As the new film, Amazing Spider-man launches this summer, I thought I would re-post my blog on the film that led Sony to restart the flagging franchise after only three entries:
While the third instalment of the Spider-man saga will go on to make more money than its predecessors, it is the most flawed of the three, as witnessed by the critical savaging it has receive.
But where could it go wrong? With a budget upwards of $200 million, there were obviously a number of people who wanted to guarantee its success, but no more or less than the previous films (I would argue more was riding on the first film, as it was not only setting up the franchise, but was banking on a talented cast and crew who had little experience with summer blockbuster films, namely Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi).
The first factor is the number of villains. Three in total – Sandman (Flint Marko), Venom (Eddie Brock) and Green Goblin Junior (Harry Osborn). While the most organic of the three is Harry Osborn, continuing on from the legacy left in Spider-man 2, he is put out of play early on by a bout of amnesia. The amnesia is just a device to postpone the inevitable fight between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, but in a superhero film it stands out as glaringly melodramatic, especially considering how many knocks to the head our wall-crawling hero has taken.
Sandman was, prior to my seeing the film, the thing I thought I would want to see gone, but I loved the way he was filmed, although not handled. Doc Ock in Spider-man 2 is a great example of a tragic villain, and the reason he is so great is because the scriptwriters took their time with him. He has a dimensionality about him – a man striving to do great things, but a romantic, who loses both and is consumed by his error. The Sandman’s backstory is poorly handled, almost in a clichéd way. The scene with his wife and daughter is overly done, the con who is just trying to raise money for his sick daughter. How many times have we seen this? His ‘transformation’ is not even explained. The great thing about Doc Ock’s villainous transformation is again, that it was explained to us. Here, Sandman falls into a ‘machine,’ in the middle of no-where. No explanation as to why it is there or what the scientists are hoping to achieve with their experiment. Perhaps it would have been better if this, like Doc Ock’s transformation, was linked to OsCorp, Harry Osborn’s company. Perhaps Harry, having been unable to defeat Spider-man / Peter Parker, started looking into alternative weapons, hoping to turn Spider-man into dust. It’s slightly poetic and gives the film some links it was missing. This could also be used to explain the science behind Sandman’s transformation. But still, it seems far too coincidental that Flint Marko would stagger into this experiment. He needs motivation to be there. Perhaps, again to provide a link to OsCorp, Marko’s daughter’s illness is a direct result of a chemical spill / pollution from OsCorp, although OsCorp won the legal battle. This perhaps drives Marko to now try and force Harry Osborn to pay for his daughter’s treatment, following him to the test site, but accidentally falls into the machine. This would add into the underlying theme of revenge and good men doing evil things. Perhaps Harry has a chance to save Maro, but wants to test the machine, so he turns it on, seemingly killing Flint Marko.
That being said, Sandman was the best looking thing in the film. His ‘awakening’ and finding form was very nicely done. It could have been a terrible scene, but it was done with grace and artistry and a little tenderness that I wish had been used the whole way through. The cinematography in the last scene with Sandman is also very well done, and the mid-way fight between him and Spider-man is terrific.
Which brings me to villain number three – Venom. Sam Raimi had always voiced concern about Venom, not being his favourite villain, but he is a fan favourite, and the studio presence is felt in every scene that Venom presides over. I may be in the minority but I also think Topher Grace is miscast (although he does bear an uncanny resemblance to the Eddie Brock from The Ultimate Spider-man series of comics). The classic Brock is always illustrated as a bigger, more muscular than Peter Parker, and slightly older. Venom, likewise, appears much more beefed up than Spiderman, and this is the first major concern. The second is Venom’s origin in the film. One thing I had not considered prior to seeing the film was that Venom is an alien symbiote. This might read well in the comic books, but in film it changes the genre completely. Spider-man’s villains thus far have all been human and had their powers through science experiments. Venom changes all that.
In the Spider-man cartoon, the symbiote is brought back to Earth by John Jameson (who appeared in Spider-man 2 as M.J’s fiancé), the astronaut son of J. Jonah Jameson (Peter Parker’s boss). The space shuttle crash-lands into the Manhattan River, and the astronaut’s are rescued by Spider-man, but the symbiote covers Spiderman’s suit, and when Spider-man returns to his home exhausted, takes control of him. Now why the filmmakers did not draw on this storyline is beyond me. The character of John Jameson is set up in Spider-man 2 (and is never mentioned in Spider-man 3 even though he was Mary-Jane’s fiancé). In my mind, an astronaut bringing it back with him would give it more credence than what transpires in the film; a meteor crash-lands (coincidentally not a hundred metres from Spider-man) and attaches itself to Peter Parker’s bike, but then takes an ice-age to actually take him over. Even the meteor feels wrong; it’s small and does not so much crash as fall straight down.
There is also a mute point with the Venom suit – if Venom is a symbiote why does he allow Spiderman to remove the black suit? In the cartoon and the comics, the suit could change into ordinary clothing, so Parker would not have reason to remove it.
And then there is Venom in his true, Brock form. He looks like a gimp, like spiderman in black, with a slightly scary face. Venom should be a dominating, physical presence of terror. Instead he is the same size as Spider-man, and comes off looking cheap. There is no explanation to Venom either – in fact, he is never once referred to as Venom in the film. This could have been rectified with a scene with Brock adjusting to the suit, talking to it, and learning that Peter Parker is Spiderman.
Another new introduction into the filmic Spider-verse is Gwen Stacey. In comic continuity she is usually seen as Spider-man’s first girlfriend before Mary-Jane Watson. In the film (count the coincidences) she is in Peter Parker’s class (1), is the daughter of the same police Captain looking into Ben Parker’s murder (2), has dated Eddie Brock (3) and she is also a model who just happens to be in an accident that requires Spider-man to save her (4). She is by far the weakest link in this film, and only exists as a tool of jealousy to Mary-Jane. Perhaps if she were portrayed differently, as more of a flirt with a thing for Parker, and less of the model stuff. The crane accident exists solely for the purpose of having her fall into Spider-man’s arms. It is not caused by any of the villains, it is a separate incident, but given the fact that she is a daughter of a police Captain, couldn’t she be in danger through that link, perhaps kidnapped by a criminal Captain Stacy put away? The link to Brock should have never been written in either, and it shows by the awkward scene with Eddie Brock and Captain Stacy, where Brock informs the Captain that he is dating his daughter. Brock doesn’t even care that Gwen is about to die – it is just plain ridiculous. More focus should have been placed on Brock’s jealousy of Parker over work rather than what girls they were dating.
So for an alternative Gwen Stacy storyline, perhaps she is kidnapped by some criminals, and is rescued by Spider-man, but during this learns that he is really Peter Parker, and begins to try and break him up from Mary-Jane. This would also help strengthen the narcissistic storyline involving Peter Parker’s over-developed ego. I like the fact that the filmmakers try and deal with this aspect of Spiderman, a hero adored by millions, but it’s handled in such an odd fashion. Why would any man, least of all Spider-man, kiss someone in public, knowing his girlfriend / soul mate is going to be watching? It’s such a dumb move and is unbelievable. Add to that the whole EMO look that Parker wears while being ‘bad’ it is just ridiculous. There should have been a focus on tightening the drama in order to balance the action.
So, what follows is a rough attempt at a storyline, trying to solve the problems mentioned above:
SPIDER-MAN 3: ALTERNATIVE STORYLINE
Open on: Peter and M.J. enjoying breakfast together – she is reading the Bugle, the front page story about a man being convicted as a serial killer, based on information provided by reporter Eddie Brock. Peter says that Brock is a slimeball, that he’s planning on doing a book based on his interviews with the killer.
M.J. asks if he is going to watch the shuttle launch with her on TV, as it is being piloted by her ex-fiancé John Jameson. Peter says okay, but is not happy about it. She asks what’s up with him and Harry. Peter says it’s nothing.
That night, Green Goblin Jr. picks a fight with Spider-man, with Goblin losing, suffering not only the humiliation of the loss, but having to be saved from a high fall by one of Parker’s webs. Harry now decides he needs a different approach, or better weaponry.
Meanwhile, Flint Marko escapes from prison, and sneaks in to see his ill daughter, while his wife and her new boyfriend are canoodling on the sofa in front of the T.V. Marko talks to his daughter, and swears he will get revenge on the people who made his daughter sick – OsCorp.
Peter in university, and overhears Gwen Stacy talking about the serial killer case. He interrupts and she tells Peter that her father, Captain Stacy, thinks they have the wrong man. Peter investigates, and finds the real killer, saving a potential victim. Peter gets the picture of Spider-man taking the killer down.
At work, Peter has a run in with Eddie Brock, who has just been fired over the serial killer story. Brock hates Spider-man, and hates Peter for taking his picture. Brock is a physically threatening force, and attacks Peter, who manages to take him out. Brock, perplexed, thinks he must be ill, and goes to see the doctor.
Peter visits Mary-Jane’s apartment, and she watches the shuttle launch which John Jameson is piloting. There is tension between Peter and M.J. as this is her ex-fiancé she is watching. They have an argument when Peter tries to change the channel, and he leaves, pretending there is a job for Spiderman somewhere, but he goes and sits on a rooftop, watching New York city far below.
Flint Marko follows Harry Osborn to the testing facility of the particle accelerator. He sneaks into the facility, and holds Harry to ransom, but is forced to flee. He falls into the accelerator. Harry orders his staff to turn it on rather than save Marko. Marko is caught in the particle accelerator, and seemingly is turned to dust. Osborn orders them to build a weaponised trap with the accelerator as part of it.
In space, the shuttle is attempting to take a sample of a passing meteor. They successfully get a sample, and head back to earth. However, from the sample, black ooze emerges, and incapacitates the crew, causing the shuttle to veer off course.
Watching at home, M.J. calls Peter and tells him what is happening. Peter goes to save the shuttle, building a number of webs to stop its descent. It crashes into the river, and Peter saves the astronauts, but the black ooze attaches to his suit.
Peter swims to shore, half-dead. He manages to get himself home, but needs to rest. While resting, the symbiote takes him over.
Spider-man wakes hanging in the black suit – immediately sensing the power. As Spider-man he goes to Dr. Conners, who analyses the sample.
Sandman awakens in the sand pit. With his new powers, he goes after money to help his daughter, but along the way, sees that Captain Stacy is getting a promotion, and sees his daughter Gwen with him. Sandman kidnaps Gwen, blaming Captain Stacy for his imprisonment over the accidental shooting of Ben Parker. Spider-man enters in his new black suit and saves Gwen, but Sandman gets away. During this raid, Gwen learns that Peter Parker is Spider-man.
Peter now learns that Marko killed his uncle, and is angry at Captain Stacy for not telling him sooner.
Eddie Brock discovers he has cancer. He decides that his last act on this earth will be to unmask Spider-man, his hatred consuming him like the cancer.
M.J. visits John Jameson in hospital, which angers Peter. They have a big fight about it. While at the hospital M.J. asks John what happened, and he mentions the black ooze, like something piercing his brain, nightmarish visions.
Harry kidnaps M.J., and puts her in the trap, but Peter, now under the influence of the Venom symbiote, and also tempted by Gwen Stacy’s interest, does not save her, but Harry cannot kill her either, having once been in love with her.
Harry confesses to M.J. about his father being the Green Goblin, and what he has become. She says it is never too late to change.
Peter starts dating Gwen Stacy, while going after the Sandman, who is now making a number of robberies in order to fund his daughter’s operation. Peter starts taking some of the money Sandman left behind to fund his new apartment and lifestyle.
M.J. tries to approach Peter at university, but he is out of character, and with Gwen. Dr. Connors sees this, and shows M.J. the symbiote sample. He thinks Peter may have been infected by it. Connors has also learned that it is susceptible to soundwaves.
Spider-man goes after the Sandman, but Harry, now on the side of good, realises who the Sandman is, tries to save him from Spider-man, wanting to right the error of his ways. Spider-man ‘kills’ Sandman in water and puts Harry in hospital, scarring him. M.J. confronts Peter, and tells him what Connors told her. Peter dismisses her claims.
Brock sees Spider-man killing the Sandman, and tries to sell the story, but no-one is interested in his lies.
Peter cannot believe what he has done – killed Sandman, injured his best friend, and insulted M.J. Gwen tries to comforts him, but he realises she only likes him because he is Spider-man. He leaves her, and tries to get rid of the suit, eventually climbing the bell tower where the sound forces the suit to leave.
Brock is in the bell tower, praying for a miracle. The suit hears him, his hatred for Spider-man. It offers to cure his cancer if it joins him, and they call themselves Venom. Brock, sharing thoughts with Venom, now discovers that Spiderman is Peter Parker.
Peter tries to get M.J. to forgive him, but she says they have to patch things up with Harry first, then they will see where they are.
Sandman reforms. It is too late, his daughter is dead. With Harry vulnerable, Sandman goes after him. Harry admits his mistakes, but Sandman wants to kill him. Spider-man saves Harry from Sandman. Peter apologises to Flint Marko, but tells Marko that if he can forgive him for killing his uncle, then Marko must be able to forgive Harry for the bad things he has done. Marko, without saying a word, drifts away as sand on the wind.
Meanwhile, Venom kidnaps M.J. Peter and Harry band together and run to her rescue. The setting is somewhere dark, terrifying, and creepy, perhaps the particle accelerator building, with M.J. trapped inside. Harry dies saving Peter’s life. Venom wants to rejoin with Spider-man. Peter says he will let him if they don’t hurt M.J. As Venom tries to re-attach to Peter, Sandman returns, trapping Venom in a funnel of sand, and takes him away.
Brock is left without Venom, without the power he craves. Peter helps him get to a hospital, and stays with Brock for a while, to make sure he is okay.
Peter and M.J. attend Harry’s funeral. Their relationship is still unresolved, and before Peter has a chance to say anything, they hear a number of police sirens. M.J. tells him to go, she’ll be waiting when he gets back.