Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spider-Man Trilogy


It took over a decade to get this character onto the big screen back in 2002. But probably the only people that were privy to the knowledge that the Marvel Comics company was trying to get their most beloved character up on the silver screen were the fan boy comic book geeks like myself who read the ongoing news not on the Internet (for it was the early 90s and the Internet was barely into fruition) but on the back of each Spidey comic book.

The news on the bulletin portion of each comic book went as far as to inform us that James Cameron was going to be the director of the film. It was true…Cameron was interested in helming the director’s chair and making a pretty interesting movie. I say that because it was reported that Cameron wrote a 60 page treatment for the film and it became available on the Internet for all to read a couple of years before the movie was released.

I’ll comment on that script later.

See, Stan Lee kept his Spider-Man fans apprised of the upcoming film because he really thought that it would be on its feet in no time. But the fact was the movie at that time didn’t have a leg to stand on. Marvel signed away rights to the character many years before and I believe Viacom maintained those rights from the 70s to the 90s where it went into court to see what major movie studio would win them.

It was a lengthy squabble to see what studio would get the rights and a long one it was. Everyone knew the character of Spider-Man would be a huge cash cow if it were made into a movie, so it was no wonder that the litigation continued up until the end of the millennium.

I kept up with the story as much as I could back then, but it all just seemed to fade away. It just seemed that Spider-Man wasn’t meant to be on the big screen.

But in the late 90s, articles started popping up about the film and how Sony Pictures won the rights. Everything started falling into place after that, like the job of director going to Sam Raimi (of The Evil Dead trilogy fame) up to the lead actor, Tobey Maguire, being cast to portray Peter Parker…I thought all the choices were great. Danny Elfman, however, as the composer troubled me a little, but I figured with Batman’s memorable theme under his belt, he seemed like a fine choice.

It was just a waiting game after that. But all of us Spidey fans were treated now and then to images from the film like the first promotional pictures of Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man costume or set photos in New York and Los Angeles.

Finally, a teaser trailer was released and I was fit to be tied! My first glimpse of Spider-Man in action! I couldn’t believe it! I forget where I saw it or what movie it preceded, but it was a pretty interesting and elaborate bank robbery with the crooks getting away in a helicopter. Suddenly, the chopper stops in midair and the criminals don’t understand what’s going on. The shot widens out showing the helicopter stuck in a huge spider web. Widening out even more, we see that the web is formed between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Brilliant! The trailer went on to show Spider-Man shooting his web and swinging through the air.

It’s been said that the bank robbery scene was supposed to be in the movie, but because of the tragic circumstances on September 11th of 2001, the studio decided to take it out.

I counted down the days until the event and it finally came in May of 2002. I took the day off of work, put on my best Spider-Man tee-shirt and headed to the movie theater a couple of hours before show time. My friend and I mingled with the other fans in line, taking note of their Spidey ensembles here and there, and just waited in anticipation for the event of my lifetime (at the time anyway).

At the time I was living in San Jose in California and I made sure to pick my favorite movie theater in the area which was the Century Theatres on Winchester Boulevard. In all my movie going days, I’d found that those theaters had the best sound hands down and I wanted to make sure my first glimpse at my favorite superhero had to be the best.

With all that said, let me get into the movie.

Spider-Man starts with the beginning of how Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy high schooler that’s picked on by bullies and is ignored by the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

Instead of the original tale of how Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider, the film goes a tad more modern and the spider is actually a genetically mutated spider that bites Peter, changing his DNA overnight.

The movie sticks with the comic book throughout, making sure to go through the arc of Peter wanting to make money from his new power to the death of his Uncle Ben (played by Cliff Robertson) due, in part, to his failure to act on thwarting a crime. With that burden weighing heavy in Peter’s heart, he feels the need to fight crime because as his uncle told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

A great pick for Aunt May is Rosemary Harris as she’s very caring and nurturing toward Peter, just like the ongoing comic book series.

Also, hilariously accurate in his depiction of J. Jonah Jameson is J.K. Simmons of HBO’s “Oz” series. He embodies Jameson’s temperament and personality to a tee, causing me to laugh hysterically during many of his scenes.

Now, the villain in this film, the Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), was pretty cool, although a lot of fan boys were very disappointed in the costume design, saying that it should’ve been more like the comic book. But I think the costume designers, writers and producers did the right thing by designing it the way they did and not making Dafoe look like some dork in a Halloween mask.

James Franco did all right as the disregarded son of Norman Osborn (AKA, the Green Goblin) since he really didn’t have much to do in this part (he becomes more important in parts 2 and 3), but he was a good choice as to play Peter’s best friend.

To some it up, yes, I had my doubts that Sam Raimi would be able to pull this film off, seeing that he was known for his horror movie history and never really had a blockbuster in his résumé. So he really surprised me with 2002’s Spider-Man, proving he’s a big action movie director up with the best of them. In my lifetime, I’ve watched every incarnation of the character from the famous cartoon of the 60s to the live action camp of the 70s. Seeing Spider-Man finally come to life in the glory he deserved for years was a great treat and I was glad it happened during my existence.

About James Cameron’s 60 page treatment? Well, it turns out that a few of his ideas were taken from it, one being the idea of having Spider-Man shoot his webs organically from his wrists than having him invent web shooters like he has in the comic books. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, why would Peter Parker obtain all the traits of a spider except for shooting webs physically from his body? But a few things from the draft I didn’t care for, like the villain, which was some forgettable person. Also, he had Flash’s last name wrong; it’s Thompson, not McCreery. Of course, it was only a treatment and not a full fledged screenplay, so I’ll forgive Cameron for his attempt.

My final “bit” on Spider-Man? A great all-around comic book film that’s faithful to its source and the whole film’s worth the watch just to see Spidey swinging through New York at the end.

Spider-Man 2

Pretty much greenlighted during the first film’s run, Spider-Man 2 is (so far) the best of the series. Thanks probably goes in part of the advance in CGI and the amount of money part one made worldwide. I’m partial to this outing because the villain was the one I wanted first: Doctor Octopus.

I was so excited when, again, production was generous in giving out the information on who the next villain would be. It was a no-brainer in my opinion because I think a lot of fans shared my thought that Doc Ock should’ve been the baddie in the first flick. A lot of speculation went down as to who would be wearing the arms, but they hadn’t cast the character yet at that time. One rumor went around that Robin Williams would be Otto Octavius, which I thought would be interesting. However, it wasn’t long before the announcement finally came out that it would be Alfred Molina.

Back again were Maguire, Dunst and Franco as Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn respectively. The love story arc between Peter and Mary Jane continues, as does the hatred of Spider-Man by Harry Osborn. But the love story turns into a love triangle because Mary Jane is dating a new man, J. Jonah Jameson’s son, the astronaut, John Jameson (who we Spidey fans know turns into the Man-Wolf in the Spider-Man comics).

In this outing, Peter’s struggling in college while juggling his photography career as well as a pizza deliveryman and of course, his job as Spider-Man. We’re treated right away to Spidey saving a couple of kids about to get run over by a truck as he’s trying to deliver a pizza. It follows the ongoing theme in the comics that Spidey’s just a regular Joe with everyday problems with school, work and women.

Harry follows in his father’s footsteps in funding the advancement of scientific research and it turns out that he’s funding a scientist, Dr. Otto Octavius, famous for his work in fusion. Peter’s writing a paper on him and gets to know the man, meeting his wife and talking to him about the upcoming demonstration. On the day of the presentation, things start out smoothly but soon go horribly wrong. We’re introduced to the artificial intelligent arms that Octavius uses for the experiment and it’s explained that because of a computer inhibitor chip that’s implanted on the mechanism, the doctor controls the arm and not the other way around. After the presentation goes wrong, resulting in the arms being melded to Otto’s body permanently and the inhibitor chip being destroyed, Spider-Man saves the day before the fusion experiment killed everybody in the room. Of course this enrages Harry Osborn even more and we later see that he’s hell-bent in killing Spider-Man; so much so that he’s obsessed with the task.

As expected, Otto Octavius becomes the dreaded Doctor Octopus and he wants to create a bigger and better fusion reaction, thinking that the experiment was working before Spider-Man ruined everything. All this is a disillusion by the arms now that there’s no inhibitor chip to stop them from swaying Octavius to do what they want him to.

One thing to note is the inclusion of Dr. Curt Connors in this film as well as pert three. In the Spider-Man universe, Dr. Connors becomes The Lizard. You may be able to catch how the actor is portrayed missing an arm, seeing that the sleeve of his right arm is empty and folded up. In the comics, his work is dedicated to the study of reptiles and how they’re able to regenerate limbs. He concocts a serum that he thinks may help him grow his arm back, and it does. However, the side effect is that he transforms into a human lizard and goes on killing sprees. I wished they continued this character’s storyline of the third film instead of what they did. But I’ll dive into that next.

I can go on and on about Spider-Man 2, mainly about the battles between Doc Ock and Spidey (especially the subway battle), and I’m sure that almost everybody has seen Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, but this by far is the quintessential superhero film.

To some it up, and to give my final “bit” on it, Spider-Man 2 is a multi-leveled film that goes from the love story arc, to Peter’s relationship with his aunt, to Harry’s vendetta against Spidey, to the matchup between the hero and villain, and so much more. All in all, the story was well written and I don’t think they can ever top this comic book hero movie. 2008’s The Dark Knight is close, but in my opinion, Spider-Man 2 is a notch above. Just the matchups between Spidey and Doc Ock (which we get three battles between them!) makes this comic book superhero movie much better than The Dark Knight.

Spider-Man 3

Well, we waited two years before we had gotten to see Spider-Man 2 and it was well worth the time it spent in production for we were delivered a top notch superhero versus villain movie we hadn’t seen since Superman went up against General Zod and his minion in Superman II back in 1981. So it came to reason that since we waited three years for Spider-Man 3, it should’ve been a way better movie than part 2, right?

Well, yes and no.

I’ll go into it as I did when I walked into the theater back a few years ago.

I sat down and watched the previews, waiting for the movie to start. As it did, I took note that the music was a tad different and had a bit more than usual, which I liked. A new theme was mixed into the one we all know and at the time I guessed it had something to do with the black goo we saw during the opening credits and which us comic book geeks knew belonged to the alien symbiote that came from outer space.

But enough of that until later.

I watched the movie and I had some reservations about certain parts, but loved a lot of the others.

Back again are the key players of the first two films. We’ve got Tobey Maguire sporting the red and blues again as Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, James Franco as Harry Osborn, Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Dylan Baker as Dr. Connors, and flashback scenes with Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben.

We have some new characters and villains here in this one, including Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom, Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy, James Cromwell as Captain Stacy, and Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko/Sandman.

Out of the three films, and all of them I like by the way, this one didn’t have the flow as the others did. It seemed to drag in some parts and flowed in others, making it a tough film to watch.

One of a few examples of parts that just slowed down the film was Mary Jane in the beginning as she sung on stage. When the film opened with this I viewed it like an omen of bad things to come. It was terrible, like Kirsten Dunst’s singing, and grinded the film to a halt. And seeing that this was the first few minutes of the film—not good. I know that it set up Harry in the balcony sneering at Peter and showing his contempt for him, but they could’ve conveyed that without the singing. They could’ve had Peter sitting there while he waited for the show to start and have the same scene play out without the performance.

And about the black goo? A meteorite hits the ground (alá The Blob) ad that’s it? Waaaaay different than how Spidey had gotten the black suit in the comics, but I guess there’s just no way they could do that storyline in one movie or with only one Marvel character within one movie.

Another illustration of having a movie lag is whenever Peter visited with his Aunt May. These scenes seemed tacked on just to give screen time to Rosemary Harris. She’s a wonderful actress and I love her as Aunt May in these films, but unfortunately the writers didn’t give her much to work with in this Spider-Man outing.

Yet another scene, when Mary Jane visits Harry to be with a friend, seemed okay but the dancing part of it could’ve been trimmed out. Although the whole part of it was needed to give that love triangle story some credence as a whole, as well as giving Harry the anger he needed in order to have total recall from his amnesia. But come on! Doing “The Twist” in the kitchen? Corny.

Then the mother of all stupid parts is what I like to call the “Spider-Day Night Fever” scene where Peter is walking down the sidewalk dancing and acting like a fool. My God, I loathe this scene! As funny as it is, it just doesn’t belong in this film! It’s stupid and terrible and just adds a lot of campiness to a film that should’ve been straight all the way. There are so many other ways to illustrate Peter’s aggressiveness because of the black costume—I don’t know why they decided to add this ridiculousness to the story. To top it off, they add more to his sudden rhythmic ability in the jazz club scene. Embarrassing.

But tied for the worst idea of the movie was the alteration of Spider-Man’s history by making Flint Marko become Uncle Ben’s murderer instead of the character in the first film that was always understood as the killer throughout the chronicling in the Spider-Man comics.

Now for what I actually liked about Spider-Man 3.

The whole arc that continues with Peter and Harry is great. At least they continued with Harry taking over as the new Goblin with an innovative look as well as updated weapons and a new cool-looking glider. The first fight scene between the two (although Peter’s Spider-Sense should’ve warned him, but I’m willing to overlook this) is great and so cool, it kept me on the edge of my seat the first time I watched the film. The second battle in the Osborn mansion was amazing and actually made you feel sorry for Harry as Peter was swayed by the suit as he kicked Harry’s ass. These scenes were probably the coolest parts of the film.

Of course, the whole introduction to Flint Marko and how he become the Sandman is amazing. When he retrieves his trademark green and black striped shirt, I got goose bumps. And the chase into the particle accelerator bunker (whatever that test was all about) was so cool and gave a new modern twist to the comic book origin. Sam Raimi obviously gave special care to the scenes involving the Sandman because the special effects were so mind-blowing and miraculous, it really added so much to the film.

Although Sam Raimi didn’t want the black suit to be in the movie, he sure made it fit, albeit a bad way to introduce it. But the way it changed Peter and made him close to the brink of immorality, it displayed how powerful it was and how stronger it made Spider-Man. Unfortunately, the introduction of this storyline just made it seem like there were two movies going on at the same time, but it definitely was a cool idea.

I think the acrimony between Eddie Brock and Peter Parker was done well, going to a higher level when Peter’s influenced by the black costume and really emphasizing the hatred Eddie has when he finally gets the black suit bonded to him.

A lot of scenes were cool and held this movie together enough in order to make a lot of money worldwide. But there was quite a few parts that made me think that it could’ve been a lot better. Obviously Sony Pictures were okay with it and what it drew in the box office because they gave the go ahead for Spider-Man 4 to be released in May of 2011.

Anyway, hopefully Sam Raimi can have better control of the next film because I heard he was trumped by the producers to put Venom in Spider-Man 3 when he was totally against it. I agree with Raimi on how he wants to put the bronze age of comic book villains and not the newer ones of the 90s. If you think about it, it makes sense because we all grew up watching the famous cartoon of the 60s and we’re familiar with the villains of that era.

My final “bit” on Spider-Man 3? It’s definitely the weaker of the three films, but good enough for a stand alone film. It has adequate parts of exciting action and story, but does have parts where it slows down. As a completist, I watch all three movies one right after the other; but the best out of the three is Spider-Man 2. As a whole, this is probably the best superhero trilogy ever; the X-Men series is a close second.

Hopefully Spider-Man 4 will make up for this red-headed stepchild of the trilogy. If I had my way, I’d finally make Dylan Baker’s Dr. Connors be a focus in the movie as The Lizard because I think that would bring a Hulk aspect to the movie and maybe bring out some of Peter’s geniusness into the mix. And for a second villain, I’d go to the old days of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery and maybe choose Hydroman or Chameleon…one of his first foes from the comic book series.

But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

No comments: