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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Litotes

There's a scene in one of the Modesty Blaise books where...

No, wait, what am I doing? None of you people care about Modesty Blaise.

Never mind.

For those who think I write pretty fly for a white guy, I once again mention this webpage here, where for the past week or so I've been posting some political yimmer-yammer. One of my recent entries actually made it into the daily round up of recommended reader posts, with a link and a pull quote from the front page of the site. That particular entry wound up getting 26 comments, which is a considerable better showing than anything I've ever posted here has made for itself. So go there and read some new stuff from me, if you've a mind to.

Okay. Spider-man 3: I deliberately avoided this film on the big screen, due to my utter disillusionment with its immediate predecessor in the franchise. Had Spider-man 2 not stunk up the joint so thoroughly, I probably would have swallowed my initial distaste at all the black costume-leading-inevitably-to-Venom horseshit and seen it anyway, but as it was, I decided to wait until I could rent it cheaply or see it on cable or something.

So last night SuperWife and I decided to have a date night. This is one of those summer weekends when the movies debuting in the theaters are crap-crap-crap (You Don't Mess With The Zohan? Please. In this house, the rule is more like You Don't Go See Adam Sandler Movies Unless Doing So Helps To Free A Hostage Or Something), and we'd seen all the stuff we'd wanted to to date, so we decided to use two of our free Blockbuster rentals (my fabulously generous younger brother Pat has given me and the fam a six month membership in a movie club; every month we get a bucket of movie snacks that has a card good for a free rental in it, and we've been so busy lately that they've been kind of piling up). So we got Spider-man 3 and Charlie Wilson's War, although last night we only managed to watch the first one before having to head off to bed, 'cuz we're old now.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised -- shocked and stunned, really -- to find out just how much Spider-man 3 doesn't suck. Oh, it ain't no Iron Man, certainly, and it's only about half as good as the first Spidey movie, but, still, given how wretched the intervening chapter of the franchise was, it was a real pleasure to watch this one and realize that Sam Raimi still had some directing chops in him after all.

How was this one better than S2? Well, aside from the fact that it had a plot all its own, instead of a retread of the basic storyline of S1, it also had --

* a Mary Jane who didn't act like a crackhead
* more lines for Curt Conners (although, alas, it seems a Lizard he'll never be)
* Captain Stacy and his lovely daughter Gwen
* more lines for Betty Brant (although this seems to be the Ultimates Betty Brant, or something; the Silver Age Betty Brant never acted like that)
* a spot on depiction of the Sandman
* an acting job by Topher Grace that was much much better than anything I'd expected from him
* fucking AMAZING special effects.

Okay, S2 had fucking amazing special effects as well; the Spidey/Doc Ock fight scenes are the only reason to ever watch any three consecutive minutes of that bullshit. But amazing as Doc Ock's tentacles were, there were nothing compared to Sandman. I mean, WOW. I soooooooo wish I'd seen it on the big screen.

I also enjoyed Theresa Russell's brief cameo as Flint Marko's wife, and was especially charmed by Harry's brief lapse into trauma-induced amnesia, which wore off exactly at the moment the plot most needed him to start being a dick again. I can understand how some noobs might find this kind of thing overly contrived, but those of us who've been with Petey since the beginning recognize the mechanism from Pete's running series of conflicts with the first Green Goblin in the original comics.

Back in the day, Norman Osborne was forever discovering Spidey's secret identity and then using the info to try and kill him in some horrible way; Spidey would somehow defeat the pumpkin throwing asswipe one more time, and then something would happen that would give good ol' Norman amnesia for a while. Then, when the writers wanted to bring the Goblin back for more, Norm's amnesia would clear up and he'd start ranting, raving, and guh-nashing his teeth all over again. Rinse and repeat all through the early to mid Silver Age. As a dramatic device it was hackishly convenient, but despite that, the simultaneous feelings of genuine pity and sheer, unrelenting terror that both Pete and his readers would feel as Norman started to recover his memory one more time were always compelling.

Peter Parker With 'Tude in this film didn't bother me anywhere near as much as Wimpy Peter Parker Who Doesn't Want To Have Powers did in S2 -- at least in this movie, his bizarre behavior was explained by him being under the mental and emotional influence of an alien symbiote, instead of, you know, him just being a dipshit. (I will note, though, that Pete cannot hide entirely behind the "oh, I was mind controlled by a black goo costume from beyond" excuse for all his moral failings in S3, and he still needs to do some groveling to MJ for (a) kissing Gwen like that and (b) never once mentioning that Gwen existed prior to that, or that Gwen was his lab partner at college... both acts of skulking scurviness which were committed before Pete ever came into contact with the alien brain-bender.)

Much of the movie was pretty directly poured out from old Lee/Ditko/Romita Spidey stories, and I loved watching that stuff. The odd team up between Spidey and Harry at the end certainly wasn't taken from the source material -- no Goblin derived villain would ever have allied with Spider-Man for even seconds, for any reason at all -- but it worked well within the structure of the film and I enjoyed watching the results.

Stuff I didn't like? Well, the decision to make Flint Marko into Uncle Ben's triggerman was loathsomely stupid. I held out hope all through the film that in the end, it would turn out to be a case of mistaken identity or something, but, no, no, Marko really did it. That final revelation, along with Parker's wimpy ass forgiveness of the man who murdered his Uncle Ben, made my stomach hurt a little. But it's about the only really truly wrong note in the whole film, and given how good the rest of it was, I can roll with the blow.

Introducing Gwen and her father into the film franchise so late, in such essentially inessential roles, seemed very jarring and almost irreverent to me, but what the hell -- in a universe where both the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus are dead, maybe Gwendy and her dad have long happy lives to lead still before them.

And, as I mentioned before, it makes me sad that we'll never get to see Curt Conners transform into the Lizard. Plus, it would be nice to see some easter egg scene tucked in after the credits where Samuel L. Jackson shows up and wants to talk to Spider-Man about the Avengers Initiative, and Spidey invites him to have lunch down at the dangling diner. But these are quibbles. Overall, this is a much, much better movie than I thought it ever could be, and I'm very pleased about that.

6 Comments:

At 2:31 PM , Anonymous Always Esteemed Scott said...

Making Marko into Uncle Ben's killer was a *really* stupid decision. So too was having the villians use MJ as bait for the third straight movie. Surely there are other ways to arrange a climactic battle between the good guys and the bad guys?

Also, I know that it's very much in keeping with the way comics work, but I thought that S3 suffered from villain overkill - Venom, Sandman AND a new Green Goblin? Too much.

But then, I was really hoping for a Spider-Man movie featuring James Gandolfini as The Kingpin. Alas.

PS:
Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury? Really?

 
At 5:18 PM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...

Making Marko into Uncle Ben's killer was a *really* stupid decision.

I understand what they wanted. For a movie audience, the typical 'hey, here's a super villain, watch the hero fight him' comes off a little dry... the creative forces obviously wanted there to be a powerful emotional connection between Sandman and Spidey, especially in a movie where there were two other villains that had emotional associations with Petey. It makes for better, deeper, more vivid characterization. Nonetheless, the connection to Uncle Ben's death was stupid; they could have accomplished just as much had they simply established that Marko was some small time loser that Spidey had captured during a heist, and who was obsessed with revenge. Then, once he gets his really cool and very dangerous super powers, the entire movie watching audience is, like, 'oooooooh, Spidey's in TROUBLE'.


So too was having the villians use MJ as bait for the third straight movie. Surely there are other ways to arrange a climactic battle between the good guys and the bad guys?

Certainly, MJ has become the Wesley "Trouble" Crusher of the Spider-man franchise, to the extent that one very nearly believes she could sleep in on Saturday and still somehow get Spidey in a jam. Nonetheless, it's not fair to lump it all on her, as Aunt May has done her own noble stint as Dependent NPC Who Exists Only To Be Captured By Supervillains, too.

Beyond that, this is largely what these characters are FOR. If MJ isn't being held hostage or used as bait in some trap, what the hell good is she? This is fiction; things don't exist simply to exist.

And even beyond all that, the angst-fraught history between MJ, Harry, and his nutjob dad made the whole 'first we attack his heart' thing work well for me.

Also, I know that it's very much in keeping with the way comics work, but I thought that S3 suffered from villain overkill - Venom, Sandman AND a new Green Goblin? Too much.

I had that same thought before I saw the film, and presumed that Raimi was simply suffering from The Last Half of EXCALIBUR Syndrome, i.e., he got ready to plot out the third and probably final installment of the film franchise and realized he still had one helluva lot of basic material to cram in.

However, having seen the film, it seemed to me that Raimi managed to get all his business done much more smoothly than I would have anticipated. I didn't even mind Venom, and I HATE Venom.

But then, I was really hoping for a Spider-Man movie featuring James Gandolfini as The Kingpin. Alas.

Gandolfini is much too much of a smart ass to be an appropriately chilling Fisk. Although, I dunno, I never thought Michael Chiklis could play a character like Vic Mackey, either, so maybe I'm wrong.

It would be interesting to see someone else play The Kingpin to offset Michael Clarke Duncan's interesting-yet-deeply-wrong portrayal. But I think it would confuse the fanboys. Having said that, though, if anyone ever tries to build a coherent Marvel movieverse, I hope to God they get someone other than Affleck to play DD in future installments. So a different Kingpin would work, too.

PS:
Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury? Really?


The Ultimates Nick Fury was very deliberately designed to look like Samuel L. Jackson, which has caused many to speculate that if Nick Fury ever appears in a Marvelverse movie, they should get Jackson to portray him. Personally, I think David Hasselhoff would make a PERFECT Fury... visually, anyway.

And, also, my mention of Fury and Jackson is something of a spoiler, and I'll leave it at that.

 
At 8:03 AM , Blogger Neo Tuxedo said...

I [...] presumed that Raimi was simply suffering from The Last Half of EXCALIBUR Syndrome, i.e., he got ready to plot out the third and probably final installment of the film franchise and realized he still had one helluva lot of basic material to cram in.

The way I heard it, he wanted Venom's role in 3 to be limited to Brock bonding with the costume, as a setup for Venom as the main villain in 4, but the suits at Columbia Pictures and/or Marvel Productions insisted on Venom qua Venom appearing in 3.

 
At 4:17 PM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Come on. You've got to admit that Adam Sandler was sort of amusing in The Wedding Singer...

...haven't seen S3 yet but now I want to. And Iron Man did rock.

 
At 6:49 PM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...

NT,

Venom as a main villain might well have made me vomit. On the other hand, Topher was much better in the part than I'd have anticipated.

It's interesting, though (and I hadn't realized this until this moment) that the Sandman is now the only Spider-man villain to survive the end of his debut movie. (You don't really think he DIED, do you? Sandman is TOUGH.)

OpuLaur,

Huh. Since when do you listen to me?

Say, do you remember when Fleetwood and Colossus had to fight Sandman in Scott's superhero dungeon? He was TOUGH.

 
At 4:04 PM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

DocNeb,

You underestimate me.

And yeah, I remember Sandman. Tough MF, wasn't he? I also remember dying tragically from a fall off some purple cube...

 

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