Separated at Birth? The Farina boy and Peter Parker
Despite a record-breaking opening week-end, I've been reading lots of stories today about how bad Spiderman III is, and I have to tell you, I took the brood to see it on Sunday afternoon. In my opinion, it's actually half of a good movie--the first hour is fairly tight, and compares favorably with my "gold standards" in the superhero genre: the first two Superman and Batman movies. But after the first sixty minutes, this flick goes downhill, really, really fast.
Warning: Spoiler alert...as if I could make this movie any worse!
See? Aren't I nice? I was actually fairly complimentary about 40 percent of the third Spidey flick, which is saying something, considering the fact that I'm a card-carrying DC fan, and found the second movie in this series completely annoying.
I was even willing to completely forgive the opening of this movie, which shows Peter Parker, settling down to enjoy a Broadway opening of a new musical. The curtain opens, and there's Kirsten Dunst, slinking down a stairway, singing a Gershwin tune.
What’s wrong with this picture? How about everything? I think I can count on one finger (and guess what, it’s the middle one) the number of Broadway shows that open with the female lead who we’ve yet to be introduced to belting out (well…actually…warbling, slightly off key) a romantic love ballad. Even Cole Porter, when he decided to go against the grain, chose to introduce “I Get a Kick Out of You” twenty minutes into the show, just to thumb his nose at his friends in the upper crust, who made it a point to arrive at Broadway openings fashionably late. Most shows start with an overture, and then, possibly, a catchy opening number. You know, something to get the toes tapping, something like “All That Jazz.” Not that every show has to start like that, don’t get me wrong, but shows tend to like to show off their assets and draw people into the production.
But that's Hollywood for you. It very rarely ever gets the Broadway theater experience correct, and usually, for good reason: it just doesn't make for good dramatic form. Whether it's Judy Garland putting on a show or Fred Astaire getting the facts wrong (in The Bandwagon) on a Broadway musical that he actually starred in, with the exception of, possibly, (here it is again, different context) the movie All That Jazz, most movies using the Great White Way as a backdrop invariably mess it up. Even "It's De-Lovely" loused up Porter's life story (his wife didn't die during the Kiss Me, Kate period, and was there for the opening. She passed away right before Silk Stockings opened on Broadway).
So, if I can forgive better, although not more expensive, films, I can certainly forgive Spiderman 3 for exercising artistic license. And the first hour does have some snap, recalling the hustle and bustle of the thriving city that you see in Superman I, with the idea of multiple storylines ultimately converging into one that you see in Batman II. You see a great sequence with J. Jonah Jameson that reminds me of Perry White interacting with Lois and Clark in the Donner flicks. Plus, you get a fun cameo by Stan Lee, saying, "Nuff said!" At that point, I actually found myself thinking, "I might actually like this one!"
And then, Spiderman starts to go evil (shades of Superman III!). But where Superman turning dark was the only good thing to recommend about that wretched movie (which was a bit, by the way, that Richard Lester borrowed from Richard Donner's plan for the Superman series), this is the beginning of the end for Spidey.
Suddenly, Peter Parker develops a new look that strangely reminded me of Simon LeBon during those years when Duran Duran shrunk its named to DuranDuran. He starts shimmying and shaking down the street as though he's an extra in Saturday Night Live.
Even at this point, the film is still teetering on the brink. It could still get through this rough spot and cruise to glory! Besides, I didn't really mind Toby Maguire trying on a new look. During these Spiderman movies, his game face is usually pasty white and sickly, like that kid on the Farina cereal box, who looks as though he has leukemia or something.
And then, Peter Parker enters a jazz nightclub and starts playing piano and jumping around on tables.
It was at this point, dear friends, that Spiderman III crosses the Rubicon, with a film sequence that recalls nothing more than Batman dancing the Batusi during the sixties, or the Space Family Robinson meeting a beatnik Daniel J. Travanti in an episode or two before The Great Vegetable Rebellion. It was just *bad*. Baaaaaaad. Oh, the pain, the pain.
Like a sandcastle besieged by the shore during high tide, this scene seems to be the signal for the whole dramatic structure to collapse. Suddenly, nothing seemed to make sense. Peter Parker's best friend/arch enemy suffers horrible first degree burns but somehow manages to avoid the Shriners and heals without treatment, miraculously, overnight. His manservant, Jeeves, suddenly pulls an "Oops" and confesses to Harry that his father's mortal wounds were self-inflicted. "Damn, did I forget to tell you this, son? I knew I had something on my 'to do' list, right between ironing your skivvies and fluffing you in the morning!" Um, hello? Don't you think you could have come forward with this information, say, one sequel ago?
Then there's the epic battle, which in some ways is supposed to resemble the climactic battle in Superman 2, but just goes on for waaaaay tooooo looong. And we get really cheesy announcers during it, too, stating the obvious. "The tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife!" "The person that's dangling 1,000 feet up in the air inside a taxicab just bombed in a big Broadway show!" Everyone's gotta be a critic, I guess.
And then, it ends, now with a whimper, but in a pool of tears, and a voiceover with a preachy message that would put Mary Alice from Desperate Housewives to shame. Peter and Harry make like Blake and Chris during last week's American Idol, and our lovebirds reunite at the jazz club...this time, thankfully, neither of them sing or dance. Ah! But Gwen Stefani's trampy looking sister, Gwen Stacey is still in the picture, paving the way for...dare I hope...another sequel?
Sigh. If it seems that I've roped a lot of references into this unasked-for review, it's deliberate. More than anything, this movie seemed awfully derivative, with even its best scenes reminding me of stuff that has come before, and been done, way better. More than anything, I totally failed to feel engaged during the movie, which I guess isn't really surprising. What is probably more surprising is that it took me sixty whole minutes to fall off the bandwagon. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age.