Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, I think Topher Grace wandered into the movie, and some Black Goo as Himself
Have I Seen it Before: Sure, but certainly fewer times than the rest of the Raimi series.
Did I Like It: Almost uniformly no.
It’s 1995 and I’m seeing Batman Forever for the first time. While I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why the film wasn’t working for me (I was, after all, only 10 years old, although with my full-beard you’d never be able to tell), but I knew part of it was that the film was poorer without Danny Elfman’s score, and Elliot Goldenthal’s efforts weren’t measuring up. Why couldn’t the melody of the original theme still be used?
While that is still true, with the jarring addition of Christopher Young’s scores on top of Elfman’s, I am now of the conclusion that keeping the original themes but adding new themes in a hybrid score is kind of a bummer. The music in this movie never quite works. It is, however, not the only thing that doesn’t work.
The movie is so packed with plot (and, for that matter, villains), that the story falls apart under the weight of its own coincidence. The symbiote just happens to crash to Earth not from Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) sharing a quiet romantic moment. Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) just happens to wander into a weird sand-based particle accelerator (the movie’s not terribly interested in having me follow what this thing is) at the same time they are testing it. And Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) just happens to wander into a church to beg God to kill Parker at the very same instance Spider-Man is trying to rid himself of the symbiote. Stories have a tendency to trade in efficient happenstance, but this beggars all belief, even in a movie about black alien goo.
Which brings us to Venom. Poor, sad, maligned Venom. Actually, I don’t suppose he is that maligned. He’s too beloved by the Spider-man fan base for his own good. Hence, the studios insistence that Raimi include the character in this film, and it is clearer than most things in life that the director is not into this particular film. In his defense, I too am about as interested in the alien symbiotes (in fact, I’m getting a little tired of typing them in this piece) as Raimi. It also feels like Raimi is by this point sort of done with Spider-man as a whole, and would much rather make a musical romantic comedy. I have no problem with that, and wouldn’t mind watching Raimi’s unfettered spin on such a film, but I kind of wish he had actually found a way to make that movie, instead of offering this half-baked mishmash of conflicting studio memos.
The special effects are improved from the previous entries, however. What's more, they still largely hold up today, much more so than for Raimi’s original outing, Spider-Man (2002). The Sandman/Marko concoction is a pretty impressive creation, keeping his pathos even in amid a torrent of CGI and motion capture, easily much better than the weird kabuki show that surrounded the first film's Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). Even the sort of awkward creation of Venom may not work in its own right, but still manage to be of a piece with the rest of the trilogy’s visual vocabulary. Unfortunately, all of this refinement in technology isn’t adding up to much.
And yet, still, I may miss Maguire and company in their roles. I would have liked to see a Spider-Man 4, even if it wasn’t to be directed by Raimi, that would have followed the doomed friendship trio of Maguire, Dunst, and maybe Franco, if Harry had lived. I buy them as long-time friends about to be torn apart by lives going in different directions, even here in a movie that doesn’t do them many favors and may tarnish the memory of their better, prior outings. I might miss them a little less in the years since Tom Holland has become a sort of Iron Robin to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, but still, even with all of this film’s problems, Tobey Maguire may still be my Spider-man, if for no other reason than he when he was not the smoothest high school student, or the in-over-his-head college kid (still not terribly smooth), or the man who realizes life is only going to get harder as time goes on, because when he was all of those things, I was right there with him. A fourth movie might have continued that journey, and led to this entry being an outlying downbeat, instead of a disappointing finale.