still remains an engaging movie. As fellow blogger GreatBong so astutely pointed out, there are elements of Bollywood in it that are particularly interesting to watch. In the end, there is no point in critiquing the structure of the film – the demands of putting out a third installment of a highly lucrative franchise demand a certain formula. And that formula was deployed in Spider-man 3. No one with millions of dollars to invest in the movie would have wanted it any different.

So I thought I’d dwell on the performances of the cast in the movie instead.

Tobey Maguire brings a nerdy sensitivity to the role of Peter Parker. His performance initially strikes you as awkward. But Maguire is too smart an actor for us to not give him the benefit of the doubt. Parker is essentially a geek and Maguire’s performance is very much in tune with that aspect of Parker’s character. That it looks cringe-worthy at times has more to do with our expectations of how a regular lead is supposed to act.

Although I’ve been disappointed with how Kirsten Dunst chose to portray Mary Jane, I can’t grudge her the fact that she has provided the emotional impetus in each of the three movies. She gets help from the script, which she capitalizes on fully. She keeps it simple and heartfelt without becoming a wimpy mess.

The surprise for me in the movie was James Franco. We knew he could act after watching his bravura turn in City by the Sea. In a key set of scenes, Franco switches from seething and vengeful to full on dimply charming so seamlessly that he’s a joy to watch. He’s dangerous, blissful, adorable, loyal, noble, and swashbuckling – it’s quite a range for an actor to go through and his presence in Spider-man 3 delivers its most memorable moments.

Thomas Haden Church turns in a remarkable physical transformation to play Flint Marko aka Sandman. He has such few scenes that you almost forgive him for being overwrought. Hey, it’s Spider-man 3: you want to make the most of what you get while you’re still hot.

Some believe that Topher Grace might be the new Tom Hanks (yes, we’ve also heard that about Orlando Bloom and Shia LeBouf). He plays Edie Brock who competes with Parker for a job at the Daily Bugle. There is some of the comic timing on view that served Grace well in That 70s Show. But he’s so overly dramatic in the later third that we’ll have to wait for a more challenging role to see how he truly shapes up.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Gwen Stacy – another character hacked at the alter of film adaptation. It’s the first time I’ve seen her – missing both her highly publicized turns in M. Night Shyamalam’s equally highly publicized recent stinkers. She has a sweet big-boned beauty about her and her sparkling eyes do evoke Gwen Stacy from the comic books. But her role is so underwritten that she is unable to ratchet up any real tension in the romantic triangle with Parker and Mary Jane that powered so many Spider-man stories.

Poor Rosemary Harris returns as Parker’s aunt – May and is used primarily to deliver life lessons to her nephew in a plummy accent. Theresa Russell – one-time siren in a string of 90s B movies – shows up in a tiny role. James Cromwell (Captain Stacy) – who made his name with 1998’s Babe - and J. K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson) – whose career generated minor heat after Spider-man - get a tiny smattering of scenes.

Finally, Stan Lee makes his customary cameo and issues his signature phrase “Nuff Said” (to a round of applause from the audience so beloved is he in the superhero universe) and so does Sam Raimi regular Bruce Campbell who plays a French maitre-de for some slapstick laughs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the better reviews of the film I've come across.

BTW, immensely enjoyable site!