Thursday, May 04, 2017

The End of the Spider-Man Trilogy

Sequels are seldom worthy successors to the originals.

Sometimes a second chapter is necessary only so it is possible to move on to a third. I have always thought that was the case with the "Back to the Future" movies, and I definitely feel that way about the "Spider–Man" movies, the third installment of which made its debut on this day in 2007.

As I observed yesterday, I liked the "Spider–Man" movie from 2002 — and I liked its second sequel, the one that premiered 10 years ago today. The second movie, which premiered in 2004, didn't have much going for it, as far as I was concerned.

(The third part of a trilogy isn't always so great. The third chapters of "The Godfather" and original "Star Wars" trilogies easily make that case.)

Not everyone felt that way. Film critic Roger Ebert and I frequently had similar reactions to movies — but not the "Spider–Man" trilogy.

And it all seems to have hinged on the character of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). I had no problems with him, but Ebert apparently did.

"The great failing of 'Spider–Man 3' is that it failed to distract me from what a sap Peter Parker is," Ebert wrote. "It lingers so long over the dopey romance between Peter and the long–suffering Mary Jane [Kirsten Dunst] that I found myself asking the question: Could a whole movie about the relationship between these two twentysomethings be made? And my answer was: No, because today's audiences would never accept a hero so clueless and a heroine so docile."

I thought that was a bit harsh, considering that the movie's sole purpose was to entertain — not to make some profound statement.

Well, perhaps that wasn't its sole purpose. I wouldn't rule out the money motive. The original "Spider–Man" became the first movie to exceed $100 million at the box office in its first weekend on American movie screens. Its sequel, which was released in 2004, beat the original's opening–day record by $1 million.

It was logical to expect a similar response to the third movie, and it didn't disappoint — well, not entirely. It was the highest–grossing film of the three movies in the trilogy — but, although the DVD sales grossed more than $120 million, they still came up short of expectations.

Anyway, Ebert and I were never on the same page on the "Spider–Man" movies. He didn't like the first and third movies; I did.

On the other hand, he did like the second movie. "Now this is what a superhero movie should be," he wrote of that first sequel. I thought the only purpose for the second movie (other than to make a lot of money) was to be a bridge between the first and second movies. I still think that, for that matter.

Go figure.

Anyway, I can kind of understand where some folks were coming from in their criticism — the ones who complained that there were too many stories going on at once.

Yes. There were quite a few stories being told.

There were the continuing stories dating back to the original movie — of Peter Parker and M.J., of Parker's newspaper career and his editor (J.K. Simmons) and of the son of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), whose spirit urged his son to seek vengeance (and tried to do so through M.J.).

And there was some new stuff. There was Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard's talented and beautiful daughter) who played Parker's lab partner and temporary love interest.

There was also the introduction of a new villain, played by Thomas Haden Church, who, as it turned out, had been responsible for the death of Parker's uncle (Cliff Robertson). His aunt (Rosemary Harris) was back.

Yep, there was a lot going on. Nothing neat and orderly about it. But isn't that the burden of a superhero?