Past the Popcorn: Waterland Home Video Feature

by Greg Wright

Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released to home video last week.

Because I am, without a doubt, not in the target demographic for the Spider-Man franchise, I can’t tell you a thing about it.

The wild appeal of its relatively young stars eludes me (though Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are without a doubt an upgrade from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst). In-jokey star cameos evoke no response from me whatsoever. Unexplained plot devices bother me immensely. Further, I don’t care to have the disbelief which I have willingly suspended “hanged, drawn, and quartered,” as J. R. R. Tolkien put it. I couldn’t even have been bothered to see the first two entries in the cinematic series, and as a kid, I rarely shelled out my own money on a Spidey comic.

s3insetI know that puts me in the overwhelming minority—and that doesn’t make me feel smug or superior in the least. I know some kind of flaw in my character is causing me to miss out on a unique experience, one obviously similar to that which I manage to enjoy with other popcorn fare such as The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. Even mediocre movies don’t reap the kind of boxoffice that Spider-Man and its sequels and reboot have.

So try to take all that under advisement as I attempt an objective review of Spider-Man 3, the lone title in the series that I have seen. Show my review as much mercy as I expect to show to the movie.

Following a credit sequence that recaps the series thus far (bringing clods like me up to speed), the third installment of the series finds Peter Parker, the alter ego of the eponymous superhero, still employed as a freelance photographer at The Daily Bugle. His girlfriend, Mary Jane, is on the verge of stardom, featured in a major role in a just-opening Broadway production.

The campy tone of the movie is set as Parker self-absorbedly makes his way to the front row seat MJ has reserved for him; his glee is so childish we expect his delight to turn to disappointment any number of times during the evening. But it is not to be. Parker is indeed a minor celebrity in his own right, for one night at least—and is enjoying it. MJ is dazzling on stage in the musical’s opening number.

Parker’s old rival, Harry, is also on hand and can afford a much more lavish bouquet—but MJ still has eyes only for Peter. After the show, the couple shares a magical evening in Central Park, lounging in a great web, watching shooting stars and dreaming of the future.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Just before MJ and Peter leave the park, a diabolus-ex-machina appears in the form of strange black goo which hitchhikes to Earth on the back of one of those falling stars. It picks up a ride home on the back of Parker’s scooter, and we soon come to the crux of the film’s central conflict: as MJ’s fantasy crumbles around her, as Parker’s job is in danger of being usurped by an unprincipled paparazzo, and as not one, but three, villains rise to challenge the Spider-Man, this strange black goo latches onto, and amplifies, Spider-Man’s dark side.

The All-American hero, it turns out, is corruptible—and fully capable of being a far worse danger to himself than any external enemy. Spidey’s bright red and blue are exchanged for a much more stylish, if sinister, shade of very dark gray.

As our hero comes to grips with his own evil nature, he battles a jealous and vengeful New Goblin, the son and heir of his former nemesis, the Green Goblin. In the process, he also becomes jealous and vengeful.

Spidey also comes to blows with the Sandman, a well-meaning but misguided escaped felon who strays into an open-air particle physics experiment. In the process, Spidey’s intentions also go somewhat astray, and his own behavior becomes increasingly, well, stinky, if not felonious. Fans of the series will especially enjoy the sequences in which Parker’s personality disintegrates; will he permanently alienate MJ?

But the real climax comes as Parker’s efforts at self-reform contribute to the rise of the film’s third villain, Venom—who conspires with Sandman to bring about Spidey’s ultimate demise.

Besides excellent CGI, creatively-staged action sequences (the armored-car heist in Manhattan is particularly effective), and (I’m assuming) the usual effectively nerdy performances from Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire as MJ and Peter, Spider-Man 3 offers a boatload of mercy, redemption, and even forgiveness—qualities we seem to have forgotten these days in our global quest to become superheroes. When Spider-Man frees himself from his diabolus and dashingly returns with Old Glory waving behind him, the film even becomes a national call to shed our morally murky skin.

Spider-Man 3 not only delivers more of what the series has brought in the past, it appears to have done so in a manner that should please both audiences and bean-counters.

As a film, it reaches too far—four villains (including Spidey himself) are about two too many, and Topher Grace, among others, is wildly miscast. The diabolus plot-device never rises above that lame and paltry level. And I’m sorry, but Dunst and Maguire—while competent enough—are being wildly overpaid, regardless of the odd chemistry that they obviously produce.

But as high-priced entertainment, Spider-Man 3 might serve to close off your summer video-viewing with a solid bang.

You can stream all the entries in the Spider-Man franchise tonight without even leaving home! They’re all available for download from Amazon and Google Play. Grab something to eat from your favorite local joint… and enjoy yourself.

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