April 30, 2007

Spider-Man 3 and the previews of summer.

Spider-Man 3 And so, the long hot summer begins: "Spider-Man 3 is the latest quasi-religious comic-book superhero epic to demonstrate that with extreme power comes extreme spiritual torment, that there are grave psychological dangers when the mask (in the Pirandellian sense) supplants the face, and that the practice of throwing around insane amounts of cash while getting absurdly rich off 'tent-pole' studio franchises can make even an ecstatic horror maven like Sam Raimi a little flabby," writes David Edelstein. "The movie isn't a dud: It has exuberant bits and breathtaking (money money money) effects. But it's supposed to be fun and inspirational, and it's too leaden for liftoff."

Also in New York, Logan Hill gets to the gist of five summer offerings.

Updated through 5/4. Plus: LAT's "Summer Movies."

"If Spider-Man 3 is a shambles, that's because it makes the rules up as it goes along," argues Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. The problem here is "not that it's running out of ideas, or lifting them too slavishly from the original comic, but that it lunges at them with an infantile lack of grace, throwing money at one special effect after another and praying - or calculating - that some of them will fly."

David Poland sorts through the movies and the studios and predicts the winners and losers of Summer 07. Meanwhile, Movie City News has its chart ready.

More summer previews: Philip French picks 10 "hot" ones for the Observer. Film Threat's run-through is laced with trailers. Among the Blogcritics, Tall Writer has the release schedule and Ian Woolstencroft predicts the top 11 at the box office. Bill Gibron sniffs out "Summer's Stinkers" for PopMatters.

Blogging for the Guardian, David Thomson assesses what all's riding on Spider-Man 3 and adds, "My hunch is that the ads are more excited than the audience. A three-year project's fate will be known in a few hours on its first Friday." And Nikki Finke explains how Sony will be squeezing all the screenings it can into opening weekend to ensure a $100+ opening.

Susan King glances at the three-decade-long friendship of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier: Eric Kohn for the Reeler; and "Peter Parker goes to Tokyo."

Updates, 5/1: "The 3 in Spider-Man 3 is no exaggeration," writes Nathan Lee in the Voice. "Everything's been tripled - to diminishing effect. There are three times the villains, three times the backstories, three times the psychological baggage, three times the special effects, three times the soul-searching, three times the webslinging, three times the three-cheers-for-New York, three times the desperation to entertain. Given that Spider-Man 2 was twice as fun as the first, it's triply disappointing what an overwrought bore S3 turns out to be."

"How do I dislike thee, Spider-Man 3?" asks David Poland. "Let me count the ways..."

"There's some tipping point where a big movie just topples under its own weight," suggests Anne Thompson. "It's all too much, too big, too grand. All human scale stops registering."

Updates, 5/2: Aaron Sagers, Ethan Alter and Kelly Federico present "A Guide to All Things Spider-Man" in PopMatters, launching its summer preview, rolling out through Friday.

"[T]his is a film that commerce mandated, a marketing puzzle that insisted on a solution, an über-franchise whose north of $250-million budget and sky-high expectations make it a master that must be served, a monster to be fed, an imperious creature with its own needs and drives," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "In the face of those unbending commercial imperatives, it is simultaneously encouraging that this Spider-Man actually attempts to bring some originality to the table and disheartening that those attempts are not enough."

"Kicking off the summer blockbuster season with a sigh of disappointment, Spider-Man 3 only proves that more is less," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly.

Robert Wilonsky, here in City Pages: "It all just feels so... Fantastic Four, so dopey and forgettable and crafted out of second-rate cheese."

The AV Club presents its "Summer Movie Preview Fall DVD Preview 2007," introducing each film with comments divided into four categories: "What it's about," "Why it might be worth seeing in theaters," "Why you're probably better off waiting for the DVD," and "Possible special feature on that DVD."

The Economist takes a look at how "the economics of blockbusters have changed.... Over the years the hillock of box-office revenues became a downward slope, then a cliff face. Given this year's crowded schedule, the drop-offs will be vertiginous."

"What was fun, campy, and grave in the first two Spider-Man films has been transformed into something rather noisy, flippant, and explicitly declamatory," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant.

"If a student in Screenwriting 101 introduced conflict by writing 'black evil goo falls from the sky and out of all of Earth's inhabitants, latches onto our hero by chance and turns him into an evil person,' they'd get an F," growls Matt Riviera. "That the costliest film ever satisfies itself with such cheap narrative tricks is testament to Hollywood's inverted value system, which says it's harder to make a good, cheap film than it is a bad, expensive one."

Writing in Christianity Today, though, Jeffrey Overstreet quite likes it, and what's more: "We'll have to hope that, against all odds, the director and the key members of his cast will return to make this the first franchise with four straight triumphs."

"Spider-Man 3 could have worked much better if the entire Sandman story had been jettisoned," proposes Edward Copeland.

Jürgen Fauth: "As far as megabudget superhero adaptations go, Spider-Man 3 delivers exactly what it promises: more of the same."

"If the first two Spider-Man movies soared above the banal realm of the Hollywood franchise, the third finds the series falling back to earth," writes Elbert Ventura at Reverse Shot. "Motivations are left unexamined; unaccountable changes of heart are the norm. Some might argue that such is the case with comic books anyway, but what made the earlier Spider-Man movies effective was how fantastical contrivances were rooted in the characters' dispositions and relationships."

"It breaks my heart to tell ya not to break a twenty trying to check out Sam Raimi's newest but I wouldn't even bother seeing this again in Imax," writes Canfield at Twitch.

Ben Walters interviews Raimi for Time Out.

It's Spider-Man Week in NYC, and ST VanAirsdale attended the premiere in Astoria, Queens; Topher Grace wasn't the only one who was "a little overwhelmed."

Update, 5/3: "[Y]ou keep hoping for young Peter Parker to wake up in a sweat, realize it was all a dream, and for the real movie to begin," writes Scott Foundas in the LA Weekly. "No such luck.... Very few movie franchises, of course, make it to part three with the same vim and vigor with which they started, and watching Spider-Man 3, you more than once get the impression that, for the principal artists and technicians who’ve been with the series from the get-go, the thrill has somehow gone out of it for them this time around."

"Since the movie isn't going anywhere, really, Raimi goes internal; he spends almost two and a half hours contriving an ethical conflict for its played-out protagonist," writes Armond White in the New York Press. "But Spider-Man 3 never transcends tentpole movie triteness."

Neil Morris, writing in the Independent Weekly, isn't as down on S3 as many, "Nonetheless, much of the webbing is starting to look threadbare."

Drew Lazor, writing in the Philadelphia City Paper, isn't terribly down on it, either, though he's hardly enthused.

"Spidey 3 is essentially a romantic drama punctuated by SPFX chases," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "I can hear the fanboys shouting, 'There's no crying in action movies!' I can't imagine them hugging this movie to their man-bosoms. Which could be why I liked it."

"In the grand scheme of things, Spider-Man 3 might not be a big deal," writes Erik Davis at Cinematical. "But getting to experience a major film like this in a packed auditorium with hoards of screaming fans is something to remember."

Updates, 5/4: "Aesthetically and conceptually wrung out, fizzled rather than fizzy, this latest installment in the spider-bites-boy adventure story shoots high, swings low and every so often hits the sweet spot, but mostly just plods and plods along, as if its heart were pumping tired radioactive blood," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times.

"[W]hat makes a movie add up to $300 million?" asks Time's Rebecca Winters Keegan. Consider that "a couple of this summer's most anticipated movies, Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, will hover in the $260-$300 million range, not including the marketing costs. To put it in perspective, the most expensive film of all time adjusted for inflation is Cleopatra, which nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox in 1963 and would have about cost $295 million today." So she adds up the expenses.

For the Los Angeles Times, Josh Friedman looks over the summer schedule and talks to some rather nervous studio folks.

Also in the big "Summer Movies" package in the Los Angeles Times:

"Your first thought as the credits roll isn't 'Wow, what'll happen next?' but 'Where is there left to go with this?'" writes Dana Stevens. "Raimi and his Spidey team may be spending and making money by the forklift, but they're nickel-and-diming their hero out of a story." Also at Slate, a slide show from Dan Kois addressing the question, "How did Spider-Man get to be a brooding vigilante?"

For Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, this one's "more of the same - except better." It's "a vast improvement on the last picture in the franchise - in which the chemistry between MJ and Peter was barely an afterthought - and it's a deeper, richer picture than even the first Spider-Man."

"Ultimately, it's hard not to like these films, even this one," concedes Jim Tudor at Twitch. "I've finally settled into the grove of these films, but now it appears this may be it (at least for the Raimi/Maguire incarnation of the character). But we'll see."

"It's weird to try to apply a 'less is more' critique to a Hollywood blockbuster," writes Matt Singer for the Reeler. "As a Spider-Man fan since childhood, it's equally weird to think that there could be a thing as 'too much' in a Spidey movie, but again, it's seemingly true."

At 10 Zen Monkeys: "Ten Worst Spider-Man Tie-ins."

The Washington Post has its big summer package up and running, too. As for the movie at hand, Ann Hornaday is disappointed to see "an overlong, visually incoherent, mean-spirited and often just plain awful Spider-Man 3, a tangled web of special-effects overkill and self-indulgence that all but destroys the fun and goodwill created by the first two movies." And Ellen McCarthy profiles Topher Grace.

For the New Republic's Christopher Orr, this is "the most exhausting mass entertainment since Peter Jackson's King Kong.... Even viewers who enjoy the movie - and for fans of the franchise there's plenty to enjoy - may be relieved that this could be the last we see of the webcrawler for a while."

Bradley Steinbacher in the Stranger on Peter's dance routine: "It's the sort of astonishingly awful scene that can sink an entire film, and it marks an unfortunate turning point in Spider-Man 3. Up until that moment, director Sam Raimi had delivered a painless, if overly familiar, third installment to the franchise. As Peter makes like a touring member of Chicago, however, the vessel springs a major leak, quickly turns aft in the air, and sinks."

"The film's biggest problem is the same one that dogs every action-hero series," notes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat. "How long can you keep upping the ante before turning into self-parody?"

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw isn't the first to remark that the "series is now beginning to resemble the Christopher Reeve Superman movies at their later sequel stage: a fair bit of zip, and some terrific-looking Manhattan streetscape battle scenes, but no satisfyingly unified story, and muddied by the fact that the love interest now knows the hero's secret identity."

Ryan Gilbey proves in the New Statesman that what one reviewer sees as a fatal blow is, for another, the saving grace: "On the rare occasions that I could make out what was going on through the breakneck editing, the action sequences looked up to par, but personally, I found Peter's dance routine at a jazz club to be shot with more aplomb and ingenuity than any of the countless airborne fight scenes."

"Raimi has opted to turn Spider-Man 3 into a fairground ride," sighs James Christopher in the London Times. "It's a shame." And Kate Spicer meets Tobey Maguire.

The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu on Sandman: "[T]he idea of evil as wispy and environmental has a certain resonance in this era of avian-flu panics." Otherwise, "The film doesn't teem; it just seems cluttered - a collection of scenes, and occasionally great visuals or gags, strung together by an inadequate plot."

"They play it all with the straightest of faces," observes Derek Malcolm in the Standard. Mostly, "it doesn't quite work."

A "great bellowing bore of a film," sighs Noy Thrupkaew in the American Prospect, "the perfect opener for what's sure to be a summer of diminishing cinematic returns."

Bilge Ebiri at Nerve: "Rarely has a storyline felt so overstuffed and so thin at the same time."

Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Spider-Man 2 was a textbook example of how to make a sequel: Deepen it, make it funnier, give it more heart and come up with a strong villain and a good story. Spider Man 3, by contrast, shows how not to make a sequel."

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Posted by dwhudson at April 30, 2007 8:08 AM