Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Excessively Long Analysis of Spider-Man 3 (Part 1 of 4)

Spider-Man made superhero movies mainstream.

Before Spider-Man, there had been exactly two successful superhero franchises: Superman and Batman. It's no surprise that these were also the two most famous superheroes with some of the most iconic imagery in comic book history.

After the rousing success of Spider-Man, X-Men 2 and then Spider-Man 2, studios started mining superhero franchises for all they were worth. That's why every single superhero that ever existed is getting its own franchise. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see a Bat-Mite movie.

The plus side of this? We're getting movies like Iron Man, where you have a great director tackling a complex and not entirely well-known character with an actor who's completely game and understands the point of the character. The downside? Movies like DareDevil, Elektra, and Ghost Rider, where the studio looks up from their pile of cocaine just long enough to greenlight a very misguided franchise.

However, by the time Spider-Man 3 hit, we were in the middle of a superhero renaissance. Sam Raimi showed that he "got" Peter Parker and understood how villains should work. In Spider-Man 2, Raimi gave Dr. Octopus real reasons for being the bad guy, deepened the relationship between Mary Jane and Peter Parker and had a bunch of cool action sequences to boot. He made these characters that were in impossible situations behave in real ways.

Keeping all that in mind, we were understandably psyched about Spider-Man 3. Here was a superhero movie that actually had the potential to be a bona-fide good superhero trilogy and tell a self-contained story from a director who just plain "got it"! Plus, Venom! How could they screw up Venom?

I always viewed the Spiderman movies as this: In the first movie, Spider-Man faced off against his equal in strength. Sure, Norman Osbourne was a scientist, but he was also as strong as Spidey. In the second movie, Spider-Man faced off against his equal in brains. Sure, Otto Octavious fought with Spider-Man too, but the main danger was in his research killing everyone.

In the third movie, I expected Venom to provide Spider-Man with his ultimate test: Himself. The symbiote would attach itself to Peter Parker and then carry what it learned to Eddie Brock or whomever would handle it.

What did we get instead?

The dancing sequence is frequently cited as the worst part of Spider-Man 3, but it really wasn't the biggest problem. It's more of a symptom than the actual disease. If the rest of the movie would have been good, it merely would have been a goofy diversion.

I read an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto where he talked about ideas. He said that when a project is going bad and you have an idea that's half good and half bad, you need to throw that idea out. If a project is going well and there's an idea that's about the same, you can use it.

Why is that the case? Because in a good project, the flaws are minimized. If everything else is clicking, you can hum right over some of the flaws without even noticing that they're there.

For instance, take 2009’s great movie The Dark Knight. It’s a fantastic movie, but if you scrutinize it, flaws bubble to the surface. For example, how did the Joker get tons of explosives into Gotham General Hospital, not to mention on to two heavily-guarded ships during a riot, and not get noticed? Someone would have certainly noticed the barrels of explosive sitting around, wouldn't they?

For that matter, after the Joker blows up Gotham General, he walks out of the hospital in full Joker makeup and gets on a bus without anyone even caring who he is. As they state later on, that bus is full of patients. Someone would have noticed and freaked out.

I’m not picking on The Dark Knight, and sorry if I ruined it for you. The point stands, though: Since the rest of the movie is so good, we gloss over those plot holes and goofy parts. They don't matter to us. We accept them and move on.

In Spider-Man 3, the dancing sequence bothers us because of the movie that surrounds it. Let's call this phenomenon the Jar-Jar Moment. It means that instead of being mad at the numerous faults of the movie that added up to make the whole thing bad, we focus on the one thing that is readily apparent. In Star Wars: Episode 1, that was Jar-Jar Binks. In Spider-Man 3, it was dancing. In a better movie those flaws may not have bothered us as much, but in a stinker it becomes a lightning rod of anger.

Instead of focusing my ire on that one scene, I argue that Spider-Man 3 went off the rails near the very beginning. Where did it all go wrong? We'll start from the very beginning and work our way through.

Click here for Part 2!

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