May 18, 2007

A surprisingly satisfying film

I posted this on the Rotten Tomatoes site, but I have had quite a few people ask me about this, so I'm posting it here too.

This movie has inspired a wider gamut of reactions than any comic book movie I can remember. I have had people whose movie opinions I respect say they hated it and it was the worst thing they have seen. I have had others say it was their favorite Spiderman film. The reviews in the media have been all over the place. So I had no idea what to think when I went. Now that I've seen it and had some time to think about it, here is my assessment.

Spiderman is often considered the most human of all the superheroes. He is not an alien like Superman or a mutant like the X-Men. He is not a billionaire like Iron Man or Batman. He's just a college student who gets bit and develops powers. This is important to remember when you try to look at this film. In the comic books, the reason Spiderman was so successful as a hero WAS this humanity. People could relate to his struggles. How many superheroes do you actually see washing their outfits? Or failing in class because they are tired? In fact, the franchise got in trouble - and nearly died - when Marvel got too caught up in the crazy story lines like sending Spiderman into the Symbiote world, having two Peter Parkers, all of that stuff. Restoring his human-ness saved the comic. Even the latest story lines in Marvel had Peter Parker revealing to the world that he was Spiderman during the forced superhero registration - something he didn't have to do but wanted to do - a very HUMAN thing to do.

Now, in the movies, look at the themes of each one. The first movie was the introduction. But it also was an examiniation of power and responsibility. Peter had to come to grips with his new powers, and think about what he was going to do with them. At first he wanted to use them for money. But he finally saw that money (another form of power) does not guarantee a good life when he figured out that Osborn was the Goblin. So, Peter realized that his responsibility that came with his power came with sacrifice. Basically, he was growing up. He couldn't have childish dreams and plans. He was a man with responsibility - greater responsibility than most.

The second movie was a look at what it means to be a hero. Peter understands what it means to be a man, to grow up. But now, he needed to learn what it meant to be more than that. The critical point was his discussion with Aunt Mae where she explained that a hero sacrifices himself for others - is willing to give up everything for those around him. So Peter made the decision to give up MJ, his own desires, everything for the people of New York. Some of that was restored to him at the end, but he was willing to do what it took to truly be heroic - pictured by the incredible elevated train scene which still gives me chills.

So, the third movie comes out. Director Sam Raimi has never been trapped by the traditional formulas, and he does it again. One of the things I kept thinking was, "Where are the actions scenes?" The were a few battle scenes, but the majority of the movie was more dramatic than action. This is where I think most people got frustrated. They came to see the crazed action of the second film. Instead they got introspection and drama. Now, I didn't get turned off to this. In fact, I think it was more of a true Spiderman movie BECAUSE of it. Plus there were two main themes that ran through this one, that partner brilliantly with the other two films. First, there was the main discussion of what it means to be HUMAN. This is different than the first film's about being a grown up. This was a look at the other side of Spiderman - the human element. We see emotions run amok - lust, envy, anger, rage, grief, love, pain, loss, greed, ambition, loneliness, regret, forgiveness, hate.

Every character had to wrestle with these things. And when Peter wore the black suit, it amplified them to the point where he could no longer ignore them or control them. He had to come to grips with the suppressed feelings he had. Living the life of a vigilante hero is walking a fine line. Your aggression is a good thing, but it can quickly become bad. Every character had to go through the battle of being human. The results are mixed with each person. Some come through it well, some don't. Even though only two characters wore the black suit, it was as if each person had to wear it metaphorically. They all went through things to bring out their true nature inside. It was interesting how Raimi actually used costume changes on most characters to further highlight these struggles. (The first movie used the masks, the second the heart, the third the suits.)

The second theme was the issue of fathers and father figures - which is a common human theme. Peter had his Uncle Ben, and avenging him. MJ had flashbacks to her abusive father. Harry Osborn lived with the dark legacy of his father. Edward Brock Jr (Venom) obviously had some kind of father issues - where was his. In addition, he looked up to Jamison as a quasi-father figure and was left again. Flint Marko (Sandman) had to deal with the issue of BEING a father and what he was willing to do to help his daughter. Gwen Stacy had her father there the whole movie (Captain Stacy), and seemed to be the most well adjusted person around. Father issues are a classic human battle - which further enhanced the main theme of humanity. Peter had decided in the second film to be a hero, but would he decide to be human? Could he handle being emotionally connected AND the city's savior? Could he understand that to MJ and others, you could not separate the actions of the hero and the human? In trying to be a good father, Flint lost his humanity. And in allowing himself to be consumed by his emotions, Eddie Brock lost his as well. Harry had to make a decision regarding where he would stand - human or not. Everyone had to understand that being human means having emotions, but being in control of them. It means coming to grips with your past, but being willing to move on from it. It means recognizing that there are laws that need to be followed, even if the end result is painful. And if you bend those laws - even for a good reason - it compromises you and those around you. (Something that was brilliantly examined in most characters.)

Doesn't sound like a superhero movie, does it? That is I think the best and worst thing about it. There has been this renaissance of comic book movies - the Spiderman films, Batman Begins, Superman Returns. They are deep and meaty films, that just happen to be based on comic books. But they also have the fight scenes and special effects. It is like going to a restaurant and ordering a steak or chicken dish that comes with cheese and bacon on the meat and potato. The meat is good, and the toppings are good. That's a comic book movie for you. The best ones use good meat (story, plot, charcter development) and good toppings (effects, fights, weapons). Lousy ones use inferior meat - kind of like Golden Corral trying to cover up their lousy steaks by wrapping them in bacon.

Well, Spiderman 3 spent so much time on the meat, that it didn't have room for much of the toppings. Yeah, there were some good scenes and great special effects. But most people wanted to see more. That is why so many have come out feeling ripped off. I can understand that. That's why I only gave the movie an 8. I would have liked to have seen more of that too. But I enjoyed the meal as a whole. Most of the time I get chicken smothered with cheese and bacon. But there are times where I just want a good, high quality steak. That's what I ate last night.

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