Adventures too much for 1 movie

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2007

“Spider-Man 3”

Sony Pictures

2 hours, 20 minutes

The excitement has been palpable for days. A couple of weeks ago the theater had pre-sale signs up. A week ago, the window was painted bright red and black, with the hero and villain facing off on either side of a giant webby message. Kids started getting a feverish sound in their voices when they talked about it. Friends, even those who disdain the superhero genre, were making plans to attend the opening weekend. And my wife, who hates hype, was excited.

There’s just no getting around it, people love “Spider-Man.”

Spider-Man, as a character, works for just this reason. Not only is he very cool, but he’s very “us.” Peter Parker, Spidey’s alter ego, isn’t rich, he isn’t hip, he isn’t confident. He’s a brilliant scientist, but as his character in the films has evolved, that trait is more a conversational thing than a real, practical skill.

Basically, the suggestion is that any of us could have been bitten by a radioactive spider and done just as well. The previous films have done a good job of exploiting the strengths and weaknesses of their main character while wrapping him up in a fairly simple story. By comparison, the story is far more complex in the third film, but not in the way you might expect.

No one is trying to blow up the city, and even the heists are relatively small. But the interpersonal turmoil going on in Spider-Man’s life is enough to fill two movies, and this is where the problems arise.

Part three begins, appropriately, on a web. Peter and Mary Jane, looking at the stars and talking about how good they’ve got it. It seems that Spider-Man is finally the hero he’s always wanted to be. But not so fast. He’s about to go up against three supervillains, two love interests, a professional challenge, a bipolar identity crisis and five, count ’em five dance numbers.

“Spider-Man 3” is fun, but ultimately unwieldy and disjointed.

The problem is an old one: too much story to tell and not enough time to tell it. This is where editors come in, but, unfortunately, in Spidey’s case, the writers should have taken a whack at it first. There’s not one element in the film that is necessarily weaker than another — the Sandman is a very cool villain, as is Venom; Gwen Stacy is a good character, and the plot twist is interesting; the black suit is really sharp, and the changes it makes in Peter are chilling. But all these pieces are made weaker by the fact that they all get shortchanged by time. The writers want, in particular, the Sandman to be a real, fleshed out character, and he would be if they gave him more time. The film is 2 1/2 hours long, and you feel as though you are rushing to get through it. More than once I turned to my left and whispered, “What are they doing? Did something get cut? That doesn’t make sense.”

Too often, in a movie like this, what does get cut is any kind of character development in favor of the action, as seen in the hugely overblown “Pirates of the Caribbean 2.” It’s to the filmmaker’s credit that this is not the case here. There is plenty of character development with each of the principals, but even that becomes a problem. There’s just so much going on that there’s no time to focus on one thing. As a result you get snippets — Mary Jane is sad, career in shambles; Harry’s turning evil ... oh! Now he’s got amnesia. Peter’s nice, he’s oblivious, now he’s mean, now he’s got to get rid of that outfit.

It’s too bad because I think all of the themes are worthy of exploration, and the characters are certainly worthy of screen time, but just not all in the same huge jumble.

As usual, the special effects are amazing. The Sandman is awesome, and Venom, though shortchanged like the rest of them, looks great. One problem I had, though, is with the huge number of “people slamming into things” shots the effects people employed. You’ve got battles where the combatants bang into walls, fire escapes, Dumpsters, steel girders, windows, cars, trains. I know they’re super, but c’mon. I started to ache by the end of it. That actually sums up the whole feel of the film. It’s fun but left me feeling a little cheated. For all the great new additions to the “Spider-Man” story, “Part 3” is only able to squeeze in about half the requisite attention, proving once again it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Grade: B

“Spider-Man 3” is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence, mild language, and adult themes.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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