Back-Seat Movie Making

May 5, 2007 at 3:46 am Leave a comment

Spider-Man 3
Massive Spoilers Start Here

Spider-Man.

Spider-Fucking-Man

What is there to say? I thought the movie was pretty good. But, sadly, not great. Certainly not the distilled awesome that was Spider-Man 2. Maybe I just expect too much. Maybe I’m not fit to watch big action movies anymore. Or maybe I know exactly what I’m talking about and can apply my special touch to fix everything. For I am:

Jacob McNeil, Script Doctor!

First, we must identify what went wrong. The main problem with the movie is that it had too many ideas. It was just packed, jumping from place to place without any time to reflect on what any of it meant. How can this be fixed?

-The obvious first: The villains. There’s too many of them. Neither Sandman, Venom or the New Green Goblin get enough development because time needs to be split between them. One of them needs to go.
-Gwen Stacy. Dead weight, doesn’t do justice to the character from the comics. Quickly introduced and quickly shunted offstage, she doesn’t add anything that couldn’t be done without her.

And a few other things that need to be changed:

-The retcon to Uncle Ben’s death was pulled off well, but it was still pretty unnecessary.
-Spider-Man wasn’t awesome enough.

So, with all that established, I’m going to explain to you what I would have done differently to make it the most awesome action movie since Spider-Man 2.

Spider-Man 3: Jacob’s Cut

When the Theatre Version of the movie opens, Spider-Man is beloved, but it’s never really explained why. After all, the last two movies have established his position in the public eye as conflicted. In fact, the continuity between the movies seems pretty bad overall; wouldn’t J. Jonah Jameson, learning his son’s fiancee had run off with the staff photographer, have promptly fired Peter? One last thing; the way the symbiote showed up was too unbelievable. Watch as the Jacob Cut solves all three of these problems simultaneously.

If I had made the movie, it would have had John Jameson back in space when his ship is suddenly hit by a strange meteor. Crashing in New York and about to cause great calamity, he is saved by the timely intervention of one Spider-Man (a plot point borrowed from an early Spider-Man comic and I believe the 90’s cartoon). JJJ, his son saved by Spider-Man, is forced to recant, and Peter’s pictures of the whole event allow him to keep his job. Having just saved a large swath of the city from destruction, love of Spider-Man fills the air and a Spider-Man Day is declared. At the same time, however, a strange black goo from the hull of the ship attaches itself to Peter.

This solves a number of problems. First, the sheer improbability of the one symbiote on Earth crashing next to Spider-Man. Now, it’s with him from a logical progression; it went from the meteor to the ship, and from the ship to Peter. It also creates a clear justification for a huge Spider-Man Day celebration. Finally, it clears up a few lingering issues from the last movie.

Next, the villain problem. They spent the last two movies setting up Harry as the Goblin, so obviously he’s in, but either Sandman or Venom need the cut; neither of them are given the time they deserve in the Theatrical Cut. With the whole “Dark Spidey” theme of this movie, it makes more sense to cut Sandman. Of course, this leaves us with the problem that there’s no villain for 3/4 of the movie while Spider-Man is in the black suit. Here’s how we resolve that:

-Obviously, we make up for the lack of Sandman early on by adding more Harry. He only has one fight with Spider-Man before being taken out and losing his memory. And the problem is, this comes without any set-up from this movie; it’s all from the last two. If I were making the movie, I’d spend some time setting up Harry as being conflicted as to what to do; he understands what Peter had to do but wants revenge nonetheless. When Spider-Man suddenly becomes hugely popular it sets him over the edge; I see lots of back-scene action in the Goblin Armour (such as when he threatened Mary Jane) meant to ruin Peter’s life. Rearrange the timing of the first fight scene to come later. The pacing would work a lot better this way.

-With Sandman gone, we can also move the corrupting influence of the suit up; have the whole thing happen earlier, about half-way through the movie instead of 3/4. This lets Eddie Brock have more time in the suit, to really develop him. The movie tried to establish him as a doppelganger for Peter, like Spider-Man but without the responsibility. Sadly, this doesn’t come off well because he simply doesn’t have enough screen time. With more Eddie Brock time, and Venom appearing earlier (about the time Harry leaves the scene), this could be resolved.
-As an addition, they also need to use this time to establish Venom as much, much more powerful than Spider-Man, to make the ending fight seen like a bigger deal. It wasn’t clear in the Theatrical Cut that Venom was any different power-wise.

The stuff with Peter being corrupted needs some brushing up, but no major changes. Mainly I’d edit it to accommodate the other things I’ve changed about the script. As well, I’d cut Gwen Stacy; she doesn’t add anything more than any other girl would, and it’s a waste of a character fans love. The one big thing I’d try to make clear? That Spider-Man acting like a jerk turns the city against him again; he just blows all the goodwill he gained from saving the spaceship.

Anyway, here we are, a little over half-way through. Harry is defeated from that cool last fight they had in the movie, and just sort of reflecting on what he’s done. Peter has done a lot of bad things, and must combat his demons personified as Venom. I feel this last point is really important; Venom is quite literally the parts of his personality he has rejected, all his mistakes taken physical form. He should be haunted by the specter of what this thing can do to him, and the fact that he’s responsible for it’s creation. The movie didn’t do nearly as well in this regard.

Not sure about the Mary Jane kidnapping at the end; it’s sort of old hat after it happened in the last two movies. Still, there needs to be some sort of personal stake. Not quite sure how I’d resolve that (I don’t pretend to have all the answers). In the fight, Spider-Man should be utterly outclassed by Venom, and only saved by the timely intervention of Harry as the Green Goblin; ideally, he’d arrive on the scene with the audience not knowing who’s side he was on until he actually attacked Venom. I love the idea of Harry dying by being impaled by his own glider saving Peter; a great contrast to the death of his father, and one of my favourite parts of the Theatrical Cut.

So Harry dies having injured Venom, Spider-Man finishes him off, everyone’s happy. But not quite. Peter and Mary Jane are still on uncertain terms (as with the Theatrical Cut), the city is back to being divided on what to think about Spider-Man, and Harry is dead (even if he died a hero). I liked the last shot of the movie better than most, and I think it would work pretty well under these terms.

Basically, what I want to establish is Harry and Eddie as two different sides of Peter. Eddie is Spider-Man let loose, without any thought given to responsibility. Harry, on the other hand, undergoes a development that parallels Peter’s, understanding the need to use his power responsibility for good. The movie tries to do this, but it doesn’t spend enough time on either to make it work. Getting rid of Sandman would help fix that.

On last thing the movie needs is one great “Hero” moment for Spider-Man near the end. As it is in the Theatrical Cut, he spends most of the movie being an unlikeable jerk, then has his ass saved by Harry. When Spider-Man screwed up in the last movie his atoning act of heroism involved being crucified on the front of an L-Train. It was the ultimate expression of responsibility and his need to set things right, and this movie doesn’t have anything to compare. The thing is, it needs it. After all the shit Peter pulls in the black suit, he needs something to redeem him. He gets the shit beat of him in the end, but he doesn’t seem to do much heroic. Even the way he defeats Venom comes off as somewhat lame.

Again, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not completely sure what a scene like this would entail; after all, how does one top the blatant Christ-imagery of the Train Scene? It was spectacularly done, encapsulating what’s so hard about being Spider-Man and also why it’s so important. To be honest, I can’t think of how to top it. I may have ideas for fixing Spider-Man 3, but I can’t think of much to do better than Spider-Man 2. In a way, the new movie is handicapped by it’s need to compete with it’s illustrious predecessor. It tries to do this by just adding “more”, but it fails to give these the same emotional weight of Spider-Man 2.

Of course, despite the fact I just spent all that time dismantling the movie to describe what I thought they did wrong, I did enjoy it. It was a pretty good action movie, even if it wasn’t as good as it could be. And it had the best Stan Lee cameo of anything, ever:

“Looks like one man can make a difference. ‘Nuff said.”

Editor’s Note: Having seen the movie again since writing this, my opinion of it has only gone down. There’s a lot of problems with it. My suggestions here are meant as a fix to the film as it is; a better solution might have been to simply gut the script and start from scratch. Another major development is that, since Iron Man, this is no longer Stan Lee’s best cameo.

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Entry filed under: review. Tags: , , .

Wherein I Reflect on Failure Go Spidey Go

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