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SPIDER-MAN 3 – Christopher Young

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Is there any film in 2007 that has generated more simultaneous anticipation and dread than “Spider-Man 3”? Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” was a very good superhero movie, and his stunning “Spider-Man 2” raised the bar to a dizzying new level. After seeing the second film, I had two thoughts on my mind. The first was, “Wow, I can’t wait to see the next one!” The second was, “How on earth is he going to top that?” As someone once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Considering this situation, let’s go ahead and defuse a few bombs. Is “Spider-Man 3” as good as “Spider-Man 2”? Well, the answer is of course subjective, but in my humble opinion… no, it isn’t. Is it a round three stinker on the level of “X-Men: The Last Stand”? No, it most certainly is not. “Spider-Man 3” is a good film. Not as good as the first film, certainly not as good as the second, but a good film. It is uneven and overstuffed, but there is enough quality here to make this a respectable entry in the “Spider-Man” franchise.

Peter Parker, or Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is living the good life. He’s about to propose to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), the public is in love with Spider-Man, and everything seems to be looking up. Of course, this pleasant scenario will not last very long. The screenwriters have elected to punish Peter with no less than THREE major villains, romantic difficulties, and some really difficult inner conflicts. In a way, the writers are also punishing the audience… not that the movie is an unpleasant experience, but we’re being fed too much too fast.

Major Problem #1 – The Sandman: In a very tacky plot development, it turns out that a guy named Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) is the REAL killer of Ben Parker, Peter’s uncle. While Marko is running from the police, he falls into a machine that blends his molecules with sand, turning him into a beach flavored-version of Clayface from the animated Batman cartoons. For the uninitiated, he can fall apart and put himself back together, making it very difficult for anyone to defeat him in battle. Also, he’s extremely strong, and likes making giant sand fists (which he uses to pound things, mostly Spider-Man).

Major Problem #2 – Personal Relationships: Peter feels like he is on top of the world, but his pride causes him to fail to recognize the problems Mary Jane is having. She’s getting terrible reviews for a Broadway play she is starring in, and generally feels lonely and unappreciated. While Peter is busy planning a proposal, MJ is busy visiting her old friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) more and more often.

Major Problem #3 – Harry Osborne: Speaking of him, he’s still got a grudge against Peter, and is out to kill his former best friend. Very early on, Harry transforms into The Green Goblin, Jr., trying to finish what his father started (while wearing a much less interesting outfit). Peter is faced with the difficulty of trying to restore a friendship while fending off Harry’s vicious attacks.

Major Problem #4 – Black Goo: Yes, some black goo falls from the sky and follows Peter around. One night, it attaches itself to Peter, turns his Spider-Man suit black, and gives him a newfound dark power that Peter finds very sexy. Suddenly, Spider-Man becomes less ethical, and Peter Parker turns into a cocky, finger-snapping jerk. The “real Peter” (y’know, the sensitive one who cries about a half-dozen times during this movie) must find a way to get rid of this Mr. Hyde-inspired substance.

Major Problem #5 – Venom: The real kicker is, when Peter actually IS able to get some of the stuff off of him, it falls onto rival photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), who turns into a snarling black monster with evil eyes and very sharp teeth. He is not a very pleasant fellow, and he would like nothing better than to kill Spider-Man.

So, you’ve got all of these things going on, and more. It’s a rather head-spinning affair, and the movie has a tendency to jerk us around a little too much. In the first two films, we had two very clearly-defined villains who were given ample screen time… this allowed them to create fully three-dimensional characters that fascinated us, I cared greatly about both The Green Goblin and Doc Ock. Here, we switch from one villain to another from scene to scene, splicing everything together with emotional scenes of romance, heartbreak, or advice from old Aunt May. Despite feeling rushed, a lot of it works. The Sandman plotline is contrived, but the character is real and convincing. Thomas Hayden Church really does offer a lot of gravitas to the role, and is perfect casting. Topher Grace isn’t terribly interesting as Venom, but he’s very good as the smarmy Eddie Brock, serving as potent fuel for Peter Parker’s building rage. And the action scenes are about as good as such CGI-fueled battles get, genuinely thrilling, well-crafted stuff. It’s quite an epic movie, and shows off every last bit of its 300 million-dollar budget with pride.

However, the best scenes in the film are small, personal ones. Two sequences in particular come to mind: The first is set in a French restaurant, the second in a jazz club. Both scenes do almost the exact same thing with brilliant expertise, moving subtly from comedy to heartache. These scenes are so graceful and touching, and are worthy of being placed among the finest moments of the entire series. Sadly, the movie as a whole is lacking some of that personal touch that made the other two movies so unique. Indeed, one of the film’s biggest failings is its inability to successfully pull off the plotline it has been developing from the very beginning: Harry Osborne’s transformation. Part of this can be blamed on actor James Franco, he really doesn’t have the range needed for the role, particularly in this movie. However, most of the fault lies with the film makers, who rush the story along too quickly and give an ending that feels a bit too neatly contrived.

An element that has generated a lot of behind-the-scenes chat is the musical score. As nearly every film music fan knows by now, Danny Elfman broke off his relationship with director Sam Raimi after “Spider-Man 2”, and Raimi hired Christopher Young (who wrote a bit of additional music for “Spider-Man 2”) to write the score for this film. Young wrote mostly new material, but adapted Elfman’s main theme for numerous scenes. However, the producers were unhappy with Young’s new love theme, and had John Debney and Deborah Lurie come in and write new cues centered around Elfman’s love theme from the first two films. It certainly sounds like a messy situation. So, how does it all sound in the end?

Surprisingly, it sounds very good… no, make that great… with a few exceptions. I was worried as the now-famous main title music began. Young’s arrangement of it felt a bit lifeless, less energetic and percussive, with a heavier emphasis on dramatic choral statements. However, as things progress, it just gets better and better. Young’s music is fresh, inventive, and insanely exciting. He provides a plethora of new thematic ideas here, some of which are simply thrilling. One highlight is his “Dark Spider-Man” theme, a really sensational piece of superhero music, led by a wicked fanfare. His intensely emotional Sandman theme is equally good, and gets a particularly wonderful treatment as The Sandman is first learning how to use his powers. Numerous exciting action cues are here, and Young offers up some delicious thematic twists that I can’t reveal here (simply because they might spoil plot elements). One unique highlight is a punchy jazz-based action cue during a fight scene between Peter and Harry, one imagines that it’s the sort of thing Alex North might write if he were scoring the film.

The thing that keeps the score from attaining a ***** rating is the battle between Young’s music and Elfman’s music. As much as I love Elfman’s two scores, I wish Young had been able to write the entire thing from scratch. Though both composers rank as the elite members of their generation, their styles are so dramatically different that when we shift from Young to Elfman, there is a disconcerting dramatic shift that damages the musical flow of things. One suspects that Young had a much more organic flow to things originally, but when we suddenly flip to Debney and Lurie’s cues, it’s too noticeable.

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether any of Young’s music will be released on CD. The accompanying soundtrack, on the Warner label, is a compilation of songs bearing the dreaded ‘from and inspired by the movie’ monicker, and includes cuts by artists such as Snow Patrol, The Killers, The Flaming Lips, and even Chubby Checker.

I don’t think there is anything I could possibly say in this review that would stop you from seeing “Spider-Man 3”, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to stop you from seeing the film. Though my comments have been largely negative, they are merely a reflection of my disappointment that the film could not attain greatness. If I had never seen another “Spider-Man” movie, I suspect this review would be filled with raves. It’s certainly better than most of this summer’s blockbuster movies will be… but in comparison to the other two films, it just seems a bit average. Spider-Man may not be soaring as high as he once did, but he’s still soaring. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go figure out why this sticky crap keeps shooting out of my wrists.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:30)
  • Opening Montage [Deborah Lurie] (1:56)
  • Tell Me You Love Me (1:55)
  • The Goblin (0:59)
  • May’s Ring (1:40)
  • Sacrifice (0:46)
  • Harry Attacks Peter (4:07)
  • Crane Disaster (1:16)
  • Peter Leaves A Message (0:56)
  • Uncle Ben’s Killer (1:55)
  • Transformation Into Black-Suited Spider-Man (3:18)
  • Birth of Sandman (3:08)
  • Sad Girl (1:02)
  • The Mirror (0:33)
  • Reflections (0:34)
  • Peter Walks the Streets (1:02)
  • Peter’s Date At a Jazz Club (1:43)
  • The Kiss & The Mirror (1:06)
  • Eddie Gets Fired (1:25)
  • Humbled & Humiliated [Deborah Lurie] (4:31)
  • Peter’s Turmoil (0:45)
  • Peter at MJ’s Window (0:50)
  • The News Telecast/The Hero Within (1:30)
  • Peter Asks Harry For Help (0:58)
  • Spider-Man Arrives To Save MJ ((0:51)
  • New Host Revealed – Descent From 80 Stories (1:40)
  • Helpless Spider-Man vs. Venom & Sandman (2:08)
  • Venom Talks With Peter (0:30)
  • The Right Decision (1:01)
  • Setting MJ Down (0:35)
  • Peter Talks With Venom (0:25)
  • The Final Confrontation (2:32)
  • Death of Eddie/Venom (0:23)
  • Sandman’s Confession (3:15)
  • Death of a Friend (2:27)
  • Just Dance (1:18)
  • In the End (0:49)
  • Venom’s Theme (0:20)
  • Venom (0:50)
  • Happy Ending (2:30)

Running Time: ## minutes ## seconds

Promo (2007)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Pete Anthony, Bruce Babcock, Brad Dechter, Jon Kull, Sean McMahon, Sujin Nam, , David G. Russell and Martin St. Pierre. Original “Spider-Man” themes by Danny Elfman. Additional music by John Debney and Deborah Lurie. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Edited by Thomas Milano, Shie Rozow and Michael T. Ryan. Score produced by Christopher Young.

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