Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spidey 3-- A Sight to See

The heros of Marvel comics have seen something of a renaissance in the last ten years, thanks in no small part to a Hollywood looking for more fun summer fare-- the season of the year when they make most of their money. It is not an accident that Marvel Comics have only come to life late in the super-hero movie game, because the technology required to bring Marvel comics to the big screen is a relatively recent phenomenon. Whether we are talking about Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Dare Devil, or the X Men, all of these comic book stars would not likely translate well to the big screen in an era before CG and special effects reached their recent heights.

Clearly enough the Spiderman series, now apparently completed as a trilogy, is the flagship product of the line, hence the pressure to make these movies really hum. Both of the first two movies, with Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst starring were very well done, and had their moments of real pathos and drama, not to mention spine-tingling action from time to time. Stan Lee is a master of misanthrops, not only with his villains, but also with his mis-fit heroes as well. One of the secrets that made his and Steve Ditko's creations so compelling is that most of his heroes became heroes by accident, through something unusual happening to an ordinary person. Thus ordinary persons could more easily fantasize about being one of these heroes. There is also the 'outcast' or me vs. the world aspect to these heroes as well, just perfect for teenagers who used to read comic books(in the 60s and 70s B.C-- before computers that is) and thought they had a lot against them already. Such were the factors that made the comic books such fun reading.

But does this third episode maintain the standard of excellence of the first two, while still being true to the story lines of the comics themselves? Well the answer is-- not entirely. The movie in itself is too long, well over two hours, and it is too dark for small children as well. Too much evil to swallow in one gulp. Mr. Rami apparently felt it necessary to tie up all loose ends with the series coming to an end, and this is part of the reason for the bloating in this third episode. Not only do we bring back Harry (the son of the Green Goblin), but we introduce the Sandman. And not only do we bring in Flint Darko (aka Sandman), we also turn a Bugle photographer into yet another super villain bent on destroying Spiderman. The odds are not even, and the odd want to get even in this movie. One super bad guy would have been enough and did we really need to throw in evil inter-galactic goo ( which would have fit better in Men in Black) as well?

Then of course there is the sometimes torrid sometimes sputtering romance of Mary Jane and Peter Parker. This subplot is important and could have been a nice point and counterpoint with the super-hero drama segments, but not satisfied with this, we bring in girlfriend number two--- Gwen Stacy the daughter of the police chief, who turns out to be a blonde bombshell (just like in the comic book). This also is too much, and it is not really possible to develop in tandem a relationship that originally was a sequel to the relationship between Peter and M.J.

Do the special effects come to the rescue? Well, yes and no. They certainly are special. My son and I saw the movie in its Digital and High Def form-- and you almost needed sunglasses it was so bright, crisp, clean, and clear. It was like the visual form of digital audio. Sometimes between the quality of the pictures and the special effects it was mesmerizing. Sometimes it was just mind numbing. Especially well done was the Sandman sequences, but was it really necessary to turn him into a sort of Gigantor Godzilla figure in the end before he goes exit stage right? Probably not. And here is where I say that this was a movie which had too much rope and money to play with. it would have been a much better movie if someone had put it on a diet, and tightened up things here and there. True, there are some nice humorous touches along the way (Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance and gets to say "Nuff Said"-- which was his byline in answering the letters we used to send him that were printed in the magazine). And there is some 'realism' along the way--- Peter Parker turns out to be a little too self-absorbed as his fame grows. But on the whole this third episode disappointed. It was both too much, and too little of what we needed to see, at the same time. Let's hope the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean does a better job of rounding out a tale in three acts. My spider sense is tingling--- will they resist a 4th episode of Spiderman if this once makes a zillion? We shall see.


paul said...

Ben, I was worried for a second by your title that you thought this was a good movie. That would have really caused me to question your theological insights as well. :O)

I would agree with your review - it could have been a good movie, but wasn't, and for the reasons you suggested (although there was a high level of "cheese" factor in this one that I will attribute to it being comic-bookish.)

I understand from my friends who are into such things, that they plan to continue the Spiderman series much like that have done 007 -- trying different actors for key parts. We will see.

Todd said...

I agree with many of your points about the bloat in this film. It was two movies forced into one. It would have done well with a "Back to the Future 2&3" treatment (where the producers and directors felt there was too much for one movie and made two).

From what I understand, the Venom plot line was heavily suggested after the Sandman plot was in place. Avi Arad was pushing strongly to give the (new generation) fans what they wanted - Venom. I think that could have been done with a tease by introducing Eddie Brock into the Sandman plot and setting up a fourth, story driven movie with Venom.

I didn't leave this movie as excited as the previous two. But my 8 year old left firing webs and swinging across the parking lot. Which is what a comic book or comic book movie is supposed to do, right?

Ben Witherington said...

No doubt about it, even this movie can't kill off the enthusiasm for Spidey-- and for that I am grateful.


Ian said...

Did anybody catch the unusual counter-culture theme of forgiveness? I thought the movie had a powerful message to deliver that most people did not get because that is not what they wanted. I mean, the ending of the movie was Spidey forgiving his enemy, and being reconciled with his best friend. On top of that, there was his voice over preaching on the importance of making good choices. Sure it wasn't the best movie, but I thought it was incredibly counter-cultural when they did not need to be.

discokvn said...

i liked the movie...

there are visual images of forgiveness... it's a running theme... pride and vengence being destructive...

yes, they didn't develop the bad guy characters, but they did develop peter and mj... the characters grew, relationships grew, changed, etc...

it wasn't the last two films but that was not the directors intent to create the same film with different bad guys, he wanted to do something differnt and i think he did. why must the director give the audience what they want all the time?

as a former film student -- i can't understand why the critics hated it so much... it was visually striking and he told the story (for the most part) in a visual manner... the ooze latching on to him as his anger grows and his desire to release his anger on someone grows...

i feel bad so many are not enjoying it for what it is a differnt direction in the story... i almost feel the way i do about people complaining about the gospel of mark, because it's not the gospel of john.

by the way, they didn't set up the next film for venom because across the board it's not decided about who will or won't be directing, acting, etc in it and i don't think sam rami wanted to leave the door open for another director...

Nance said...

I can appreciate the desire to move in a different direction with the story telling... if it'd done well. I don't think Spidey 3 was.
It had the potential, given the story they decided to roll with, to be the greatest super-hero flick ever, and a great movie in general, but I think they just dropped the ball. The most dramatic elements came off as... ridiculous, so in the part of the story when I feel like I should have been feeling some pathos and sorrow over Peter's growing darkness, instead I was thinking about leaving because the treatment was almost embarassing me as a Spider-Man fan. I know that sounds harsh, but that was honestly how I felt mid-film. The first films were so good, and the comic sources so good, but this film just didn't pull it out.

Ben Witherington said...

Yes, I agree the theme of forgiveness is a good one--- which could have been developed better throughout the film, but feels like it was tacked on at the end to create the "ahh gee" factor. I wish there had been more of that.


techpadben said...

The game is also a tragedy. The graphics are the only saving grace. The prior spiderman games seem to have been mashed up into the new one and elements from blockbusters like god of war were implemented to save it from being a mindless button mashing event.

Spiderman game review

Marc Axelrod said...

Most video games based on a movie or comic book franchise turn out to be disappointments. Conversely, movies that are based on video games usually fall flat.

One exception is the old Nintendo 64 Goldeneye 007 game. That was terrific, topping even the movie.

Ian said...

I agree that it wasn't well done. My point was that I am surprised they tried to pull off a movie that promoted such a counter-cultural message. Even Aunt May was telling Peter how he needed to put MJ first if they were to marry. I think they were trying to do too much with the movie, so it got lost in the midst of some weak dialogue and cheese, but it was surprising and refreshing to me.

Jeremy Erickson said...

"You want forgiveness? Get religion."

I went to see Spidey 3 with a friend (and his two boys) who is seeking to repair his marriage after five years of destructive egoism and 2 affairs. He is deeply remorseful and wept for a good hour of the movie.

It worked for him.

The guy is wanting badly to forgive himself, and not knowing how to do it. This movie, in his words, "never missed a beat."

Maybe, but it felt like a polka played backwards to me.

Nevertheless, I thought there was the potential at least for a beautiful moment on the church steeple. Where'd Peter eventually get free from his big bad self? At church.

"You want forgiveness? Get religion."

In spite of much, the powerful themes (forgiveness, self-sacrifice, fidelity), though merely stuttering through here and there, were not lost on my buddy that night.

Maybe it wasn't a masterpiece, but it was good art, still.

Duke of Earl said...

Well for my $14.50 I liked it.

It was far ahead of X-Men 3, though not as good as Spiderman 2.

Then I also liked Superman Returns and Batman Begins, Batman in the lead in my opinion.

Perhaps they just bring back fond memories of comic reading in my youth.

Firedrake said...

Dr. Witherington,
I have not yet seen the movie but I have a question for you. After reading your post on Gun-Control and Revenge I was wondering how you can see movies like Spiderman, X-men, etc. and say that you enjoyed them, when they are filled with violence. In X-men 2 the whole basis for Logan hunting down and killing Stryker is out of revenge; As well as Magneto's obsession for killing the human race because of something that happened to him when he was a young kid. I do not understand how you can like watching these movies, yet cannot condone killing done in self-defense, and defense of others with no thought of revenge.

Tim Baron said...

Just got done listening to you on Issues, ETC and I appreciate your work. Couple thoughts as my wife and I saw this the other night.

Given the massive amounts of meaningless raw sewage that Hollywood pumps out each year, the Spidey movies have amazed me. The third installment amazed me too, particularly upon examining the underlying message of the film:


Think about it, Parker finally comes face to face with his uncle's killer and tells him "I forgive you." But only after Peter sees the darkness and sin that he is capable of and guilty of.

Not only that but there's forgiveness and restoration in Peter and Harry's friendship. So much so that Harry give his life for ol' Pete.

And finally, at the end we see grace and forgiveness taking place between Peter and MJ after all the mean crap he did to her.

We also see Eddie Brock who was so consumed and unwilling to let go of vengeance that it killed him, literally. The symbiote is a perfect analogy for sin as well. gradually taking control and leaving less and less person.

To me, the whole thing was a beautiful picture of redemption and healing that is possible even thru the darkest stuff. Made me think of CS Lewis's quotation about mythology and the "Good dreams of the pagans."

Just some thoughts from a longtime believing art/comic nerd. Keep up the good work: )

Tim Baron

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Firedrake:

A very fair question. It has never been the violence in these movies that I enjoyed at all, unlike some people. I like the characters, and I look for their redeeming human characteristics, if they have any. I like the love side of the story, and I was pleased with the forgiveness theme in Spidey 3. In viewing any Hollywood movie one must learn to sift the wheat from the chaff, and if their is no wheat at all, no redeeming virtues, then you will not find me reviewing it, or likely seeing it in the first place since I can read the multiple reviews online before going.

As a footnote I would add, that comic book violence often lampoons the notion that we can really solve major human dilemmas by violence. It often shows how futile such activities are. This I can also commend.


Ben W.

Sarah said...
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Sarah said...

Wow, Dr. Witherington, I am kind of surprised... I had such an entirely good impression of the film, and with your theological background I expected that you would have appreciated it a bit more. What did you think of the theological implications of the film?

Honestly, I myself have never come across a movie as theologically rich. Not only does it delve into the psychosis of sin (beginning with Peter's egotism and one-sided understanding of the sandman's actions in murdering his uncle and ending with his willingness to step outside of his own experience, his own world, in empathic love for others. We are reminded of Mary Jane's complaint that Peter is viewing her problem in terms of himself, his own experience), but it also demonstrates the detrimental ramifications of giving into temptation (as Peter really created the two monsters that came up against him in the end. Sandman was not his enemy to begin with, and Venom was really created as a result of Peter's mercilessness comcomitant his willingness to wear the suit for such a long period of time).

The cross motif served to tie both Peter's initial departure from sin (in finally shedding the suit in the bellroom) and his defeat of its ramifications (in removing the suit from venom). The final triumph came, however, when he forgave Sandman, at which time the 'true' story of his uncle's murder came to light (as opposed to the illusion which fed into his vengeance at the forefront of the film).

Hence, we have themes of egotism (pride goeth before a fall), and grace (the triune forgiveness of Peter w/ Sandman, Harry w/ Peter, and Maryjane w/ Peter) undergirding the plotline of the film. Moreover, it demonstrates how evil is not always black and white, but rather oftentimes arises out of the best intentions (and that, thus, we can never be too careful or too on guard against the devil's wiles).

True, the storyline is a bit bloated, and perhaps too much for younger children to really understand. Yet, honestly I think that to detract from the storyline would be to detract from the theological quality of the film.

I am really curious, however, as to your thoughts on the more theological aspects, as now I am left questioning whether my insights are all that valid ;)

Minjung said...

I liked what Sarah had to say about the movie! After seeing Dr. Witherington's blog about the spidey I went to see it anyway and I was very moved by it. I understand the content was hard to swallow for small kids. The real world is hard to swallow for us too, but it is what it is. I like seeing truth in movies. I didn't expect it in Spidey but it touches the message of the redemption which is so essential and profound. Thanks for your blog Dr. Witherington