Thieves just like flies

All these characters and more appearing in Spider-Man 4!I don’t know when it was decided that comic book movie blockbusters were required to have multiple villains in them; I’m guessing it was during pre-production of Batman Returns when someone realized that more people would pay to see Michelle Pfeiffer in a leather catsuit than would be willing to see Danny DeVito dressed like a penguin. Good call there, but it set a bad precedent, and they really need to cut that shit out.

The biggest problem with Spider-Man 3 — there are way more characters than the movie can handle — is so obvious I can’t believe that they just didn’t realize it during the production. It’s more likely that somebody at Sony-Columbia or Marvel (or maybe it was even Sam Raimi himself) decided that there was so much money riding on the movie, they’d better cram as much as they could into it. Of course, the end result is a muddled mess that’s getting pummeled in the reviews.

It’s actually kind of a shame the movie’s getting such bad word of mouth, because it’s really not that bad. Or at least, for every bad thing it does (emo Peter Parker, hyperactive pacing, and it’s about an hour too long); it does something else well (disco Peter Parker, Bruce Campbell and Stan Lee’s cameos, and insistence on keeping the goofy character-development stuff). The action scenes are really well thought out and choreographed and are suitably over the top. But the editing is confusing and the effects seem rushed, so it all cancels out. I actually liked the big team-up scenes during the finale, but it took such a long time to set them up, it robbed them of any emotional value. Everything seems like it was better in concept than it is in execution.

For all the big movie franchise bloat, it definitely still feels like a Sam Raimi movie, and a Marvel comic (for better or worse). I don’t want to contradict Kirsten Dunst or anything, but the person keeping these things from being total flops is Sam Raimi. I don’t buy into the whole auteur theory, but the scenes that really work in the Spider-Man franchise are the ones that have the mark of Raimi’s style. In Spider-Man 2, it was Doc Octopus’s awakening in the hospital, filmed in full-on Evil Dead-style.

And in this one, it’s the insistence that Peter Parker is, above everything else, a total nerd. I know enough about Marvel comics to know the story about the black suit and the alien symbiote, and I’d read reports that Spider-Man 3 has a subplot (one of 1000, as it turns out) where Parker starts acting like a total dick while under the influence of the suit. I was fearing the worst, but as it turns out, those are some of the best moments of the movie. Simply because Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire are completely unafraid of looking stupid. So he takes advantage of women by insisting they make him milk and cookies, he sasses back to his professor, he struts down New York streets to a funk soundtrack only he can hear, and the worst offense of all — he steals the spotlight from Mary Jane by using his spider powers for an elaborate jazz dance routine. I’m sure if I were a 12-year-old who’d been looking forward to a big action movie, I would’ve thought it was “lame” or even “gay,” but I was loving it.

Clearly, there was a force fighting to keep the good, goofy fun in the movie. So why couldn’t they have fought to save Venom for part 4, and keep this movie down to a manageable cast? If you need to sell cool black-suit action figures, one of my friends had the perfect suggestion — introduce that stuff for the final showdown against Sandman, and then save the full story for the (inevitable) sequel.

Ah well, maybe the sequel will just focus on the Lizard, since they’ve had the guy sitting around for two movies now. If they’ve got to add somebody else, I vote for Kraven the Hunter, just because of the costume. Who wouldn’t want to see somebody having to wear that in a live action movie? I respectfully suggest Bruce Campbell to play him.

And my favorite line of Spider-Man 3: when the cops first spot Thomas Hayden Church as Sandman, and one of them says, “Hey, that’s that guy from the prison break.” Just because it sets up the obvious response: “No, that’s that guy from the ‘Wings.’ ‘Prison Break’ is a different show.”