LitotesThere'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.
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.