Monday, May 07, 2007

S3 Comes on a Web and a Prayer

By Graham H. Moes
Graybrook Film Critic

I caught the eleventh-hour press screening of Spider-Man 3 last night, almost literally at the eleventh hour. Spidey geeks camped out for the midnight showing, in fact, glanced up from their trading cards and Game Boys just long enough to give us "VIPs" dirty looks of Venom-like proportions for cutting to the head of the line. Didn't look much happier as we threw them a friendly wave on the way out either.

But on to the movie.

The short version: S3 is somewhere on the upper end of good and the lower end of great. Alright, much lower than great.

Part three of any trilogy is make-or-break time. You either end on a high note (Revenge of the Sith) or drag down the whole shebang (X-Men 3).

Personally, I tend to favor origins stories. Fellowship of the Ring is still tops with me despite Return of the King's superior firepower as spectacle. That's largely how I feel about S3. The effects are better, the story has greater depth, and the themes are deeper. It's just hard to beat the emotional impact and story arc of the "genesis" installment for me.

That, and S3's too-many sources of villainy -- presented sympathetically and connected in loose ways that tend to dissipate much of the tension -- are the biggest negatives. The Sandman looks phenomenal, but it's hard to hate a guy motivated by the love of his daughter the way we could hate the demonic fury of Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man.

But fans of director Sam Raimi's earlier, darker, quirkier career will still appreciate a return to style at times here. A completely random sequence showing the "evil" Peter Parker strutting his sexy stuff on the streets of New York is some of the funniest stuff in the film. A lot of people are hating that exact bit, but it's old school Raimi to the core. (Remember the Three Stooges-esque eye pokes Ash endured in the graveyard during Army of Darkness? Feels a little like that.)

The great and mighty Bruce Campbell makes his usual cameo for Raimi as well, this time as a hilariously over-the-top maƮtre de at a French restaurant. Clearly a better choice for the recent Pink Panther remake, had a remake not been pure blasphemy in the first place.

Oh, did I mention Bryce Dallas Howard? Turns out the daughter of Opie Cunningham is fine, foxy lady, despite what The Village or Lady in the Water may have led us to believe.

Conservatives too should give this a thumbs up. While hardly a political movie and has no obvious subplot involving, say, a mechanical, multi-tentacled Osama bin Laden, the film never strays from its earnest Red State roots.

Which basically means it doesn't take much to please conservatives anymore.

It's manna from heaven these days when Christianity isn't maligned, when gratuitous jabs at George Bush don't materialize, when the everyman (and everywoman) characters don't shack up, and when the hero somehow manages to speak without a sniff of irony about things like the power of forgiveness and making moral choices in life.

Sure it's a little corny at times, but I like corn.

Superman Returns, you may recall, drew fire for avoiding the Man of Steele's American hero status. (I hear it from my own manager all the time: "It won't play well overseas!") In stark contrast, S3 has Spidey swing into battle framed by a giant American flag.

Happily, that one shot is already irking Eurotrash critics like Leo Lewis at the Times Online, who ends his review with:

"Also disappointing is the inability of the director, Sam Raimi, to end the romp without a fleeting shot of the American flag. The Stars and Stripes just happens to be fluttering behind Spidey as he makes his triumphal return to honour, probity and good honest fist-fighting."

The filmmakers say they weren't trying to say anything with that flag. Could be. Could be they're just smart enough to realize films that do well overseas often don't do well here, where the money actually is.

Still..."I'm a patriotic guy. I do believe it's absolutely true this country strives to do the right thing," said director Sam Raimi during a recent interview with World magazine.

S3 also contains a "conversion" scene of sorts taking place at the foot of a massive cathedral cross. I'll leave it at that.

The film will be a runaway hit regardless of critics' opinions, which are also running strong in S3's favor.And when it is, look for talk of Raimi's involvement in New Line's Hobbit project to heat up too.

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