Sunday, May 06, 2007
Too much Venom
With this weekend's record opening of Spider-Man 3, the summer blockbuster season has officially opened; so, too, has the summer blockbuster disappointment season. The critics were correct, especially Rick Groen from The Globe and Mail, in their reviews of the movie. I was incredibly disillusioned - and even irate - with the movie, and I have spent much of the last day trying to figure out why. Although it is not necessarily just to judge this movie by its predecessors, the first two movies set a high standard for this installment, making the movie's most egregious error its lack of continuity with the first two. While they were paced well and featured a manageable number of characters, "3" has a great beginning fifteen minutes, slogs through an hour and a half of romantic comedy, and rushes to the end with little thought for character development. Here is where I think the movie went wrong, and where it could have gone right. [Caution: spoilers ahead!] First, there were too many characters and too much stuff crammed in to one movie. In addition to the Peter-Mary Jane love story, the brewing Peter-Harry conflict, and the delightful newsroom antics, the movie introduces Sandman and Venom as well as an alternate love for Peter, Gwen. Simply put, the overabundance of development needed means that everyone is shortchanged, and so neither Eddie Brock/Venom nor Gwen Stacy receive the attention they deserve, while the Sandman story also gets unfortunately abbreviated. In the meantime, far too much time was spent on useless scenes like Harry and Mary Jane making an omelet, and "evil Peter" dancing in a jazz club and trying to mack women on the street. There are, quite simply, too many of those throwaway scenes to keep the pacing strong. The irony, of course, is that these scenes are added in the name of character development, while not actually spending any time developing the character. Spidey is evil when he is wearing the black suit (and there might be a racist subtext there - after all, he dances when he's in black), and the cue that the audience has is not the acting - it's that Peter becomes Spidemo and wears black eye makeup. The overabundance of characters also means that Raimi takes unusually lazy shortcuts, such as using a newscast to narrate the final scene and far too many flashbacks. The action scenes are relatively well done; it's just that there are too few of them, and they are not spaced evenly. Most of the acting is tolerable, though Kirsten Dunst's only ability seems to be to scream and look hurt. In short, the movie succumbs to all of the negative conventions that the series had previously defied, and effectively kills the series, plotwise. So, of course, the question is how I think the movie would be better. Number one: remove Venom from the movie. There would still be two villains - Goblin and Sandman - both of whom could then have been developed. Two: cut the superfluous scenes. The movie could have been at least twenty minutes shorter. Three: remove the religious/political symbolism. The waving American flags and shots of Jesus in the church were confusing, awkward, and irritating. Four: develop the characters of Eddie Brock and Gwen Stacy. Do what you did with Peter and Mary Jane in the first two movies and make us care about them. In my ideal Spider-Man 3, the movie would have focussed on the struggle between vengeance and forgiveness, demonstrated in Spidey's battles with Sandman, Peter's conflict with Eddie, and Peter/Spidey's conflict with Harry/Goblin. It would have ended with a climactic battle with the Sandman in which Peter and Harry would have to team up to beat him (as they did in the real "3") and in which Harry dies and Sandman is defeated by concrete mix (instead of blowing into the wind). And, although Spidey would have hurt others because of the symbiote, he finally is able to wrest himself from it and move on with life. The final scene would be Eddie in the church asking for forgiveness, and then being attacked by the symbiote, becoming Venom, and leaping at the screen to end the movie, therein setting up the conflict for Spidey 4. But the moviemakers neglected to contact me before making this movie, so we are now stuck with this: a bloated, self-important, boring movie that intertwines an underdeveloped love story, awkward symbolism, too many villains, and a host of umet expectations. A disappointment with too much venom and too little character development.