Feeling like the only person on earth disappointed by Spider-Man: Homecoming made me want to revisit the Raimi films, which I hadn't seen in nearly a decade. I'd also never seen the infamous 3
after being scared away by reviews word of mouth, so I thought it would be fun to work up to it and see what that was all about.
I like how Spider-Man
gets straight to the point by opening on the day Peter gets bitten. Despite that it's striking how deliberate the storytelling feels compared to your average 2017 blockbuster (Homecoming included). It takes its time to let us get to know the characters a bit before any major dramatic incidents or action happen. Shots are held much longer than they are in today's blockbusters too. It's surprisingly classical, with a fair number of scenes built around sustained mid shots that track the actors through dolly work, something unthinkable in today's tentpole movies.
The set-up about Peter getting his powers, Ben's death, making his mark as Spider-Man, is great. Dunst is lovely and the romance is sweet. The big problem is that once the Green Goblin is introduced, the movie doesn't know what to do with him. Dafoe is funny and scary, but after he kills the leaders of Oscorp, what's his motivation? He wants to kill Spider-Man and cause random chaos, but why? "He's crazy" isn't dramatically interesting.
I like how brutal Goblin and Spidey's final battle gets and I admire the filmmakers for going with the downer ending.
JK Simmons, of course, kills it. I laughed through every one of his scenes.
The stylistic shift towards something more contemporary is immediately apparent in Spider-Man 2
, with more close-ups and faster editing. I think the 2.35:1 frame (Spidey 1 is 1.85:1) pushes directors toward this kind of style - mid shots can easily look awkward in the wider frame, and often tight close-ups work best to minimise negative space.
The movie works from the get-go. I love how the opening sequence gives him a low-stakes goal and action sequence right away that's fun to watch while also establishing the major theme of the film, the conflict between Peter's greater calling and his ordinary responsibilities and desires.
Hiring Raimi, of the OTT dramatics and swooping, swivelling, spinning camera, was an inspired choice for Spider-Man, and he really cuts loose here in a way he didn't in the first movie. There are so many great sequences here - the horror movie take on Doc Ock's origin, his heist at a perfectly cartoony bank, and the bit the teaser spoiled (an awesome trailer that still gets you hyped btw
) where he ambushes Peter and MJ at a cafe stand out. And of course, the train sequence, is an incredibly constructed progression from combat to heroics to pathos. In a way the first movie never did, the action here really fulfils the promise of what a Spider-Man movie could be - dynamic, cartoonish, omnidirectional, but still easy to follow, and it never outstays its welcome.
Dr. Octopus is a great design (the alternately threatening and cute tentacles are a nice touch), and a sympathetic villain with a great performance from Molina, but the film is smart to not let him overshadow the focus on Peter's struggles. I love that this movie is playful enough to throw in a montage to 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' with a goofy freeze frame at the end of it.
Homecoming similarly depicted Peter having to make sacrifices to be a hero, but it never made me feel it. I think it's because that movie is in such a constant rush, with so much going on, that I never got to know Peter's hopes and dreams like I do here. It's all very surface level, and to me it felt like teen movie cliches, rather than something emotionally genuine. I can understand the desire to make it less heavy than SM2 - a good chunk of that movie is dedicated to Peter getting shat on by the universe - but I think there was room to imbue his struggles with more gravitas while still being a light comedy.
The romance with MJ really works - you can feel her frustration at Peter's back and forward nonsense. Her speech at the end about saving his life really ties the whole thing together.
It's an incredibly charming, fun, stirring movie. Spider-Man's New York feels expansive and lived in, with a memorable visual style.
I think this is the peak of superhero movies to date.
The CGI of Spidey swinging away in the closing sequence is really bad. I don't know how that got in there - they must have been pretty pressed for time.
seems like a film made out of obligation. It's clear they didn't have much of a story to tell. Characters act so as to move the plot along, rather than out of their circumstances. Peter becoming smug with his newfound success I can buy, but recreating his kiss with MJ with a classmate is a step too far - way out of character for such a value driven man as we've gotten to know. Harry coming to murder Peter on the goblin glider similarly seems extreme. Norman's last words were "don't tell Harry", and Peter kept the secret at a cost to himself. Now that we've reached the moment Norman had hoped to avoid, it carries no weight whatsoever. There's no indication that Harry falters in his devotion to his dad in light of the massive revelation that he was a psychopathic murderer, and he doesn't reconsider what he believes to be Spider-Man's acts in light of the threat he posed to New York. Then after showing himself to be a petty and unreasonable ass, he goes back on all of this and decides to help Spider-Man simply based on his butler conveniently confirming that Peter wasn't responsible for his father's death (seriously, where did this guy come form and why did he wait until this moment to convey this information?). There's no way the guy we've seen in this movie was forgiving Spider-Man that quickly, especially after the disfiguring of his face.
The Sandman is whatever. The stuff about his daughter is barely in this movie so it's impossible to give a shit. The idea of the narrative culminating with Peter, MJ and Harry all showing forgiveness is nice, but it's a jarring transition to go from Sandman pummelling Peter after agreeing with Eddie that he wants him dead, to suddenly being reasonable and calmly explaining himself to Peter. Why didn't he try that earlier?
Why is Venom in this movie? Eddie Brock is a boring vengeful psychopath who is gone as quickly as he turns up.
Rami seems seriously unengaged. Aunt May and MJ's relationship with Peter was pretty sensitively and movingly handled before, but here it's all rehashed, going through the motions filler. The direction is notably less creative than in Spider-Man 2, with way less memorable images. When Peter gets the symbiote suit, it's unclear how it improves things for Peter. In the scene where he decides to stick with the suit, Peter says it feels good and he likes it, but this is illustrated by him doing typical Spider-Man stuff, with no indication that the suit makes him dramatically stronger or better.
The choice for Peter isn't really much of a choice at all - since it's unclear if or even how the suit improves him and it's clearly fucking up his personal life, duh, of course he should get rid of it. It could be a source of internal conflict, but all we know is that it feels 'good'. How good? Like, heroin good? As an aside, the symbiote bonds to one of his suits, as opposed to actually merging with Brock's body, so why do they show it covering his face when he's sleeping?
While I loved the action in 2 and felt like it was well staged and choreographed, issue could be raised with how the bodies being flung around and the restless CG camera create a feeling of weightlessness. Here the weightlessness takes over completely. The use of the CG camera is now completely unrestrained, to the detriment of cohesion or excitement. It spins all over the place, from way too tight an angle - beyond being exhausting to watch, it sucks away the threat or the grandeur of the spectacle.
I knew about the ridiculousness of Symbiote Peter from the memes, but what I didn't expect is that it's the only time the movie really comes alive. Why he gets an emo haircut whenever he decides to give in to his dark side, I have no idea, but it's a funny example of the kind of goofy absurdity the movie is revelling in. I really wish the movie had embraced this and we'd gotten a full on comedy. Emo Parker and Harry's exchanges are hilariously bitchy (the cake scene is classic camp), and the dance stuff had me laughing out loud.
I think this movie has seriously damaged people's memories of the Raimi films. I've heard them talked about as though they get bogged down in tedious soap opera, but SM1 and 2 have the best take on romance I can recall in a summer blockbuster and it's a high point of those films. It's only in this movie that it becomes dull and repetitive. People mock Maguire's performance, but I thought in one and 2 he gives a really nice take on the aww-shucks innocence of the character that's in keeping with the cheesy universe Raimi establishes. 3 brings the histrionics and whininess that he seems to be associated with now.
I think it's a shame Raimi never got to have another go-around to redeem the series with 4, but if they weren't going to give him more control again it was better to step away then, I guess. I feel bad for Dylan Baker, who was great in his little bit as Connors and was teased for two movies only for that to never go anywhere.
On a non-Spider-man note, I caught a screening of the 4K restored The Fifth Element
, which I also hadn't seen in a long time. I wish more popcorn junk today would show this kind of imagination, or take these kind of risks. It's a nice take on Star Wars and associated sci-fi pulp that already feels unhinged before Chris Tucker shows up for his 'everything at 11' part. It would be a better movie if the relationship that the whole thing ends up hinging on had actually been developed in any meaningful way, but it is what it is - a 12 year old boy's fantasy brought to insane life.