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Friendly Neighbourhood Spider, canned!

Raja Sen

Are you serious, Sam?

Mr Raimi, this -- as our favourite wallcrawler would say -- just ain't right. Spider-Man was a great start to the superhero franchise, and Spider-Man 2 was the crown jewel of the genre, a veritable blockbuster masterpiece.

In comparison, this latest and biggest film behaves like showboating Spidey hit in mid-air by a bolt from Electro.

It falls flat.

Now, a word about this writer -- before the messageboards start crawling with anti-critic venom.

I'm a mega fanboy, a man who has the black Spidey from Amazing Spider-Man 252 tattooed full-size on his back, and have waited for this movie for three years.

The first review I ever wrote for was for Spider-Man 2, an unashamed verbal gush-fest about a film I watched an embarrassing number of times. I know the comics, even the clone saga. As a kid, I scooped spiders onto my forearm and hoped one would bite, and coincidentally also be radioactive. One did, and I, six, went splat against a wall after a running jump attempt.

The point I'm trying digressingly to make is: Spider-Man matters. And this is your friendly neighbourhood fanboy review.

Spider-Man 3: The Alternate Review

Which is why this smarts. Over the last two films, we've grown used to the theme tune, the signature camera stylings, the lovely CGI fluidity to the webslinger's motion, the brave casting choice of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and the ridiculous one of Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. But this film -- with opening credits sorely missing comic master-artist Alex Ross' touch the other two films benefited from -- constantly oscillates between breaking away from the pre-sets, and overdoing them.

The result is a confused, peculiarly unrefined effort working in fits and starts. Spidey's a happy hero, the toast of New York City, a good touch that shows The Daily Bugle isn't the city's only media outlet. He's all set to pop the question to Mary Jane, when an asteroid casually crashes into a field they're stargazing in, and a gooey black alien symbiote slithers out. What the hey? The symbiote is supposed to arrive with J Jonah Jameson's son, remember MJ's betrothed from 2? Departures from the comics are inevitable, but after the films have methodically lined up the right characters for the job, ignoring them is bizarre.

Anyway, let's not get into nitpicking over loyalty, cause that would lead to a really long rant. The fact is that the movies are different from the comics; they create a different universe; should be considered distinctly different. Fair point, but where were we when Raimi and co were handing out the No-Masks memo? It doesn't look like a superhero film when they don't give a darn about secret identity, and everyone from Spidey to Venom to the new Green Goblin, slide off their facial gear when they want to talk. And it doesn't help that a now-chubbier Peter Parker loves to cry, blubbering at the hint of a repressed tragedy.

So we have a kid sobbing masklessly in a Spidey-suit. Is that so bad? Yes, when it comes as frequently as here. But Peter is the least of the problem areas.

First off, there's Mary Jane. The comics describe MJ as a knockout redhead, a rock-bohemian, mini-skirted long, tall glass of nickname-giving glamour. In Raimi's films, she's the girl next door. In 3, she's insufferable enough to make you wish the Goblin succeeded in killing her in 1. A tragically messed up character, more so when you see how awfully wasted Spidey's other girls, the stunning Gwen Stacy and Betty Brant are.

Thomas Haden Church plays Flint Marko, an ex-convict who becomes the Sandman. Initially, this story arc plays far too melodramatic, but you can indulgently say this is Evil Dead director Raimi completely enjoying B-movie schlock with a mega budget. And this is the character ending up with the best effects. But then there's only so much you can take of a maudlin criminal with his daughter's face on a locket wrapped around his gravelly wrist. And talk about method acting, Church's is pretty much set in concrete throughout, so there.

Topher Grace plays a pretty decent Eddie Brock, but his transformation into Venom is haphazard and abrupt, and even then we don't get to hear the fearsome villain's voice. A mutated black spider-alike shouldn't sound like that kid from The 70s Show. And when he comes close to Spider-Man and snarls, the whole point of the Venom visual is to see that reptilian tongue, not the symbiote conveniently pulling back to reveal Topher's face, albeit fanged. Venom fans will cry.

And then there's the Goblin. James Franco reprises his Harry Osborne role from the first two films to good effect. And why not? After all, he's the leading man this time around. Showing off both dark'n'twisted and suave'n'jazz-loving, Harry's decidedly the hero in Spider-Man 3. And it's not just about charisma. Living with a frightening butler seems to have Batman'd his alter ego. If this film be Sholay -- it's definitely worth experimenting to see if Hindi, even Bhojpuri versions work better, there's enough cheese -- Harry Osborne be its Jai. Which is every shade of wrong.

But it's not Sholay. It's not a classic. It's not magical. It's not spectacular. It's not clever. This is a film with a few inspired comic moments; Bruce Campbell super as always; a couple of great set-pieces but nothing 2 didn't do better; those annoying Unca Ben flashbacks that just refuse to die; six good scenes of dialogues; and a whole lotta melodrama. And while we've always dug Spidey more for his handling of emotional rollercoasters than the supervillains, here there's definite overkill. There's very little that's super, or heroic, about this Peter Parker.

Especially when he dances.

It breaks my heart to be writing these words, but Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire have had a good run. Spider-Man should move on to an edgier director, younger actor, and vitally, now that the franchise is a multibilliondollar empire in itself, perhaps producers Sony will realise that they should get comic writers like Brian Michael Bendis and Jeph Loeb to write their scripts, start to scratch. The fans deserve it.

Otherwise, we'll be stuck with forgettable, over-budgeted films like Spider-Man 3.

It's lamentably ironic to consider that the best thing about a Spidey film is JK Simmons' always spot-on portrayal of J Jonah Jameson. Yeah, The Daily Bugle would have a field day running this review.

Rediff Rating:

Spidey On Rediff: The special section

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