My life is full of spiders lately. A couple days ago, I finally got David Cronenberg's Spider on DVD, I'm currently reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, and I just got back from seeing Spider-Man 3.
It was, as you might imagine on opening day, a very crowded theatre, and as is often the case with crowded theatres, it demonstrated to me that most people aren't very bright, at least not judging by the fact that most of them laughed at every dull, perfunctory punch line in all the billions of advertisements preceding the film. But I have to say I can't blame them for laughing as much as they did during the film.
When Spider-Man 3 did comedy, we laughed. When it did tragedy, we laughed. When a creepy old butler we'd never seen before said he loved Harry Osborne, we were all hysterical. Every time someone cried in the movie, we laughed. Sometimes I felt bad enough for the filmmakers that I managed to merely cringe, but mostly I think Sam Raimi and company deserved a pie in the face.
It's not hard to see the problem--for whatever reason*, a whole bunch of different ideas for movies were crammed into this one movie, giving us only room for brief bites of character development and establishing of motives, so Raimi tried to compensate by putting a shot of whiskey in each bite, only he grabbed the bottle of sugar water on accident.
We get earnest proclamations like "I love you!" at completely the wrong times. We have characters doing phenomenally stupid things to provide motivation for other characters--Peter kissing Gwen Stacy in front of Mary Jane without it even occurring to him that it might make her jealous. Mary Jane insisting Peter doesn't know how she feels when discussing a bad review of her recent Broadway performance because Peter mentions how Spider-Man gets bad press, too**. And there's the Panic Room effect when Mary Jane convinces Peter she wants to break up with him only because Harry, who's out of earshot at the time, has threatened to kill him.
Worst of all is the movie's handling of its Moral--that vengeance is ultimately a bad reason to do things. This is something that's part of a lot of comic book stories, and it's not an unreasonable theme for discussion. But it's gotta be discussed. This is a movie, not a political rally. We all sense it's a profound enough subject that we're all a little irritated when it's handled haphazardly with battling slogans and broad, artificially contrived emotions. Sure, it's bad to kill if you don't have to. But are we really to believe Spider-Man didn't have to kill Sandman***, when Sandman obviously is willing to hurt innocent people and can't be contained by any prison, and seems indestructible anyway?
Well, the movie wasn't a complete waste of time. A lot of the action sequences were fun. Bruce Campbell was the best thing about the movie.
*My guess is, Sam Raimi had decided he didn't want to make any more of these movies and therefore decided to cram every half-formed idea for whole Spider-Man movies into this one.
**No, Peter, I don't want you to go help those people you heard about on the police radio because I need to talk to you about my feelings because I'm a stereotype of a sudden!
***Of course he didn't really kill Sandman, and it's obvious to everyone that he didn't, but he thinks he killed him, and that leads him to a conversation with Aunt May who, despite knowing it was Sandman (in an extremely stupid re-writing of history) who killed her husband, and without knowing the why and how of Sandman's death, can only think to say that it was wrong of Spider-Man to kill. Oh, sure, Raimi, let's just breeze through the philosophy, it's not like this is an extremely sensitive subject that happens to be on everyone's minds because it relates to the war in Iraq and the Virginia Tech. shootings.