Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Spider-Man 3 (5 Stars)

Whenever I talk to friends about this film I go off on a rant. I've heard so many people call this a bad film that I want to strangle anyone who dares repeat it in my presence. "Spider-Man 3" is a brilliant film that neatly concludes the Green Goblin trilogy. Following films directed by Sam Raimi would have ascended to new heights, but it wasn't to be. Sam Raimi was fired, "Spider-Man 4" never happened, there was a new Spider-Man and Ben Parker had to die again, this time with an annoying sub-plot about Peter Parker's parents that was left unfinished before it got too embarrassing.

"Spider-Man 3" might be slightly weaker than the first two parts of the trilogy, but it's still better than any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films made since 2008. Only the last two Captain America films come close. What makes the film so good is that Sam Raimi has the mentality of an early Marvel writer. I can imagine him sitting in the bullpen writing a new script in the early 1970's. Sam Raimi has a deep respect for the source material of the original comics that the later directors, even Joss Whedon, don't have.

There was something about Marvel comics that was strongest in the 1960's, continued into the 1970's, but then grew gradually weaker. I sum up this something with one word: the comics were corny. That isn't a criticism, it's intended as high praise. Stan Lee's stories were full of tropes that made the stories predictable, but in such a way that we turned each page hoping for something to happen, and we weren't satisfied until we got what we wanted. There are the awkward romances. The heroes rarely got the girl, they were too shy and introspective, or they were afraid that anyone they were close to would be in danger from their enemies. The enemies, powerful super-villains, were driven by revenge, so after a few stories they're no longer committing crimes, they're obsessed with attacking the heroes. Another common trope was the rivalry between the super-heroes, leading to frequent fights. Spider-Man fought the Human Torch, Hawkeye fought Captain America, and the Hulk battled with every other hero as time went by. Then we had the super-villain team ups, which almost always started with the words, "We don't like one another, but we have a common enemy, so let's team up to fight <fill-in-the-blank>". This led to unlikely pairings like Doctor Doom and the Submariner, or the Sandman and Blastaar.

Sam Raimi understands this. "Spider-Man 3" is corny, down to the core. Peter Parker ended the second film in a happy relationship with Mary Jane Watson, but in "Spider-Man 3" he ruins it. Venom and the Sandman teamed up because, well, it's what super-villains do. It's corny.

So much is going on in "Spider-Man 3" that I initially thought the film is too short. In a past review I said that it should have been half an hour longer. I'm no longer certain. The chaotic mix of different subplots is typical for the 1960's Spider-Man comics. Peter Parker's life was a crazy soap opera with exaggerated melodramas overlapping one another. Sam Raimi has captured this, maybe even more successfully than in the previous two films.

The lack of realism is also part of Marvel's inherent corniness in the 1960's. Most of the Marvel films attempt to make scientific explanations to make the source of super powers credible. Why is that necessary? Stan Lee never tried to explain. Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma rays and became the Hulk. Reed Richards and his fellow astronauts were exposed to cosmic rays and became the Fantastic Four. What are gamma rays? What are cosmic rays? Who cares? So many of the super-hero origin stories are ridiculous if they're analysed, but the readers accepted them unquestioningly. The origin stories were corny. That made them good.

We see this in the scene where Flint Marko becomes the Sandman. He falls into a pit where scientists are doing a ridiculous looking experiment on sand. He's bombarded with some sort of rays. I'm sure Stan Lee would have a name for them if we asked him. The rays make him able to turn his body into sand. His shirt also turns into sand and can later become cotton again. This means he's doomed to wear the same black and green striped shirt for the rest of his life. I challenge anyone to write an explanation of how this could happen, even using scientific phenomena that we haven't yet discovered. It's all so corny.

"Spider-Man 3" is corny, from beginning to end. Marvel needs to hire Sam Raimi again. He's the only one who can make truly great Marvel films. Films like "Spider-Man 3".

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