RIORI Volume 3, Installment 10: Curtis Hanson’s “Wonder Boys” (2000)


Wonder Boys


The Players…

Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes and Robert Downey, Jr.


The Story…

Writing professor Grady Tripp is at a crucial juncture in his career, his relationships and his life. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t realize this. After relentless years trying to write the follow-up to his first, critically acclaimed novel with no success, he looks elsewhere for some inspiration as well as a leg to stand on. It’s a fruitless journey, and the prospect of only having teaching to fall back on/shackled to mediocrity to reaffirm his dwindling esteem isn’t helping his quest bear fruit. Still always teaching, always teaching.

Unbeknownst to Grady—as well as by most signposts along the road—his best student James might be able to offer some perspective (however bleak) on how to make some decent choices, both within and without a book at your back. It might take a few pills, however.


The Rant…

This time out, I promise to try and play nice. Try, mind you.

About a year ago—give or take—I covered Gus Van Zant’s Finding Forrester. It was a mentor/protégé story about a young writer trying to find his voice and a reclusive, older writer trying to coax his adolescent charge to discover “the writer within. The critics tore it to shreds and hawked up the jetsam all over the sidewalk. The plot was accused of being very derivative, and comparisons to Van Zant’s previous effort, Good Will Hunting abounded. Such gripes weren’t unwarranted. Still, it remains a pet film of mine. Chalk it up to my idol worship of Sean Connery—who was the titular lead—and newcomer Rob Brown’s earnest portrayal as Forrester’s insecure pupil and eventual friend, Jamal. There was a lot of sentimental drivel, and not all the roles were acted well (sometimes plummeting into stereotypes), but I feel thanks to Connery and Brown’s chemistry, the film ended up be better than the sum of its parts.

Despite me being all crass and bitchy, I’m a sentimental fool at heart. Buddy movies revolving around writing always both nab my attention and lift my spirits, even if the film is properly labeled derivative and shallow (or simply just plain lame. Sue me). Call it a guilty pleasure, like Double Stuf Oreos, ABBA and any movie “Savage” Steve Holland directed.

*crickets*

If you got it, you know. Check the IMDB if not. Then stream One Crazy Summer. One of Cusack’s finest 🙂

See? I’m already trying to be more cordial. Sure it’s hurting my jaw, but I think it’ll be worth it. I think. I hope.

This year we have a similar movie, but it avoids the trappings of overt sentimental claptrap, unlike Forrester. At least at the outset. I mean, c’mon, you can’t have a mentor/student story without at least a little frosting on the cupcake. The two characters gotta eventually like each other, or at least reach a mutual understanding, By extension so should the audience. But I think—know—that establishing such necessary bonds don’t need to involve a lot of hugs and being maudlin. Was Forrester that way? Yeah, at times. But I managed to overlook it, again mostly thanks to the great Sean Connery and his fantastically unconvincing hairpiece.

I think it might be possible to pull such a story off with somewhat unpleasant characters that seem to be at odds with one another for almost the entire movie. And I’m talking reciprocal apprehension and even hostility here. Hell, worked for the Lethal Weapon movies (Okay. Bad example). That kind of dynamic makes for some juicy tension, and as any writer worth their salt can tell you: stories thrive on and are driven by tension. Sometimes the tension in a movie isn’t dictated solely by this precept, mind you. Tension in a story can take up many different guises. There’s the classic man-vs.-society trope (think Terry Gilliam’s Brazil), or the man-vs.-self idiom (again, Brazil), or the man-vs.-the unknown scenario (also…you get it). Sometimes the leads may just be drifting, ships in the night kind of thing, passively poking each other’s brainpans. Y’know, eventually sort of mirroring each other’s issues. A cracked mirror maybe. Still, being poked is being poked, and sooner or later someone’s gotta scratch at that itch…


Professor Grady Tripp (Douglas) doesn’t believe in writer’s block. He instructs his writing students that all you have to do is keep on writing. And writing. It’s how he he’s kept at his latest novel. Latest, that is, since his first published book…seven years ago.

In the interim, regardless of any encouraging words to his class, Grady’s had a tough time of it. His wife left him. He’s in Dutch with the university’s chairman of the writing department—not to mention Grady having an affair with his wife Sarah (McDormand), the school’s Chancellor. Like most is pro choices, looks like the good professor never learned to not sh*t where one eats.

In addition to his tryst, Grady is having to deal with his smarmy editor Terry (Downey), whose very job hinges getting Grady’s still unfinished second book—a spiraling, out of control, 2000-plus pages, nary an ending in sight monster—to print. His prodding another nagging reminder of Grady’s career arrest. And with the annual Wordfest fast approaching, there’s his class to consider, and who’ll be the next candidate to maybe win a publishing deal. All this straddles Tripp’s ever weakening shoulders.

Oh, there’s also this matter of his star pupil, withdrawn, morbid James Leer (Maguire). What is up with this introverted, sullen kid? His kind feels all too familiar for Grady.

The kid’s got talent; some real promise. If only Grady could coax a little humanity out of the guy. But James is dodgy, distant and like one too many caricatures of solitary, troubled, genius writers of the past. Terry thinks James could easily be published, and a success story like that might lift Grady’s slumping spirits. Something like that might make the daily grind of his job gain some meaning again.

That could be all good for Grady, but with all that other crap looming large—and his increasingly unhealthy weed habit—he doubts himself as being the ideal candidate for a mentor. Besides, there’s always that damned novel at his back.

Professor Tripp says he won’t acknowledge writer’s block. It looks like Grady won’t acknowledge any responsiblities, either…


Obeying The Standard, Wonder Boys got stuck in the tender trap of critical acclaim bookended with sh*tty box office returns. It only recouped a little more than half of its initial $55 million budget, even after Michael Douglas charged half of his going rate (yeah, he has a going rate). By Hollywood standards it more or less meant, “Yay! Craft services got covered! Now there’s all this promo crap we gotta do to pay for our valet parking fees!” I guess that’s showbiz. But in the final analysis, Wonder Boys was not a flop; the film wouldn’t have shown up here at RIORI otherwise. It didn’t find itself sweeping the gold dust off its shoulders, either. Right in line, step in time. We’re hugging the median here.

Forrester didn’t fare so hot, too. It might’ve been the weak script—more like predictable script—that put people off. Or maybe it was blah supporting characters. Perhaps it was you could see the ending a light-year away. Me? I blame Anna Paquin. In any event, Boys shares a similar vibe with Forrester and not just in middling box office returns. There’s the whole writer connection, not to mention the dysfunctional nature of both character’s practicing their craft. Also the whole difference in age thing, as well as the mentor/student relationship. Plus the whole “rising star, setting sun,” passing-the-torch schtick. Both movies were even released in the same year, for Christ’s sake (Boys in February 2000, Forrester in December 2000). By the last factoid, one might wonder—maybe even aloud—if one influenced the other to some degree. Unsure, on all fronts.

In spite of both movies have similar themes, comparing Forrester to Boys is like comparing a Ford Windstar to a Ferrari P4/5. Sure, they’re both cars, and they’ll get you to where you need to go. But it’s how they get you to your destination that makes the difference (sorry for the repeat of driving metaphors. It’s tough to for me to be original when I’m minding my manners. Now back the f*ck off).

To be totally honest, I had seen Wonder Boys before. It was over a decade ago, during my wilderness years. Yeah, I know I talk about those chemically enhanced—or depending on how you look at it, retarded—days a lot here. You’re no doubt a tad sick of it. I understand; you’ve seen a pattern forming. I’m not proud of those wasted—literally—years, but I’m not going to deny them, either. It’d be like Grady Tripp telling James to lay off his dope: I should know better. More accurately, I wish I knew then what I know now. There are times where your sole purpose in life is to serve as an example—or warning—to others. Even to yourself.

And that’s one to grow on. Anyway:

Yeah, I “saw” Wonder Boys many years previous. Not sure how I recalled seeing the thing at all. It was only happenstance—maybe more like a willful memory cell finally recovering from the hangover—that I foggily remembered it. After scouring Box Office Mojo, surprise, its lame returns from the Cineplex and high praise from the movie snobs granted Boys entrance into The Standard’s club. So, yay.

Now I got to watch the movie with a mostly clear head. I think back in the day Boys’ premise caught my attention, what with the story about struggling writers in a collegiate setting. It might also have been Grady’s debilitating weed abuse, of which I could relate. Well, whatever. This week, I blew away the dust and actually watched and even appreciated the thing. That’s right: appreciated. However my enjoyment of Boys in relation to Forrester is like comparing apples to aquarium gravel. Regardless of the movies’ similar archetypes, I found Boys to be the superior film, even with my warm fuzzy for Connery.

First of all with Boys, it’s refreshing to see a quirky character study that doesn’t stagger into Wes Anderson territory. Don’t get me wrong. I think Anderson’s films are a blast, but they’re a little wanting in the subtlety department. I mean, c’mon, you can’t always have your cast of dysfunctional characters act like rejects from a Fellini-esque Adam Sandler flick (think about that. Now, sorry). You can only go so far, or do much with quirky characters until they start to distract the audience from the story proper. Admit it, even Anderson suffers from this problem. A lot can be said for carefully setting up a film’s characters to not come across as conflicted, gonzo loons in the first act, or first scene for that matter. Conflicted, sure. Remember what I said about creating tension? Right, and using a l’il bit of Vaseline on the lens focusing on our dramatis personae can sometimes go a lot longer, eventually feeling a lot more investing than a perpetual Bill Murray signature slouch. In Boys, director Hanson takes us for a car ride, off and on, down the road of elegant character study.

Make no mistake, like with Forrester’s struggling writers, Boys is first and foremost a character study. But that is where the similarities end. Where Forrester was optimistic, Boys has a dark, almost impenetrable heart. First what’s notable is Grady’s flat narration. We fast learn that he’s a writer, even though in the first paragraph he mentions his absentee wife, his affair with Sarah, him being beleaguered with his teachings and students, particularly James and Holmes’ Hannah (whom I failed to find any real justification for being in the movie…or any movie, really), and him trying to compensate for the inability to complete his second book, which has become like the proverbial albatross. In the first paragraph! Narrating! Even when the rest of the cast makes their presence known on screen, it’s all drawn faces and feelings of resignation. No color here, yet they’re already quite vivid. No French Bowie soundtrack either. Calm down. I thought Zissou was great. Go read the review.

Since we’ve now established that Boys is a character study, we’d better pray that the characters are interesting. Compelling. Fully fleshed out.

Not necessarily likeable.

It’s a common fallacy that characters in fiction must be likeable. Bzzzt. Wrongo. C’mon, is Hannibal Lecter really a likeable dude? What about Darth Vader? Or even Walter White from Breaking Bad? One’s a psycho who eats people, one’s an evil overlord who tried to kill his own kids and one’s a dying, desperate man engaging in some dubious method of establishing life insurance. And if any of those examples were spoilers, too f*cking bad and get more culture. Do those guys really sound like any one of them would be a good bar bro? What, really? Then you belong on the list.

Good characters must be interesting. Grady and James are not likeable. But they sure ain’t boring.

Take James for instance. He’s hollow, but not in a bad way. There’s something lacking in Maguire’s performance. I’m not saying the performance itself is lacking; James has this omnipresent need for something, like he’s been searching to fill up said hollowness. He’s cold, taciturn, naïve and about as cuddly as a teddy bear stuffed with cactus needles. All we know from the outset is that James is a very talented writer and so socially awkward and morose you want to alternately smack and flee him. It’s a far cry from Maguire’s role as Spidey two years later, and a heck of a lot more weighty.

Then we have James’ foil—maybe it could be viewed the other way ‘round—Grady. Douglas’ Professor Tripp is a prickly, self-absorbed, philandering mope. He has a drug problem he won’t own up to. His novel’s going nowhere except into infinity. He’s not terribly involved in his students, if not outright disdainful. He’s made a lot of sh*t choices in his misspent life, and he fails to either realize this or just won’t admit it to himself. You’d like to tell Grady to go take a flying leap, or smack him upside the head maybe. He may be a drudge, but he’s also intriguing.

Both James and Grady have a rich backstories to draw from. What the hell happened to them? This is what draws us into their worlds, and makes us curious to where’ll they take us. It’s the whole “then what happens?” ploy I spoke of in the Iron Man 2 installment. It may be a ploy, but it’s a classic device that works. In this case, two misfits find each other in disparate, yet somehow familiar predicaments and try to help each other get out of them. The way this goes down is due to a little something called “chemistry.”

Grady and James don’t have much chemistry at the start. There’s more like this wary frustration towards one to the other, and an enervating obtuseness the other way around. Plenty of metaphors revolve around both our leads’ personalities. Heck, there’s even a not so subtle play on words regarding our characters’ names. James really is leery about everything, especially his worth as a writer. With Tobey’s eternal wide-eyed gaze, he always looks like he wish he could understand what was going on around him.

Grady’s been fumbling through life for so long now he keeps getting the way of himself by increasingly bad choices (there’s also the whole thing with his dope and his “episodes”). But over time, and with a wary understanding, some warmth develops between Tripp and Leer. They bond, and of course learn that they have a lot more in common than they thought. That and they give each other advice which turns out to save them both. Classic setup.

All of this could be just another Hollywood hackneyed story device; the whole mentor/student thing I mentioned above. What makes it work is Boys is not the story’s execution—which is done quite well for being a stock buddy/redemption tale—it’s the character interplay. This is a character study, right? So let’s talk about these weirdoes in greater depth.

Let’s poke more at Tripp’s body. Douglas has a defeated countenance a mile wide. You can even hear it in his voiceover. There’s something about this narration that enhances defeat (and no, I’m not going to yak on about that device again. You’re welcome). To be simple, Boys’ narration is unobtrusive and limited. You almost forget there is any until Tripp starts grousing again. But when his narration does speak, it has two voices. One is the writer in him—from what is said, Grady is one frustrated writer— which makes him a frustrated person. Two is the undercurrent of dissatisfaction with…everything. Nothing’s worked out for Tripp, and it’s all laid out along the path of his poor judgment. You can see it on the screen, what with every facet of his life ricocheting off of one wrong choice after another. He’s miserable, but not worthy of pity since he’s the cause of his own undoing.

Douglas is truly channeling his dad here, although Kirk would never do a film like this one. The senior Douglas played roles where he was tough but vulnerable. It was that vulnerability that made audiences get behind him. Even in his epic roles like Paths Of Glory and Spartacus (oddly, both Kubrick films, himself a master of contradicting expectations), Kirk’s characters were riddled with self-doubt and reluctant, but convincing conviction. Michael’s Professor Tripp is a lot like this paradigm, but over the course of Boys he rediscovers his conviction. It’s not there at the start. It’s blurred by self-doubt, self-delusion and (you guessed it) the ganja. How much you wanna bet he gets his sh*t together by movie’s end? It ain’t so clear for like three quarters of the film mind you.

Who is worthy of our sympathies is James. Here’s a guy, regardless of his distance and just plain creepy demeanor (or maybe because of it) who needs guidance. Someone or something to draw him out of his shell. He’s in desperate need of an “attaboy.” James is a unique pairing for Tripp. James is naïve, childlike and brooding. Grady broods, too, but fails to acknowledge his own naïveté/ignorance. However since James’ persona is so awkward and removed, he tends to put others off. Small wonder why Tripp reluctantly takes James under his wing. Actually, it’s more like James forces Grady’s hand. Not to worry, James warms up as the story progresses in an organic manner, as Grady starts to thaw in a similar fashion. It’s an uneasy alliance, to be sure, but it’s a little less contrived than the bond in Forrester was.

Other highlights of character interplay are the twin prongs of Downey’s “Crabs” and McDormand’s Sarah. Downey’s smarminess is his stock in trade. Sure, it’s pervasive in all his roles, from Weird Science to Iron Man, but when we get the right script, boom, it works wonders, slicker than snot. Crabs is smarmy, to be sure, but he wears the crap like a shield. You can tell from the beginning that he’s an insecure, anxious and frankly scared individual trying to hide something. It only becomes clear towards the end what he’s really all about. And he’s just as human as the other failing characters.

The only other major player in Boys is McDormand, and she’s probably the one with least issues. McDormand is as sincere as ever, and whenever she delivers her lines, it’s the voice of reason. Shrill, accusing reason, but reason nonetheless. Sarah might be the only individual in Boys who really gives a sh*t about Grady’s downward spiral, which sentiment is delivered in such a brusque, pointed way you might mistake her for the antagonist. But as you’ve probably gathered, this film requires patience for all the petals to open, and McDormand’s satisfying as ever delivery punctuates the story where necessary to deflate Grady’s sooty ego.

But there’s always gotta be a wild card, and Holmes fits the bill. IMHO, she’s always been about making face, not acting well. I was quite glad she was excised for The Dark Knight, to be sure. Here in Boys I couldn’t figure out the purpose of her being around. Sure, she might be Grady’s latest exploit with his wife being gone and Sarah just out of arm’s reach, but that’s barely touched on. Hannah is just like she’s the latest distraction in Tripp’s life of being rudderless. Hey Katie, making a career out of portraying willowy, barely there brunettes does not an acting CV make, no matter how much gravity you try and apply to your roles. Holmes was flat and one-note, and barring a significant reveal I was thankful for the limited screen time.

Okay. Enough with character psychology. Now it’s time for the technical stuff. Please refer to my notes on the whiteboard.

Boys is mentor/student picture to be sure, but it’s also a strange, insinuating road trip (get it?) movie. At least half of the scenes in the movie involves driving. Behind the wheel, as a passenger in the back seat, the trunk even, Grady and James are almost constantly on the move. No real destination really, just…driving. Not a very subtle metaphor for our two leads’ lives, who both engage in a lot of “car talk.” This could be symbolic of Grady ever trying to avoid the inevitable (e.g. looking in the rearview where the past lies, perchance?). You don’t even know these maybes as fact until you’re there. Is it a response to all the “car talk”? Am I looking to deeply into this? Is this installment running a little long? Is that a stain on your shorts? Yes to all of it. Now change your shorts. I don’t wanna know where you’ve been, Sunshine.

All the car scenes invite some good camera work. It’s not just in the motoring scenes, which almost totally involve Grady behind the wheel with him yammering at whoever’s riding shotgun. Boys for the most part is a very intimate movie. How the lens managed to capture said intimacy with both close-ups as well as full shots baffled me. But it worked without a hitch. I know very little about cinematography, at least how it works. But it sure worked here. In fact, I didn’t realize it as so until I started churning out this week’s accusation. I guess that’s what we’d call a pseudo “icebox moment” (refer to last week’s tirade/review of Kick-Ass, doofus).

My favorite trapping of whether a film is decent or not here by RIORI’s Standard was well-sated with Boys. The pacing was brisk, not unlike the weather with the film. It was always snow with rain with snow again in Grady and James’ world. Again, not the most subtle of metaphors, but Boys is rife with such quaint aphorisms. It’s almost cute, but never cloying, and never distracting from the drama or comedy.

The thing with the weather? Boys is cold then warm then cold again. The cycle continues in Grady’s interactions with all the players. All of it is so grey. Not dark, grey like The Cure’s Faith album (I smell beer). The atmosphere hanging over the movie is hazy, like we’re not sure where it’s all going, and at times we don’t. In truth the movie starts to lose steam in the third act. Not completely, but it does start to wander. But with all the climate allusions throughout the film, it’s not all that surprising that the sun finally comes out in the end, literally.

I’m not terribly familiar with the work of writer Michael Chabon, whose book Boys was based upon. His relatively straightforward tale interwoven with despair and optimism, paired with Hanson’s hard-wearing yet still loopy direction begs the question: “How did this book get optioned as a movie?” I credit Hanson. His even-handed execution of a tale about, let’s face it, two unsavory characters and their strife and make it come off as hopeful might be the answer. No matter how bleak and obtuse the movie gets, Hanson keeps it light enough to keep you from either pressing STOP or running to the liquor cabinet where the miracle elixir of shoddy memory awaits (I didn’t go there during the film. I was drunk before I hit PLAY. I have a Standard to maintain myself). I say Hanson possesses a verve that keeps the candle lit no matter how strong the wind.

Boys is a sturdy little film, and a lot stronger than Forrester was. It’s an unconventional redemption tale at heart, but it asks for whom? Nothing is overtly straightforward in this movie, but it is linear as it needs to be to get the general message across, even if the message gets mired in perceived hopelessness. It’s understood that Forrester was designed as a crowd pleaser for the Xmas market. Regardless of my less than savory comments about it when paired against Boys, Forrester did please me. So string me up, already). Boys was released in the dead of winter with not much sun going for it, figuratively or literally, but it’s the superior film. It’s a bittersweet film; its humor is sharper than a serpent’s tooth, as is its pathos, but in the final analysis, Boys was the more interesting movie. And despite having an almost inevitable Hollywood ending (my only real gripe, to be sure), Boys did a pretty decent job getting there.

So what have we learned? Right. Catch me on a good day.

Whew. Trying to be cheery can really take it out of you. Now where’s a puppy I can rape and kick?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Yeah, Boys is downbeat, coal black at times and occaisionally difficult to watch. But it sure as sh*t ain’t boring.


Stray Observations…

  • Hey! It’s Richard Thomas! Looks like John Boy done finished his education!
  • “You cold, James?” “Oh, a little.”
  • Editing flub at chapter five, -1.51. Watch McDormand’s arms.
  • “She’s a transvestite.” “You’re stoned.” “She’s still a transvestite.”
  • Story goes that Douglas gained 25 pounds for his character by eating lots of pizza and guzzling beer. One wonders what came first: the pot or the pizza?
  • “I’ve got tenure.”
  • What is it about moving a body?
  • Tasteful song selection in this movie. I especially liked the use of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” Another driving allegory? You decide.
  • “You owe him a book, too?”
  • No matter how Douglas ages, regardless of the role, all I ever see is Jack Colton.
  • Does anyone drive a “normal” car in this movie?
  • “I guess there’s probably a story behind that.”

Next Installment…

Between you and I, Robot proliferation in modern society may lend itself to human convenience, but it also may lead to dehumanizing effects on their masters. Like murder.


 

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RIORI Volume 3, Installment 7: Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” (2007)


Spider-Man 3


The Players…

Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard, with Rosemary Harris, JK Simmons and James Cromwell (I think Stan Lee’s somewhere in the mix, too).


The Story…

Spidey returns yet again, now to take down not one, but three super-powered menaces who threaten his life and loved ones. But is his night job getting the better of him? And what’s with those nagging voices in his head and that alien symbiote—er—monkey on his back?


The Rant…

This might be a continuation of my screed back with the Green Hornet installment. Y’know, the whole rhetoric about Hollywood adapting old TV and radio shows into big budget films? Okay, maybe not a continuation. More like an extension.

But first—and as always—some editorial related to this week’s feature. This is, as they say, par for the course.

Over a decade ago, when I was adrift, boozy and generally depressed, my baby sister did me a favor. I didn’t realize it at the time (back then, I failed to realize virtually anything), but she was extending a hand.

My sis had always been my biggest booster. Even as kids she almost always sided with me against whatever nefarious schemes my other sister plotted against me (and perhaps her, too). My baby sis was vocal, impudent, and stubborn and after puberty kicked in, could be a royal bitch. That being said, she’s been my wingman for many-a-year.

Later in life, me being rudderless in my 20s, she still gave me quarter. To this day, now mostly cleaned up, gainfully employed and an awkward but pretty decent family man, I have no idea how she had suffered me for so long. I did her no favors, except maybe to serve as a warning, making her laugh, and never making her feel dumb (she’s dyslexic, and has always felt insecure about her learning disability. Recalling that I have an English degree from a prestigious school and work in a kitchen, one could only say, “You want fries with that?” If that isn’t a learning disability…).

No matter. My sis always stood up for me, even with my being deep in the trenches of substance abuse and clinical depression. She would often tell—nay, scream—to our parents about my condition, and made claim that I deserved sympathy rather than disdain. Sometimes her arguments even worked, despite her betting on a very obvious losing horse. We should only be so lucky to have a sibling that’ll go to the ropes for you like that.

One day, in 2004, she showed up at my flat. It was late afternoon on a weekend, and I was hungover, the sun blearing my eyes as it could only do after 8 hours with a dozen beers and half a bottle of Irish whisky in my gut. With no pretense, she said I looked like sh*t, needed a shower, shave, tooth brushing and clothes that didn’t smell like smoke and belches. Something like that. I’m not sure; it was a bright day. What was up, besides a reluctant me?

Paraphrasing, she said, “Get cleaned up. We’re grabbing dinner, and then we’re going to go to the movies.”

“What for?”

She scowled. “You need it.”

I forget where we ate. We tried to chew the fat like we once always did. She talked about school and her current job. I talked about how I wasted my degree and my almost non-existent job besides exercising my elbow. But over some nice food and bright lighting, our usual repartee resurfaced and we shared stories, compared notes, bagged on the middle sister and griped about mom and dad. The basics.

Then came the matter of the movie to see. I had no cable, and usually dicked around on the Internet for…well, nothing. Just surfed it, looking for Nirvana somewhere (and I ain’t talking Kurt Cobain). I had no real clue what was out, nor did I care. I was probably on my way to saying, “Pick something” when she suggested:

“The new Spider-Man movie’s out.”

She knew I was a comic collector. She wasn’t much for reading them (or regarding her troubles, books in general), but was curiously fascinated why some drunken, pill-popping, quite literate college grad halfway to a Masters’ if he could only get up before noon guy like myself would collect and read essentially coloring books populated with characters sporting skin-tight suits, weird powers and often limitless bank accounts. I was a reader; she wasn’t really. But she was always and still is the curious sort. Enough so to actually prod me out of my basement squat to get my ass out to the multiplex for my own good.

Now I thought the first Spider-Man movie was great. Maguire really surprised me, as did Defoe. I always thought that Sam Raimi was an inspired, thoughtful, and very funny director. I had heard about the sequel but would’ve rather stood in bed. To this day, I simply cannot go to the movies alone. Watching them at home alone is one thing, but going to the theatre? That’s a social thing. Passively social, but we can’t have an audience of one can we?

I think my sister knew this, what with my early cinema habits already established. I had dragged her along to endless, stupid pictures as a kid just to have someone to chat with after the show. Y’know, to share opinions. It was now time to return a favor. So after our dinner at some local eatery, off we went to the newly built (stadium seating!) multiplex to grab Spider-Man 2. I had my endlessly patient wingman with me. We bought a bag of popcorn each, plus a prerequisite bag of red Twizzlers for me—which I usually devour before the previews are over—and some sturdy large sodas. We were wired for sound.

Finding seats in a movie theatre is never a problem for me. I always sit in the front row, which is usually vacant. Why sit in the back to recreate the small screen action you get daily in your living room? Let me put it this way: when the original Star Wars trilogy was re-released in theatres back in the late 90s, with all their remastered sound and CGI enhancements, I plopped my ass in the front row so to look up Harrison Ford’s nose. Any questions? So me and sis hunkered down in the front row—me ignoring her protests—and waited for the show to begin.

I’ll spare you the intimate details, but getting to see Spidey 2 was the first time in a long time I had a really fun time with another person without the bottle. My sister was sympathetic. She liked action movies. She thought Maguire was a cutie. She even asked me, politely, many times over the movie for deeper details about what was going on. She knew this was yanked right out of the comics. Maybe she was just appealing to my ego…or id, rather.

After we sat through the credits (I always do this. I ain’t wasting one cent of my 12 bucks), we stepped out into the light, me getting all rhapsodic about the film. My sis was listening to me. I wouldn’t say intently, but since she was well aware of the state I was in, letting me yammer endlessly about a subject—and a film—I enjoyed without a drink could only be helpful. I answered some more polite comic book questions, and then she asked me one.

“When does the next movie come out?”

I was quietly stunned. I couldn’t be sure if she was just humoring me or really had a nice time at the flicks with her damaged big bro. But let’s face facts: my sister was too sharp a cookie to just humor me. She and I really had a fun time. I love movies and comics, and after many times hunkering down with me and my beater VCR at home for that weekend’s rental, not to mention every Wednesday after school that’s week’s haul of new issues, I’d be pretty dumb to assume she didn’t pick up on a few things.

So when she asked when the next Spidey flick came out, I was no less than amazed. Me being in the field (when I was working semi-part-time at the local comic shop, with access to the industry previews and related Hollywood scuttlebutt), she knew I must’ve heard something. The fact she was even curious piqued my interest.

I guess on some low level, her interest in forthcoming comic book movies tapped into an interest I made a great investment into when I was working at my then low-level job as a bookseller at the local comic shop. Even more simply, just hearing curiosity about a future comic book movie from a layman (or laywoman) not only kept my spark alight but also offered hope regarding bringing the wonderful, crazy-ass world of comic books to the masses.

Christ, I was so drunk and naïve. Thanks, sis, regardless.

That was over seven years ago. Since then, the cinemas come summertime have been choked to the rafters with comic book superhero movies. It’s enough to make even the die-hard collector sick. There was one point in time that a movie adapted from a comic book story was a momentous thing. Nowadays, it’s pedestrian; we expect a few comic book movies between May and August to clog our screens. The novelty is over. Even when a beloved family member drags you out of the abyss to rekindle a sense of lost wonder…well. Let’s just say these days the wonder is seriously lacking.

Let’s rewind to a few weeks ago, wrangling with the lumpy execution of the movie version of The Green Hornet. When the TV-as-movie fad died a horrible, grateful death in the late 90s, Hollywood looked ever onwards into the new century for other established pop culture touchstones to revamp into mindless twaddle. So enters the comic book movie.

Hold it, hold it, hold it. Hear me out. I’m not gonna slag on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not entirely, and definitely not paired against the display of clemency my sister offered. Where I’m going this week has very little to do with comic books and their film adaptations. However since nostalgia for the Millenial generation is breakfast, I figured I’d delve into today’s skewering by comparing it to a pop culture phenomenon that the kids could rally around and recall fondly, like lunch. Now dig this:

Most comic book films have been very entertaining, even successful. However, for every Avengers there’s been a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The early-2000’s comic movies were stepping stone and stumbling blocks until the studios figured out how to open the Pandora’s box they received. Nowadays, especially since Disney acquired the rights for Marvel comic adventures, such adaptations have become well marketed, hugely popular, guaranteed profitable cash machines. That’s until the bubble eventually bursts. And it will.

Before Disney picked up the tab, like I said. comic movies were a dodgy undertaking at best. Comic book readers were dedicated fanboys with an unhealthy, encyclopedic knowledge of the arcane intricacies of a fantasy world thatonce would result in being ostracized by the general public at best and result in atomic wedgies in the boys’ bathroom at worst. Probably due to restraints with licensing, actual comic book property rights then were either too expensive to acquire, or—more accurately—such adventures were regarded as too outré for mainstream audiences and therefore not very hot commodities (Oops!). The succeeding film adaptations weren’t lifted from the Big Two—DC and Marvel—comic books, but instead from newspaper serials from yesteryear. Most of these plots might’ve been already in the public domain by then. We had Dick Tracy, The Shadow and The Phantom. The X-Men, Spider-Man and even Blade franchises were miles away, waiting for the next century. So audiences got what was available, based on established, albeit old, creaky comic strip panels.

Why these ancient, half-forgotten comic strip/old-timey heroes? Well, besides Supes, Spidey and Wolverine being too exclusive or expensive to acquire at that point, the chosen few were, well, ancient and half-forgotten, ripe for the picking to do a modern-day spin, as well as fodder for the older generation who might want a li’l bit of that nostalgia bite I mentioned earlier. That, and I can’t hammer this enough, were probably cheaper and most young 90’s audiences never ever heard of the Shadow of the Phantom (I know I didn’t) so it would be a perfect opportunity to—let’s face it—cash in on the ignorance of the crucial 13 to 25-year old demographic.

Nowadays, this Millenial demo can’t wipe their collective asses without staining the next ­Superman movie script. In the 21st Century, we’re f*cking inundated with comic book movies. Every summer, Disney or Warner Brothers rolls out a bunch of new blockbusters adapted from the endless well from the House of Marvel or their “Distinguished Competition.” After the success with Guardians of the Galaxy­—a comic book series so forgotten and obscure I doubt without the Marvel bug in the opening credits no one would’ve been the wiser—it seems as if all bets are off. Hollywood has finally seen the light/dollar signs, and comic movies are not only here to stay, but practically endless. All of it capitalizing on some form of nostalgia, for younger generations or the current regarding comic book fans: nostalgia is Wednesday last when the new sh*t hits the shelves.

A good example of how entrenched the pop culture mind is to comic book movies is all the hullabaloo surrounding Ben Affleck’s turn as Batman after Christopher Nolan’s expertly executed films. People who don’t even read comic books—let alone read period—are all a-flutter about this state of affairs. Based on all the press, twittering and newswires, one wonders why—barring copyright bullsh*t—comic movies weren’t jumped on years sooner?

For those not in the know—and I mean pre-Internet youths—I mentioned that in the latter days of the 20th Century, the nostalgia market bit big. Hollywood decided to create big budget adaptations of not only nearly forgotten radio serials and limping comic strips, but also classic TV shows. Like I alluded to earlier, Hollywood wasn’t sure what to do with the Tim Burton Batman Rubik’s Cube they were offered. I reiterate, the acquisition money was either not there or not seen as a return-on-investment.

You’d think a comic book head like me would be jumping out of his skin with glee with all the press comic books have been garnered with over the past 10 years. Finally! Our medium is being accepted into Middle America! It’s like cappuccino, Candies and flossing on a daily basis! And soon this stupid gluten-free fad will die like the pet rock! Time for elation! I should be celebrating!

Ser-prize. I’m not. But I always try to make my argument as palatable and informed as a Bill Hicks monologue.

*drum roll*

I blame all of the ballyhoo surrounding the comic book movie phenomenon and all its marketing a result of the misperception of comic book as not a vital American art form. It’s disposable. Trash. It’s junk culture and deserves to be treated as such. Nostalgia for adults who fondly remember those 10 cent issues of Fantastic Four that so enriched a lazy, Saturday afternoon. If comic books are so easily dismissed as puerile, adolescent fantasy, however, then how come we queue up in droves every summer to see Spidey thwart Doc Ock or witness Batman punish the Joker? People of all ages plop down hard-earned money to catch these films. Everyday people, non-readers of comics love these movies. Hollywood is walking away with wheelbarrows full of cash. It’s all so prevalent that comics are a valuable art form that we are bludgeoned to death with cinematic comic book adaptations every year for the past 15 years. I mean, f*cking Ant-Man is getting his own film! Ant-Man! Kiddie bed sheets are already being spindled for sale before the film actually drops!

Sigh.

All right. You ought to be used to it by now. The following is more social commentary on how commerce and art are never mutually exclusive things than a movie review and blah blah blah. Like I’ve already said, Hollywood is based on making money, not art. If any art trickles out of their machine, then bravo. But the bottom dollar, and all those people who help make it happen, must be attended to first. It’s the reality of capitalism, but sadly it also makes us all shallow.

Sorry, but we Americans are a shallow, impatient lot, and are quickly dismissive of the artists and their work that so richly enhance our cultural tapestry. When that tipping point is reached, then and only then we jump onto the trendy bandwagon that might ultimately prove profitable, monitorial or of a fruitful social contract. That’s unfortunate, to say the least. These days, art is a hard-won, futile endeavor. And pop-art—Warhol notwithstanding—is just so much clutter against the day. We blindly need the next big thing quickly before it gets stale in the next half-hour. Our media reflects this, probably since and due to the Internet gaining traction.

Here’s a little story about the dollars and sense regarding the takeaway from a big-budget comic book movie and how they shape—or warp—our pop culture. It’s not quite pertinent to the Spidey matter soon at hand, but it does shed a little light on the mass-media mentality of our nation.

The profits made from actual comic book sales—the actual issues—have zero bearing on the profit margins of Sony, Disney, Universal or any other Hollywood superhero movie-making studio. The ink-and-paper books themselves are published independent of the parent company’s say-so. Sure, DC has access to WB’s marketing and advertising budget, and they are the avatar of Batman, but that’s not where the studio makes its money off comic books. They make it from merchandizing (video games, clothing, beer cozies, etc). Your average ish of ­Batman costs three bucks. You wanna know how much money DC makes on that sale? Three bucks. What does DC’s parent company Warner Brothers make on that sale? Nothing. What did WB make on the last Batman release? The GDP of Belize. What did DC make? Zilch.

Here’s the curious thing about marketing and franchising: the creators of the source material seldom see the financial reaping of their efforts. Example? Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster received none of the marketing dollars their creation spawned. Not even from the first Christopher Reeve movie. None. According to the party line, in their later years, Siegel had to borrow money from patient DC execs to pay the bills and Schuster died in a VA hospital unnoticed. It was only after their fall that both men received posthumous recognition and reparations for their families. Their grandkids now earn millions. Schuster was unable to pony up for dialysis.

Here’s my point.

Comic book movies and their ensuing merchandizing pay into nothing regarding publications. In short, Marvel, DC and others make no money from the movies their books are based. And very little promo goes into pushing book sales. Besides, if Sony pushes the book, it would detract from ticket sales, right? Sad, but true.

I’ve told here that I used to work at a comic shop. Back in 2007, when Spider-Man 3 crashed onto the screen, we set up a display of classic 80’s Spider-Man issues when he was sporting the black costume, like in the movie where (SPOLIER!) the outfit later became the symbiote Venom, Peter Parker’s Mr. Hyde. It was in hope to capitalize some sales on the movie’s (misguided) popularity. The original issues are valued between 30 and 50 bucks today, miles away from the original 75-cent asking price.

We didn’t sell a one. We did sell the action figures, though. Disney made money. We didn’t. And every Wednesday since, when I go to buy my weekly haul, those 80’s issues are still hanging on the damn wall. Meanwhile Target sells out of those Avengers PJ’s at an alarming rate.

Ahem…Sorry. I was talking about movie adaptations, right?

Despite all the shock-and-awe comic book movie ticket sales make these days, that wasn’t the case not too long ago, and it always starts in the trenches. Hollywood tried to take some tentative steps into the superhero waters at the end of the 90’s. Most with middling results. Back then, I figure the kiddie stigma of comic books was too much of a turn off, and therefore too much of a risk to take investments seriously. Amazingly enough, nowadays Oscar-noms like Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke and Gwyneth Paltrow all show up in the same Iron Man film. The same film! Go figure. I’d like to think that the whole disgrace attached with the mainstream, movie-going audience with comic books has eroded.

Nowadays, I feel there is too much bombast, too much hype surrounding every release of a comic book movie. The aforementioned “Affleck as Batman” controversy illustrates this. It’s this expectation of the annual comic book movie releases that has resulted in the erosion of their magic of the books at their core; the fantastic stories of sci-fi, fantasy, urban crime, espionage and even soap opera drama paired with amazing art is the allure of the comic book. It’s not about hype and shock and awe. At least, it shouldn’t be.

We all know that familiarity breeds contempt. A lot of comic book movie plots are of course lifted from the source material, but a lot of those stories are retreads of established tropes within the comic medium. Comic storytelling is a lot like playing the blues: it’s not the notes, but how you play them. Most audiences don’t care about the playing, just the notes. That and all the spectacle modern comic book movies have. You know, lots of explosions, crazy stunts, one-liners and over the top derring-do with ever thinning character development and nuance.

The summer superhero blockbuster attendance has become de rigueur for the herd. The actual comics are ignored. The respect and appreciation is out the window. The screens are alight with CGI histrionics and tangled plot lines. The magic is dwindling, and everything has to be bigger, better, faster, more in order to fill the studios’ coffers.

Sorry, sis, but I think this shark jumping commenced with the release of Spider-Man 3…


Looks like Peter Parker’s (Maguire) luck is improving. He’s doing well in college. He’s got his own place to call home. Work is steady at the Daily Bugle. He and Mary Jane (Dunst) are in a happy relationship. What’s more is that after years of derision, Parker’s web-slinging alter ego Spider-Man is finally getting the respect and appreciation he deserves! Spidey’s saved New York on more than one occasion, so a little public adoration is in order. Finally, Pete’s usual bad “Parker luck” isn’t snapping at his heels.

But wouldn’t you know it; things can only stay so good for Pete only so long. Old demons come back to haunt our hero from distant and not-so-distant spaces, including even outer space.

When Pete’s former best bud Harry (Franco) discovered that his wingman turned out to be Spider-Man—the person who allegedly murdered his father, the original Green Goblin—he forged out a plan using his dad’s tech to devise new, meaner Goblin gear, as well as plot for vengeance. Needless to say, Peter and Harry’s friendship has been strained.

Also, former petty thief Flint Marko (Church) is on the lam. A questionable escape from the law into a nuclear test range—and the ensuing, inevitable accident—renders Marko as an atomically unbalanced creature made of sentient sand. Now he has the power and ability to knock over as many banks as he wants. And as sure as sh*t not even Spider-Man’s gonna get in his way.

Also, Pete has new competition at the Bugle. Upstart photographer Eddie Brock (Grace) has been snagging up close and personal shots of Spidey in action, and better than Pete’s work ever was despite the personal connections. Brock’s work is so good that the Bugle’s head honcho J Jonah Jameson (Simmons) grants the freelancer a full staff job—something that’s been eluding Parker for years. But it seems belying Brock’s maverick tactics he has something far more sinister brewing than a personal agendum.

ALSO, Pete himself has been going through some changes, like a personality crisis. Awakening one morning after a long night of web-slinging (and thereby crashing in his Spidey duds), Peter is stunned to find that his usual red and blue ensemble has been replaced—transformed—into a slick ebony number. This new outfit fits great, like a glove. But the longer Peter wears it, the more he notices he feels increasingly aggressive, removed…alien even.

Hey! Waitaminnit! Where’d that black suit come from in the first place?

ALSO


Movies have been paramount in shaping American pop culture, almost as much as (and far longer than) television. Marketing the hell out of it results in a modern day equivalent of a Van Gogh exhibit at Madison Square Garden. Spectacle. It’s what all of us as the collective wants: entertainment en masse. Anything to distract us from boring classes, sh*tty jobs, traffic, bad fast food and coming home to endless repeats of Naked & Afraid. Touchstones from our imagination past—a lost childhood—that could bring smiles to our wizened, cynical mindset and the ever-deepening crevices in our faces is what we’re really looking for.

Director Sam Raimi understands this. He’s like the ring master in a circus, rallying all the entertainers at his command to dance, jump, sing and sling webs for you. At any cost. Costs like, in the case of Spider-Man 3, solid writing, character development, coherent plot and above all else showmanship and a respect for the movie making craft. Raimi delivers boom here in a very big, very confusing way.

Story goes that Raimi has a three picture contract with Sony to direct the Spidey films. It looks like he—an ardent Spider-Man fan, and it really shows in the first two films—had a lot, like I mean a lot of ideas to throw at our beloved wall-crawler to get him into pickle after pickle in hopes of certain triumph. Seeing that his time was up, Raimi and his brother Ivan concocted a “plot” in 3 to jam as many ideas they thunk up as possible, kind of like a crazed episode of Supermarket Sweep (YouTube that. You won’t believe it until you see it). The final edit is one very busy, busy movie. I understand that the Raimi’s are fanboys, but recall I worked at a comic store once. I love Spidey, but I wasn’t one of those fans who got into a heated argument in the store, like about who was stronger: Thor or Superman. When I say heated, I mean such sh*t almost came to blows and I had to eject these mouth-breathers from the shop with all the gentleness of Ed Norton regarding Jared Leto as “unwanted.” In simpler terms, my respect for the character never turned into a fomenting frenzy, and I just read the books smiling with brows arching ever so often. I never had some a personal bias.

Spidey 3’s execution is not unlike a fanboy kerfuffle. Sam and Ivan have such a reverence for the character that they put him into maximum overdrive for over two hours, chucking darts at a target already clogged with darts to make sure their final, dying testament to Spider-Man on film doesn’t go unheard. The final product that is Spider-Man 3 is an exhausting—not exhaustive, as the Raimi’s hoped—movie. And like I said, very busy.

The third installment of the franchise is a lot more light-hearted than the first two, however. Even from the start, there’s even a promise of cheese. Spidey’s a public hero now! He’s on the cover of every magazine! Fan worship personified! It already feels more “comic booky” than the first two movies. And after all, the darkness that permeated the second movie probably needed a lighter touch the third time around. You gotta bookend tragedy with comedy. It worked for Bill Shakespeare, and allegedly his stuff’s worthwhile. So let’s lighten up here, get a bit goofy, have some splash and dash. And we have Raimi, under the big top, orchestrating all this organized chaos into one big fanboy festival. Enjoy, ladies and gentlemen!

We would, if given the time.

Scattershot is the feel of Spidey 3. All the action, comedy and drama—which the movie has in droves—comes across as disjointed. Due to the speed of the movie—the pace is fast. Too fast, even—all the good stuff whips by in a tidewater surge so that the audience can have a hard time keeping up. Like I said, the Raimi-helmed Spidey movies were at their end, and Sam and Co. weren’t gonna let the ghost die without doing a signature kitchen sink sendoff. There’s a lot to digest here, and one can sense that Raimi was under the gun (by himself and/or Sony) to cram as much superheroics into 120-plus minutes that could fit, even with a lot of loose ends flapping out from under the bulging suitcase lid. All that baggage (ha!) made for an extremely fast and sloppy execution.

In what way? Well, for one, the dialogue is more stilted, and delivered with a degree of woodenness you couldn’t find even in Shasta State Park. Our characters seem to be out of character for most of the film. Maguire’s wide-eyed looks and demeanor are more pronounced. Dunst has gotten all fluffy, even more so than before. Franco just grinds his teeth a lot (and I really don’t enjoy Franco as cranky). Even Simmons’ Jameson—some ideal comic relief in the other films—being relegated to the sidelines with not a lot of scene-chewing (but some succulent hammy) lines. Besides body language, most acting stems from delivering dialogue, and although our cast tries to do their best, what falls out of their mouths feels half-baked and off the cuff (or in the case of Harris’ Aunt May, obviously staged). All this being delivered at blinding speed, like the editors were jacked up on mainlined Red Bull with no sleep for a week.

Second, the plot is sketchy. Well, maybe not sketchy. Underdeveloped, yes, and delivered in the aforementioned frenetic style, but also hard to put a finger on. It’s hard to say what Spidey 3 exactly about. Is it an action movie? A tale of revenge (the Harry and Marko sub-stories)? A romantic triangle (and what exactly was the purpose of introducing Gwen Stacy into the mix)? A psychological character study? Yes and no to all. Nothing really solidifies, either due to the breakneck pacing, jumbled script or Raimi hearing the clock ticking in the background. This Spidey is under a self-imposed deadline, and there’s no real time for subtly, human drama or even action scenes that don’t seem confined.

I’m going to do something here at RIORI that I’ve tried real hard to not do—but reluctantly have—for the past 50-plus installments. I have to include spoilers. Have to. There are so many particular scenes in Spidey 3 that throw the movie off the tracks I’d be hard pressed not to get into specifics without getting into specifics. So if you wanna read on, you’ve been warned.

About the action scenes, like the one in the first act with Spider-Man versus the new Goblin. They seem a bit chaotic. They look cool, but awkwardly choreographed. Almost everything is in your face with pyrotechnics abounding, racing through Manhattan’s back alleys (which almost gave me vertigo) and again going too fast to really follow what’s going on. Yeah, yeah. We know Harry’s going on a revenge tear, but there’s no clear stakes defined, none beyond the “you will pay for killing my father” schtick. Not only is that trope tired, it makes Franco’s character really one-note. The same goes for Spidey’s other enemies. Marko may be a sad story of humanity, but the whole super-powered villain with the heavy heart is all the Sandman is. Likewise with the revenge-plotting Eddie/Venom. Is it just me that found Brock’s axe to grind came about a little too quickly, intensely and shallow? Besides, it took weeks for Peter to feel the effects of the space symbiote. It took Eddie about 30 seconds. Hurry, hurry. Clock’s a-tickin’! Sure, Brock’s been humiliated and fired, but to plot to kill Peter/Spidey? Seems a bit drastic to me. Overall, it made for a cluttered—and notably more violent—action movie.

All that’s boring, and along with the narrow portrayals of Mary Jane, Aunt May, Gwen, Eddie and, yes, even Peter himself. Maguire, for instance, acts a lot with his face. I mean a lot. His boyish looks and wide-eyed expressions are both endearing and telling. But he’s forced to work with shoddy lines, and delivers them in a bored, “anywhere but here” way (although I kinda liked smarmy, infected Peter. That acting at least had some depth). Even though our cast’s roles have been well-defined in the first two films, that doesn’t mean we stop expanding their personalities. People grow, people change, they have lives. Raimi tries to keep a few sparks there, and throws us a bone once in a while, but our actors’ lots in life are concrete here with little room to grow further. Hell, even the addition of ancillary characters like Gwen, Capt. Stacy and (let’s face it) Eddie and May aren’t really fleshed out nor serve a purpose to drive the already schizo plot. They’re used as wallpaper, and virtually unnecessary to the story.

Lastly, Spidey 3 does a lot to undo all the hallmarks of the Spider-Man saga from the first two films (and the comic book history in general). There’s no heart in 3. There’s a lot of staged emotion, interspersed between the action scenes if only to give the crowd a moment to breathe. But it’s most of those moments where the legacy of the prior movies gets sullied. I know, we’re not talking a remake of Citizen Kane here, but Spidey 1 and 2 got so many things right by Raimi’s sincere and respectful treatment of the Spider-Man story, it’s baffling to re-retcon elements of the whole series to service such a muddled storyline.

For instance, now the iconic kissing scene from the first movie is parody in the third? The whole Marko killing Uncle Ben undoes a lot of the pathos and Spidey’s raison d’être attributed to our hero’s origin in the first movie also. Since when his Harris’ earnest portrayal of a strong woman trying to cope with loss become so damned weepy? All that and then the nerve of Raimi employing dues ex machina at the end of the third act is insulting and weak. The whole execution of these points kicks the reverence and respect Raimi had in the first two movies into the sewer…not unlike a washed away Sandman. Could that be considered art imitating life? Hmmm.

It was reported that Raimi tried to do too much with this film. He later admitted in an interview that he’d bitten off more than he could chew. The result was Spidey 3 never seems to get anywhere. It’s not as organic as the first two. The whole ball of celluloid leaves you unsatisfied, but not necessarily wanting more. What a drag. And what a lousy way to end a really fun movie franchise. As I said, my sis and I never got to see Spidey 3 in theatres, despite her polite curiosity and anticipation. I never got around to seeing it either, until now. Things in threes, I guess.

Although I’m not a fan of it, I think if only the studio heads would reboot the Spider-Man franchise. Undo the damage the final original chapter inflicted. Start over fresh. Cast some unknown British kid as Spidey and former In Living Color alum/Ray Charles-impersonator to play Electro. That and get Forrest Gump’s mama to be Aunt May.

Sounds crazy. Who’d wanna screw with Spidey’s movie legacy any further?

Huh? What’d you say?

…Oh, f*ck


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Spidey deserves better for his first, last time out. Now get out of my store.


Stray Observations…

  • It’s funny that Dunst, a blonde, plays a redhead and Howard, a redhead, plays a blonde. Neither dye jobs are very convincing.
  • “D’you smile? Just kidding.”
  • Franco has one of the most honest smiles in Hollywood, I feel.
  • “He likes my shirt.”
  • Nice musical touch there with the marching band.
  • “I am French.” God bless Bruce Campbell.
  • Trivia! Director Sam Raimi always includes his favorite, old beater ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88 in all his movies, save the western, The Quick and the Dead. We saw Uncle Ben driving it in the first movie, as well in the flashbacks here.
  • “’Nuff said.” I laughed out loud.
  • Pay phones? In 2007? And in NYC no less? You’d figure Pete could at least afford a TracFone on what the Bugle pays him.
  • I loves me some Chubby Checker.
  • That’s it; it’s official. Goth haircut paired with Gerard Way fashion sense equals evil.
  • “Where do all these guys come from?”

Next Installment…

“Only love can bring the rain that falls like tears from on high. Love, Reign Over Me…” Aw, sh*t. Sandler’s gettin’ all serious again.