The first Spider-Man movie broke records for largest opening weekend box office take, and forced us all to come to grips with a world where Tobey Maguire was an action movie star. The sequel, by nearly universal consensus, re-wrote the books on what a super hero movie could be, while inspiring at least one reviewer to compare the experience of watching it to a favorite sexual act. Today, after using the CC2K time machine to visit May 2007 and screen Spider-Man 3, I can officially state that if the opening day crowds are any indication, the box office records of the original are in serious jeopardy. People are flooding into the theaters, and the lines are winding around the streets. It seems that the worse things get for Peter Parker, the better they are for Spider-Man.
When Spider-Man 3 begins, we see Peter Parker as we have never seen him before: happy. Aunt May is healthy and stable (VERY surprising considering that most elderly ladies to not get flung from skyscrapers by men with robotic octopus tentacles), his love life is flourishing with the girl of his dreams, and his financial situation is finally comfortable (his photos for the Daily Bugle are paying a bit more, but this probably has more to do with Mary Jane’s career as a model/actress.) With all this in place, Spider-man is as free as he’s ever been to save his city, without getting burdened by Parker’s troubles.
As good as the Spider-man/Sandman sequences are, Raimi and company were correct when they realized that this storyline would not be enough, not after all that was packed into the second film. As a result, in addition to a new super-villain who is out to get Spider-man, this most recent installment has TWO MORE villains, both of whom are out to get Peter Parker himself!
The first such villain, which should come as a surprise to no one, is his former best friend Harry Osborn, who inherits his father Norman’s equipment and insanity to become the next Green Goblin (this development was more than foreshadowed – forescreamed? – at the end of 2.) At the start of 3, Harry had conveniently forgotten all traces of the madness created by his father and Peter. However, a knock on his head brings it all back, and the Goblin is back (though he calls himself the Hobgoblin this time)! In fact, their first fight occurs when Harry picks up Peter – OUT OF COSTUME – right off the streets of New York. Peter must defend himself while trying to protect his identity, AND keep the safety in mind of the guy who’s trying to kill him. This section of the film was maybe the most satisfying overall; a perfect mix of the action we’ve come to expect from the franchise, the pathos of vintage 70s-era comic books, and the surprising subtlety-amongst-the-chaos we’ve come to expect from Sam Raimi.
The other Parker villain is Venom, who’s MUCH harder to describe. Basically, two things happen simultaneously, movie-wise. First, Peter Parker gets himself a new kickass black costume, though its origins are a mystery. This new outfit can change form and appearance, thereby eliminating the frustrating clothing changes, and it seems to make him more agile and lithe. However, he soon realizes that the costume is not a new material, but rather an alien being attempting to meld with his mind. Parker is able to get it off through unconventional means, but it harbors a deep hatred for him afterwards.
The second thing that happens is that Peter gets a rival at the Daily Bugle, a guy named Eddie Brock (who based on documentary evidence seems to enjoy smoking pot with his buddies in his parents’ basement, and freebasing heroin at the moment of orgasm while having sex with Michael Douglas’ daughter). Eddie seems to be getting all the good shots, and usurping Peter’s business, but Parker soon discovers that Brock has been staging his photos, and as such is profiting under false pretenses. When Parker blows the whistle on Brock, he is fired and disgraced, and where he once admired Peter, he now loathes him.
When these two characters meet, they form Spider-man’s most deadly (and, based on comic book sales, the most popular) villain of all time: Venom. Venom possesses all of Spider-man’s powers, as well as a disturbing ability to use portions of his alien costume to form tentacles that function much like Mr. Fantastic’s elasticity. Even worse, Parker’s own familiarity with the costume somehow dampens his “spider sense,” meaning that he must fight an enemy as fast as he is, without his innate ability to sense danger!
All in all, Spider-Man 3 was a very fun movie that will make a lot of people very happy, but I also think that this will be the installment that, down the road, people will look back on as the one that started to sink the franchise. I’m all for ambition, and as an old-time Spider-man comic book collector, I’m EXACTLY the sort of geek that relishes the loyal storylines, but in my estimation, each movie in this series has included more and more things, to the point where this one just seems…overfull! Take a look at what I mean:
- Spider-Man – The original film gave us the obligatory origin story, and then treated us to an abridged version of the complete original Green Goblin storyline. In the comics, these two stories happened just about as portrayed (though it was Peter Parker’s first girlfriend Gwen Stacy who the Goblin flung from that bridge, and she did not survive the fall as Mary Jane did), over the course of maybe 20-25 non-consecutive issues.
- Spider-Man 2 – The universally beloved sequel really poured on the plots. Not only did they begin and end a Doctor Octopus storyline, but they fleshed out the villain’s character, making him a tragic figure who even redeemed himself by the end. They also threw in Peter Parker’s flagging academic and professional life, his struggle to maintain a relationship with Mary Jane, his powers fading right as he needed them most, Harry Osborn’s obsessive quest to find and kill “the bug,” culminating in his discovering Parker’s secret, and even Harry’s climactic discovery of his father’s evil other half. These plots are a mishmash of faithful comic book adaptations, expansions and distortions from the original stories, and completely new versions made up just for this series. In the comics, it would have taken years to get it all out and explained, though the film accomplishes it in a couple of hours.
- Spider-Man 3 – Clearly, after looking at the first two, Raimi and his crew decided that they needed to go even further, or risk having the third installment look tame by comparison. To that end, we have the Sandman storyline begun and ended, though thankfully they kept relatively light on the deeper motivations of this villain. There’s the Harry Osborn as Hobgoblin storyline, which, though handled well here, still is one of the more complicated storylines in all of Spider-Man lore. And then…we have Venom. In the comics, this was a very slowly developing story. It took YEARS for the progression from Spider-man acquiring the costume (which he did on an alien planet; a convoluted storyline impossible to re-create for this film, and so here it just kind of…happens one night.) to it bonding with someone else to become Venom. Add to this Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane, the introduction of Gwen Stacy as a romantic rival, and the “absolute power corrupts absolutely” subplot of the alien costume portion…and you have yourself a film that leaves even the most diehard of Spidey fans exhausted and shaking their heads.
Maybe the problem is that I just can’t imagine where Raimi and company could go from here. To pack any more into a future installment would mean an epic four-hour journey through four villains and countless psychological subplots, but to pare down the next one will make it look like they went the easy route. Only time will tell what 4 will hold, but as for Spider-Man 3, I anxiously await May of 2007, so the rest of you can officially experience what I already saw you line up for in a few months. I’ll be interested to see if you agree with me.