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Review: The Spider-Man Trilogy

This weekend I saw Spider-Man 3. Before I got to the theater, I’d been hearing all week from critics and friends that it was “okay” or it “wasn’t as good as the other two.” Some people went so far as to totally bash it. I tried not to listen. I wanted to go in with only my own fears and expectations about whether director Sam Raimi and his team could pull off the tri-fecta.

Spider-ManLet’s face it: this movie had a lot to live up to. The first two movies were unqualified successes by any measure. It could be (and has been) argued that Spider-Man single-handedly brought back the super-hero movie and embued it with a sense of quality that hasn’t been seen since Superman in 1978 (okay, by today’s standards Superman was a bit campy in parts, but in its day it blew your socks off – and if you ignore the campy bits, it still does). Then, by virtually all accounts, Spider-Man 2 equalled or surpassed that quality (it had been years since I’d left a theater with my jaw hanging that wide open—as impressed as I was by the success of Spider-Man, I never imagined they could up the ante for number two). The release date for the third movie was announced before the second even opened, and there wasn’t even a script. Audience anticipation, and the pressure on the film’s creators, approached Star Wars levels.

Spider-Man 2Personally, my anticipation was as high as anyone’s. I couldn’t wait for the next installment. But then I heard the news: they were going to have two villains. My anticipation levels dropped a bit. From a writer’s perspective, the more primary characters you have, the more difficult it is to write a quality story that fits into two hours. It’s hard to fit that many relationships into that time with a deep sense of quality. Then I heard that the rumor was wrong—there weren’t two villains, there were three! My anticipation dropped like a rock. All I could picture was Batman and Robin, the film that almost single-handedly killed the super-hero movie.

Then I heard one of the villains was Venom. Big burst of hope. My favorite Spidey bad-guy. Then I saw some footage. Another big burst of hope. It looked amazing. I was still worried about trying to shoehorn too much in to one film, but anticipation was almost back to original levels.

Spider-Man 3So, did it meet my expectations? Sadly, no. But it didn’t miss by much, and that’s saying a lot. It wasn’t an improvement on the previous two films, but I still put it head-and-shoulders above most other movies of its type (especially sequels). It had the drama and character development I expect from Spider-Man films. It certainly had the top-notch effects. Lots of action, which was good, but they stumbled a little bit there; maybe it was my seat (I was forced to sit very close to the screen and off-center), but I had a hard time following all the action at times—especially during the first fight scene in the alley. I think they were using too many “hand-held” shots and tight framing for my taste. The same kind of thing that put me off in The Bourne Supremacy, though nowhere near the same levels.

The only scene that I can say really felt out of place, though it was still used well to tell the story, was the dance at the Jazz club. I just couldn’t get my heart into that one.

I did like the Saturday Night Fever-ish montage, as it nicely paralleled the “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” montage from the second film.

Spider-Man 3Speaking of parallels, this trilogy nicely parallels the ’70s/’80s Superman films.

  • Film #1: Origin story. Recurring villain is introduced as main adversary.
  • Film #2: Hero loses/gives up powers to become normal, but must regain them to save the world.
  • Film #3: Hero gives in to his dark side, with the help of a catalyst. Bad things ensue.

(So obviously we can expect that in Spider-Man 4, he will rid the world of nuclear weapons.)

The fortunate difference between the two trilogies is that the Superman series got progressively worse, whereas the Spider-Man series has only had a slight mis-step in the third film.

My recommendation: see #3 in the theater while you can.

Spider-Man 1: 4.5 stars

Spider-Man 2: 5 stars

Spider-Man 3: 4 stars

[tags]Spiderman, Tobey McGuire, Kirsten Dunst, J.K. Simmons, Venom, Sandman, Superman, super-heroes, blockbusters[/tags]

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