Web Extra: A super flop
Heading into opening weekend,Spider-Man 3is shaping up to be a major mess
By Pete Freedman
Pretty much everything about Spider-Man 3's pre-release wasoverwhelming. And, unfortunately, that's most likely what's doing the whole film in now.
See, the most successful superhero franchise of all time has hit a stumbling block in its third installment. As the first blockbuster feature to be released in a summer filled with many major, major blockbusters (the biggest of which, including Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Shrek the Third, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix are previewed before Spider-Man 3's opening credits), the Spider-Man franchise has a huge burden placed on its shoulders.
At least symbolically, it's supposed to kick the summer off on the right foot, leading into what could be the most financially successful Hollywood summer season in history (See "The blockbuster cometh ...," our movie reviewer Scott Renshaw's take on the upcoming season from last week's paper, at csindy.com/csindy/2007-04-26/film.html).
The hype surrounding the Spider-Man release has certainly amplified this thought process. Although Sony has yet to announce the actual numbers, rumors swirling throughout the industry place Spider-Man 3's production budget at well above $300 million, with some insiders estimating that Sony spent as much $500 million. That would make it, by far, the most expensive production ever (see Radar Magazine's "The Most Expensive Film Ever Made": radaronline.com/from-the-magazine/2007/04/kim_masters_spiderman.php). Likewise, trailers for the film had Spidey fans drooling with Peter Parker taking on not one, not two, but three villains at once, how could this third production not be amazing?
Well, for precisely that reason. Check out the New York Observer's hilarious and incredibly well-written take:
"Bloated and stupid, this movie is so bad you can't even review it. Over-produced, over-publicized, over-designed, over-computerized and just plain over the moon, it's so preposterously overwrought with so many bewildering plots juggling simultaneously for over-emphasis, there's no entry point for criticism. You just stare at it, as you might a great big exploding pile of cow manure." (See the rest of the bad press Radar compiled for its Thursday blog post, "Critics: Spider-Man 3 Worst Sequel Ever": radaronline.com/exclusives/2007/05/critics-spiderman-3-worst-sequel-ever.php.)
Harsh or not, the Observer's review is pretty accurate. Spider-Man 3 doesn't hold a candle to its predecessors. It's over-the-top in every sense: The actors over-act, the CGI is overly cartoonish, and the plot is over-extended to the point where there is so much going on, none of it ever strikes a chord with the crowd.
In Renshaw's review of the film, which runs in this week's Indy (csindy.com/csindy/2007-05-03/film.html), he notes the same problems, but excuses them. "Had Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 not raised the bar so high," he writes, "it's likely that Spider-Man 3 might have felt like something ... more."
The earlier installments of the series did set new standards of excellence for the entire comic-book superhero genre. Later in his review, Renshaw explains that Spider-Man 3, when looked at as a standalone, is still a good movie. But Renshaw's also probably a little too kind. And maybe that's understandable it's hard to trash a friend you hold in such high regard.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 can't be removed from the rest of the franchise. Unlike the third installment from the Batman series of the late '80s and '90s (in which Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne), the Spider-Man series can at least claim that it has been able to retain its entire cast and crew up until this point.
But after this third effort, that consistency will probably end. If a fourth installment is made, as is likely, there should be a number of changes made to both the cast and the crew.
Tobey Maguire is probably out (he's getting too old to play Parker), and director Sam Raimi almost certainly is, too. (He has gone on record saying that he doesn't want to be seen as a franchise director.) As the Radar story explains, many assume this lack of security surrounding the future led Raimi to include so much in a last-ditch effort to permanently fingerprint the franchise.
Most viewers won't head into theaters knowing this much, but it won't matter they'll still see the same faults. More than once during Thursday's midnight screening at the Chapel Hills 15 theater complex, members in the audience laughed out loud at the audacity attempted by Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent's script. Worse, these unintentionally funny moments garnered about as much laughter as the intended efforts did. The campiness that helped create the charm surrounding the first two features comes off as painfully and embarrassingly cheesy in Spider-Man 3 (most notably when Peter Parker goes through a sudden emo phase).
Still, it'd be ludicrous to imagine once it's all said and done that Spider-Man 3 won't recoup its losses. Even if Spider-Man 3 doesn't earn back its multimillion-dollar tag domestically, it certainly still will once international ticket sales are factored in. And local theaters are fully prepared to host some extremely large crowds this weekend. Chapel Hills, Tinseltown and Cinemark 16 all showed Spider-Man 3 at 12:01 a.m. on Friday morning. Chapel Hills, in fact, showed it on 15 screens simultaneously.
But like the hype surrounding the film, this, too, was over-the-top. At five to midnight, when I purchased my ticket, the employee assisting me assured me that none of the 15 theaters were in danger of filling up.
In fact, he laughed at me when I asked.
"It's not even close," he said.
And when the screenings let out, the once-energetic crowd, largely of the targeted under-30 demographic, had suddenly gone limp. Every post-movie comment I overheard started with a complimentary precursor, then a disappointed, "but ..."
In the end, the Spider-Man 3 product is just as unintentionally funny as its script was. For all its attempts to overwhelm the masses, Spider-Man 3 will probably be most remembered for how underwhelming it is.
In fact, that irony is the only thing overwhelming about it.
*Spider-Man 3 (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Tinseltown
By Scott Renshaw
Handed the keys to a potential blockbuster comic-book franchise, Sam Raimi did exactly what you wouldn't expect in 2002's original Spider-Man: He made it fundamentally about a nerdy kid who couldn't pay the rent and never got the girl.
Tasked with topping his own runaway success in 2004's Spider-Man 2, Raimi again defied all industry logic: He created a paean to heroism and self-sacrifice that was enough to bring tears to a fanboy's eyes. They were both dizzying, gravity-defying adventures, sure, but at their core was Raimi's vision for popcorn cinema in which naked emotionalism trumped Spandex and power-punches.
Had Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 not raised the bar so high, it's likely that Spider-Man 3 might have felt like something ... more. It makes the sequel mistakes the second installment refused to make, and ends up straying from the soul that had made its predecessors soar. In the wake of two near-masterpieces in their genre, mere satisfying summer entertainment somehow seems like a disappointment.
The story picks up with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in something of a happy place. He and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) are a couple at last, and his alter-ego Spider-Man has won over the hearts of New Yorkers. But Peter's bliss makes him oblivious to Mary Jane's career struggles, and leaves him off-guard when his former friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) uses the technology of his father to avenge his death.
And then there's escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who stumbles into an experiment that turns him into the disintegrating/reintegrating Sandman, and some funky black slime that crawls out of a meteorite and onto Peter's moped.
That's a whole lot of stuff going on probably too much. Superhero sequels have tended to fall into the ante-upping trap of piling on the extra villains and new characters with each subsequent installment. Spider-Man 2 wisely kept the focus on its central pair. This time around, screenwriters Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent overload the plot with conflicts: Sandman's personal-tragedy-driven quest for cash; Harry's lust for Peter's blood; another woman, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), to make Mary Jane jealous; Peter's internal turmoil as the alien goo transforms his personality; a rival photographer (Topher Grace) with designs on Peter's job. Those challenges do occasionally result in some battle sequences, and it's here that the series continues to sparkle.
Last I checked, though, the question that drove the Spider-Man movies was not whether Peter's body would break, but whether his spirit or heart would. While Raimi finds time for a few effective scenes between Peter and Mary Jane, you have to wade through an awful lot of peripheral material to get to them. And these scenes are what made us fall in love with Peter and Mary Jane not whatever CGI wizardry could create a guy who breaks apart into chunks.
Raimi isn't so far gone that he forgets any semblance of a lighter touch; there is a clever bit involving Peter's attempt at a marriage proposal in a fancy restaurant. Raimi still has some sense for what made the earlier films unique. He simply doesn't commit to that uniqueness in the same way he had previously.
In the end, Spider-Man 3 turns out to be a lively, energetic superhero movie. Unfortunately, that's also all it turns out to be.