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    « Len Wiseman gets Total Recall | Main | "Down Terrace" Official Poster »
    Thursday
    Jul292010

    Marveling At The Past - Spider-man 3 (2007)

    "Surprisingly, the sequel fell short of the box-office standard established by the original, even though it had garnered accolades and reviews that put it above its predecessor. This reality, coupled with our need to re-energize and re-invent the saga, would make 'new' and 'different' the guiding imperative throughout the creation of Spider-man 3."

    That is not a quote from the film but from producer Grant Curtis in his book 'The Spider-man Chronicles: The Art And Making Of Spider-man 3'. Even though I'm sure this wasn't intentional, the book turns out to be a remarkably honest and telling account of how hubris, arrogance and greed can destroy a franchise. How greedy? The first film grossed $403 million domestically. The second grossed $373 million. That is what Curtis calls falling short. The studio began down the slippery slope to series ruin over a piddling $30 million dollars.

    In the world of the comic book movie, the word 'reboot' is becoming synonymous with 'defeat' and, just as with the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises, Sony has decided that the only way forward is to start from scratch. I cannot believe that this was their intention when production began on 'Spider-man 3'. Sony cannot spin this. 'Spider-man 3' killed their golden goose before its time was up. Reportedly, Sony Chairwoman Amy Pascal wanted six Spider-man movies. It made sense to me. Sam Raimi would finish his trilogy of movies inspired by the comics of the 60's and then a new filmmaker more in-tune with the darker comics of later decades would step in for future films and tackle such material as Venom.

    But Venom would not wait and its our fault apparently. Producer Avi Arad beat Raimi over the head with the idea of including Venom because WE could not sit through another one of these films without him. The fans did want Venom, no question. What Arad failed to understand is that the fans wanted Venom handled by someone who gives a shit about the character and that was clearly not Sam Raimi. Once again, the filmmakers jumped the gun, refused to let the story develop properly and subsequently lost the interest of the very fans they were trying so hard to please. And this was pretty hard to take barely a year after 'X-Men: The Last Stand'.

    Of all the Marvel movie sequels 'Spider-man 3' is perhaps the most offensive. The film had the advantages of talented, passionate people working on it, a gargantuan budget, and the support of its studio. Yet the people involved still managed to make an incompetent film which fails at the most basic level of storytelling. Most serious of all, it actually forgot it was a Spider-man movie.

    It has been fascinating watching the symmetry between the Spider-man movies and the Christopher Reeve Superman films. The first was a lovingly faithful adaptation of the character's origin, large in scale, true in soul, but really about two kids trying to get together. The second was about the hero's struggle to maintain the balance between their own needs and obligation to others. The third was about a crisis of identity where the hero is mutated into a villain care of an external corrupting force while ironically losing its own identity as a film. While 'Superman III' features Richard Pryor doing stand up comedy in a general's outfit in front of the man of steel and you realise you are no longer watching a Superman film, Tobey Maguire starts dancing on table tops at a jazz club and you realise you are no longer watching a Spider-man film. It is certainly not the Venom saga, one of Spidey comics' greatest storylines.

    I think the 'emo Peter' sequences hit hardest because we were in no way prepared for them. The trailers showed us none of it. To be fair, the trailers didn't show us black suit Spidey ripping criminals in half or being chased by the cops either so we shouldn't have assumed anything. I just remember watching the first trailer which showed Peter ripping off the black outfit in a church bell tower, like pages ripped from the comic, and just assumed Raimi knew what he was doing with the Venom saga. I wondered what horrible tragedy our hero had just endured before that sequence which brought him to the decision that the symbiote needed to be gotten rid of. Had he killed Sandman? Had he killed Mary Jane? Was Aunt May dead? As it turns out, Peter had just gotten into a fight with MJ at the jazz club and realised he was a douche. The fact that he goes to a church bell tower to remove the costume is totally random. He is not even aware that the symbiote has an aversion to high frequency sonics until much later in the film. The only way to have done a worse job of the storyline would have been to make the symbiote orange.

    So it goes without saying that 'our' revised version of 'Spider-man 3' would cut the symbiote/Venom storyline completely from the film. You can tell the story of our hero having his life destroyed, both through external forces and his own arrogance, without it. In a perfect world, Raimi would have been free to tell the story he initially pitched. We can never know whether it would have been a better film but we can be assured, at the very least, that Venom would have been left unused and unmolested. It would have been a film with a clear theme running through it and villains that Raimi knew how to handle. Our 'Spider-man 3' is a story about forgiveness; about angry and wounded people falling into the abyss of despair and finding a way to pull themselves back and heal the wounds, not to mention the consequences of being unable to do so.

    So let us launch into our revised 'Spider-man 3', what should have been the grand finale of the Raimi '60's trilogy', without a glimmer of the black outfit. Bear in mind that this storyline follows on from the revised versions of the first and second films that we discussed in my previous articles on the left hand side of the page. So just to keep you up to speed. Mary Jane has not yet been introduced into the series and Gwen Stacey has been the love of Peter's life. Gwen's father, Captain George Stacey has died in 'Spider-man 2'. But most of the story beats have been retained. Most specifically, Harry Osborn is out for blood.

    Heck, I like the Harry amnesia angle, if not its actual execution in the finished film. I think it is a rather interesting way to re-introduce the friendship between Harry and Peter rather than just assuming the audience is aware of it. It makes the journey they go through in the film more potent and allows the story to be more self contained than sequels usually are. Where the idea falls apart is in the story telling convenience that Harry has only forgotten specific key events relating to his father's death that would otherwise cause him to stick a knife in Peter. The way Harry receives 'total recall', as it were, courtesy of his father's ghost (implying that Harry is indeed insane) is worse. And as the Ebert to my Siskel, Mr Jamie Williams says, Harry's retarded facial expressions throughout are unbearable.

    The solution would be for Harry to actually fake his amnesia. He thinks of nothing but revenge but those feelings have been bubbling inside of him for so long now that just impaling Peter on his glider is not going to be enough. This revenge needs to be sweet. Harry concocts a plan to systematically destroy every stable element of Peter's life; his love life, his career, his Aunt and finally his alter ego. The objective is to bring him down to nothing, make him wish he were never born and then grant his wish, in true Green Goblin style. What better way to accomplish this than by emotionally disarming Peter by repairing their friendship so he can get close to his target? While Harry is able to handle Peter and Gwen himself, he decides he needs help to destroy Spider-man and recruits two recently incarcerated criminals, both with their own reasons for wanting to squash the spider; Flint Marko and Adrian Toomes.

    Unlike the presentation of Harry, I loved not only the concept but the execution of the Flint Marko/Sandman character in the finished film. The only problem of course was that the film pretty much abandoned him half way through to make way for a dozen other storylines, bringing him back for the finale almost as an afterthought (and with his wife and daughter completely forgotten). It made sense after facing millionaire industrialists and genius scientific minds, Spidey would go up against an average, down and outer with a pathetic existence and a wrecked home life. Thomas Hayden Church makes us care about this guy in his very first scene with just a pained glance at his daughter. The costume is note perfect. His action sequences, albeit brief, hit every visual note we wanted to see in a Spidey vs. Sandman smackdown. And the actual birth of Sandman sequence, where millions of grains of sand form together into a super being who has to deal with the realisation of what he has become, clearly both seeing it as a curse and maybe a blessing as he now has the tools he needs to help his daughter, is one of the most beautifully crafted scenes in comic book movie history. That one scene is the reason I bought the DVD. It shows the magic that can be created when a filmmaker like Sam Raimi is totally committed to the material and passionate about the characters.

    But there is the small matter of Flint Marko being the real, however accidental, killer of Uncle Ben. There is no way around this. The idea should never have come to fruition. The origin of Spider-man is sacred ground and was handled to perfection by Raimi in the first film. Any alteration of the facts afterwards only serves to totally undermine the impact of Uncle Ben's death in the first film, the subsequent confrontation with the mugger we thought had killed him and the lessons Peter learns as a result. Then there is the unbelievably lazy writing that has the police still investigating Uncle Ben's homicide all these years on and pulling Peter and Aunt May into the local precinct for no reason other than to explain Marko's backstory for the audience. Its only function is to bring out the darker side of Spider-man for one brief revenge fueled battle. I am not adversed to this at all but it holds little weight when we know Spidey's actions are as a result of the black costume. It would be far more interesting to see the red and blue Spidey we know and love beating the hell out of the Sandman, fully in control of his own actions. The evidence that Marko is Uncle Ben's real killer is completely fabricated as part of Harry's elaborate plot to destroy the very core of Spider-man.

    The filmmakers behind the Spider-man movies seemed to be obsessed with the idea that every single villain Spidey faces should have some close connection to him personally; that without such an element the villain will not be memorable or worthy. If they had bothered to look across the great pantheon of screen villains they would have realised that there is nothing wrong with creating a character who is just plain evil. Which brings us to Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture.

    What Toomes would represent in our 'Spider-man 3' is how our hero is viewed by the common criminal and how their lives are destroyed by him. Toomes is a law abiding citizen who, when we meet him, has been secretly plotting an illegitimate business endeavor for years, one which he has planned to the last detail. In the opening action sequence of the film, Toomes teams up with his 'muscle' Flint Marko to pull off the crime and, in the blink of an eye, is captured by Spider-man. Toomes is the kind of criminal that Spidey steps on without even noticing, on a daily basis, with no regard for the fact that he is ruining the lives of human beings. As he becomes the Vulture, Toomes is singularly obsessed with ruining Spider-man's life in the same way. As Flint Marko becomes the Sandman, Toomes constantly resents the power and success that is granted to everyone but him and it poisons his soul beyond redemption.

    Harry helps to bust Toomes and Marko out of prison but they each go separate ways as they escape to avoid being traced back to him. Just as in the finished film, rather than partaking in some seedy activity, Marko risks his new found freedom all for the opportunity of to see his daughter again. Harry plants fabricated evidence which leads Peter to believe that Marko was Uncle Ben's real killer and our hero tracks him down, not to an evil lair, but to a run down apartment. In a furious rage, Spidey tears the place apart and beats the hell out of Marko there and then in front of his daughter. Their fight leads outside and across the city which eventually leads to Spidey depositing Marko into the scientific molecular test chamber and seemingly killing him (as opposed to Marko just being chased into the place by the cops), but actually causing his transformation into the Sandman.

    As the film goes on, the trinity of Harry, the Vulture and Sandman create havoc across the city to the point that only the Spider-man part of Peter Parker's life is able to exist as he tries in vain to put out the fires they start. With Gwen completely neglected, Harry is able to move in and seduce her and the only stable element left in Peter's life is Aunt May, which immediately makes him think something is going to happen to her. In what could have been the most memorable moment of the film, Peter races home to Aunt May's place in the hope that the villains haven't gotten there first. Aunt May opens the door perfectly unharmed and very happy to see Peter because now she can introduce finally him to her gentleman caller. Who does Peter find sitting on May's lounger than Adrian Toomes with a cup of tea in hand and a sadistic grin on his face.

    One of the story points that the filmmakers were unable to include in their own Doctor Octopus storyline in 'Spider-man 2' was the idea, straight out of the comics, that he was dating Aunt May at the exact same time as being one of Peter Parker's deadliest enemies. Peter arrives at the house suitably exhausted from a brutal battle with Ock and ready to bury his double life for the day only to find the good doctor entertaining his only living relative. I just love the idea of Peter being brought to paralysis by the dilemma of wanting to protect Aunt May more than anything and warn her about the man she is sitting next to and yet unable to put her in danger. It also really sells the idea that the villains Spider-man encounters are extremely vicious minds that play for keeps. If they happen to know our hero's secret identity, they won't just go after him, they will take the fight to his closest family members. Finally, there is the agonizing thought that Aunt May has been seduced by Octavius and is now, for the first time since the death of Uncle Ben, happy and content and now Peter must take that away from her in order to save her. It makes perfect sense to include something with that much dramatic weight in our 'Spider-man 3' and Toomes would make a great substitute.

    As Aunt May sits down with Toomes and Peter confronts this reality, he also puts the pieces of the puzzle together and realises that Sandman and Vulture have been specifically placed as pawns in a game to totally destroy every stable element of his life and the only way they could do that is with the help of someone who both knows the secret identity of Spider-man and has a definite grude against him. Harry Osborn is, sadly, no amnesiac. He has personally manipulated Gwen Stacey to turn her against Peter which has worked like a charm. The evidence that Flint Marko was Uncle Ben's real killer has been completely fabricated and the man himself has been unwillingly set up as bait to drive Peter to give in to his worst instincts and become the thing he fights against. Even though Marko has not died as a result of Peter's actions, the damage to our hero's soul has been done. Finally, Adrian Toomes is sitting in Peter's home ready to stick a knife in his Aunt May.

    Unable to think straight anymore, Peter does exactly what Harry was expecting and confronts his best friend at the Oscorp building, a broken wreck of a superhero. Now, at the final exquisite moment of the plan, Harry is able to see the same look in Peter Parker that he had during his father's funeral. Just like Harry, Peter has had his love, his guardian and his reason for living taken away. He has made Peter wish he were never born. He has made Peter beg for death and is now ready to grant his wish. The only problem is both the small semblance of a good person that still remains within Harry (which has been discovered through his interactions with Gwen) and that the Vulture wants the pleasure of Spider-man's death to be his alone. Oh, and Sandman returns in an even more powerful form.

    The action fueled finale of the film would play out through, around and on top of the Oscorp building with a few of the specific beats retained from the finished product. Sandman does grow into a humongous sand monster to swat the spider. Harry does convert back to the light and sacrifices himself to save Peter from the combined might of Vulture and Sandman. Though the kidnapped girl is a cliche, Gwen does take part in the action as it is important for her, Peter and Harry to be together at this cathartic moment in their lives. I really do love the perspective that the climax of the finished film provides that, for all the action and absurdity, this trilogy has really been about the rites of passage of these three friends and how they become the people they will be for the rest of their lives (which is measured in minutes for Harry).

    Unlike the finished film and rather than a non-descript construction site sealed off from the public, the battle royale takes place in a finished building providing far better opportunity for spectacular property destruction. By placing Spidey inside a claustrophobic environment where he is unable to web swing away from the villains, having to dodge the giant arms of Sandman as he smashes through the walls in a typhoon of sand, brick and glass, the jeopardy is that much more increased. The destruction of the Oscorp building can represent the destruction of Harry's entire life, all brought about through his own actions. The Vulture, too far down the path of no return, is killed as he is unable to let go of his hatred. At the end of the battle, it is Peter who asks for forgiveness from Sandman for his actions and is even able to help repair the relationship between the Marko family. The relationship between Peter and Gwen, however, cannot be fixed as easily.

    I have a theory that the original ending of 'Spider-man 3' was very similar to the one I am suggesting. If you watch the way Harry's funeral scene is reduced to a silent montage with the audience being given the slightest glimpse of MJ walking away from Peter, seemingly for good. The film fades out and then in to the, again silent, reconciliation between the two characters and it feels almost tacked on as if it were a reshoot. I am firmly of the belief that Peter and MJ originally had a full dialogue scene at Harry's funeral where they both decided to part ways for good, almost mirroring the final scene from the first film which took place after Norman Osborn's funeral. The powers that be (whoever they really are) decided it was best to keep the characters together at the end despite the fact that any rational audience member knows that there is no way they should be given everything that has happened in the story by this point. In our 'Spider-man 3', that wrong would be set right. It makes far more sense that, just as the hero told the girl that he could not be with her at the end of the first film, the girl tells the hero that she cannot be with him at the end of the third. The relationship between them thusly comes full circle. Gwen leaves New York for pastures new and, though Peter is alone for now, the audience takes comfort knowing that Mary Jane Watson (the stunningly hot actress/model/firecracker version we know and love from the comics) is going to be turning up on his doorstep in 'Spider-man 4'.

    I hope none of this sounds too arrogant as if I know more about making successful comic book movies than the producers of the Spider-man films. I certainly do not. I know about as much as any fan of the series on this matter. That is what makes the finished 'Spider-man 3' and what has become of the franchise as a result so much more frustrating than practically any of the other Marvel films we have covered in this series. All of us could see exactly why the film didn't work. The only people who appeared to be blind to the obvious were the ones who made it.

    Next week, we will discuss a motley crew of filmmakers who were certainly not blind to the fact that they were butchering one of Marvel comics greatest storylines, they just didn't give a shit; 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Storm Cloud'.

    Reader Comments (2)

    To this day I can't believe that Spider-man 3 was able to reach such heights of crap-titude.
    One of major problems was Mary-Jane...Both the way she was written and Dunst's performance by the third film were absolutely terrible. By Spider-Man 3 Mary-Jane is a passive-aggressive, whiney tramp. I mean think about it in the Spider-Man movies she hooked up with Flash Thompson then Harry Osborne and then the Astronaut, she finally gets with Peter, and then she cheats on him with Harry. You end up practically cheering for her demise.

    I hope the reboot can make the masses forget about Spider-Man 3, just start fresh with the quality and enthusiasm that they created with the first one with.

    07-29-2010 | Unregistered CommenterKryptonian

    This has got to be one of the saddest reads I've gone through regarding "what ifs" - not only did you managed to capture the emotional world of the Sam Raimi films, but you managed to extend it. I have gone through the Spiderman 1 and 2 'do-overs' (sorry if sounds too needy, but hey, readers always are when it comes to great adaptations) and I have to say it's just sad that they never saw the potential in Arthur Stacy's character. I wouldn't even mind if the original casting was used from the films - Gwen was as beautiful as one would imagine. Though by the end of the third film I would have wanted a death scene akin to the one on the bridge. But clearly this is a synopsis that celebrates the film universe and make it seem like a true, believable, Hollywood blockbuster. Sandman and Vulture, with the (Hob?) Goblin (redesigns to the suit) would have been classic and a much more sensible pairing than Venom.

    I wish I could read your "The Second Trilogy" ideas with the same characters.

    Great work. Doc Brown would be proud.

    10-6-2010 | Unregistered CommenterNave Torment

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