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Monday, 7 May 2007

Review: Spiderman 3

As they say in the business, spoiler alert.

The Spiderman film franchise is a "symbiote" that thrives on the nostalgic goodwill of several generations who grew up with scrawny Peter Parker and his more outgoing, thread-borne alter-ego - and subsists on the fact that newer generations will continue to want the arachnoid icon (as this film confesses) on lunch pails, pillow slips and for Halloween costumes. As such, its style and purpose balances on a thread, between retro-hipness and contemporary, juvenile interest. Spiderman 3 is the best example yet of how this high-web act can stumble, yet never fully fall.

A curious number of its best set-piece moments are not concerned with slugging it out with villains (those are rather tedious in comparison) - but are instead comical, even camp, pieces of theatrical business, that would not be out of place in a 40s or 50s musical - and it is tempting to think that director Sam Raimi has modelled the film on a Kelly or Astaire musical, merely replacing the songs for the fights, and the dance for the balletic-acrobatic moves of Tobey Maguire. These moments include the intended proposal to MJ (K. Dunst, lovely as ever with those teeth) in the arrogant French restaurant, and the weird edifying Beatnik revenge sequence in MJ's Jazz Club; there is also a mini-demonic moment when a cocksure Parker (now driven to his dark side by the symbiotic material from the meteorite that eventually spawns Venom), lounging on a pay phone in his low-rent tenement, imperiously commands his skinny landlord's adoring daughter to bake him cookies with nuts - and bring him more milk!

The love interest, and the best friend sub-plot, are slightly dull; as is the Aunt May and Uncle Ben sub-plot; as is revenge of fathers / uncles one; as is the sacred object (a daughter's locket, an aunt's ring) sub-plot. The film seems to have been script doctored by Joseph Campbell, so mythically correct is it. Only the metamorphosis / subconscious themes are directly interesting - as The Sandman, Venom, Parker himself (and the new Green Goblin) - struggle with "inner demons" that change their bodies, sub-atomic particle by sub-atomic particle. The most uncanny, terrifying moment is when The Sandman (still simply Flint, another kind of stone) finds himself surrounded by three large lit rods, suspended above him, that construct a rapidly-moving but open cage (open also to the sky). At once liberated (from the police he has been evading) he is also trapped, sacrificed to science, and altered into a more powerful simulation of his former self. Physics makes free.

It would be tempting to argue there is a political subtext to much of the film's imagery of girder-imperilled-girls, falls from great heights, and discussions of how revenge needs to be tempered by forgiveness - but Raimi doesn't push it (the appearance of the American flag seems more heroic than ironic near the end) so neither will Eyewear.

In a homage / direct reference to both Vertigo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (thus combining films about mad love suspended, and grotesque inner human drives and the lies of the surface and, one supposes, monstrous beings in big cities), Spiderman manages to peel off (or suppress) the black goo that feels good but makes him do bad amid the pealing bells. It transfers, falling from the bell tower's height in the cathedral, to splatter over (Freud would have a field day) a rival, in work and love, who duly turns into a carnivorous black demon (Venom). In the next scene, Parker showers, in an overhead shot oddly paralleling that in Psycho. Parker as Crane? (why not, both are all-American pseudo-virgins who have done bad but want to repent, but who are interrupted in their return to the world, and law, by the unexpected intrusion of psychopathology - a split one at that). Venom doubles here for Bates.

The best things about Spiderman 3 are its respect for, and love of, the Tradition - not of comics, but cinema, then. As an aside, bring on The Lizard! They've been teasing us far too long.
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