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Film Reviews: Spider-Man 3 and 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

It’s been too long since these films to come out for these thoughts to be considered current or topical, and neither film merits intense discussion, so I’ll merge my musings (alliteration!) on the two into one semi-coherent post.

Let’s take it chronologically, with Spider-Man 3. After the first two films, which increased in quality (an impressive feat), the pressure was on for the third film. Perhaps because of this, it would be inevitable that the result couldn’t match its predecessors. A bloated film that still felt lacking in content, it can only be graded as competent.

A big sticking point in the narrative flow is the huge pile-up of coincidences that litter the film (John August covers it perfectly in this piece). There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s taking the piss. Another aspect is too many villains; I can understand that Venom is thematically the satisfactory choice, linking to the dark Spider-Man theme, and is visually arresting, but so little time is devoted to him it feels tagged on (perhaps a reaction from Raimi’s reluctance to use the character at the insistence of Avi Arad). The Sandman looks amazing, but the weak character backstory, the ridiculously unnecessary retcon of him being the murder of Uncle Ben, and the feeble use of the character throughout all add up to a shoulder shrug towards him. Harry Osborn fits better, but the amnesia thing (oh dear), the being told information by his butler and the sudden about-turn at the end all came out as silly, rather than a noble transformation.

Visually, the film had some spectacular moments (although the fight between Harry and Spidey had too much going on too quickly – I understand how this reflects the way a super-powered battle would ensue, but it doesn’t make it fun to watch) but kept on being let down by the story and by moments that I couldn’t believe I had just seen: the English TV reporter was the most embarrassing thing I’ve seen on film in some time; this is after the Emo Peter has done the stupid brush of his hair downwards (oh dear) and his ‘is it deliberately funny or accidentally funny’ Saturday Night Fever dance walk. Why did we need Gwen Stacey by the way? Completely pointless. Almost as pointless as having James Cromwell in the film; as Mike calls it, what a waste of James Cromwell. All in all, a film that could have been so much better.

The verdict for Spider-Man 3 can be applied to 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (silly title) – it could have been so much better. A film with the Silver Surfer in it can’t be all bad – just seeing him on screen brought a smile to my face. However, a single item does not a film make, and he couldn’t save this movie.

Let me start with the major problem with the film: Jessica Alba. She is not Sue Storm. The rest of the Fantastic Four is well cast – Chiklis and Evans fill their roles perfectly, and Gruffudd has matured into Richards well – but Alba seems completely out of place, even when they try to convince you she is smart by putting glasses on (the classic movie shorthand for a pretty girl with brains). This is a real shame, because her character is a strong female character in the normally male world of superheroes and Alba does not do the Sue justice, no matter how easy on the eye she is.

The next problem is the piecemeal approach to the story, taking some aspects from the original comics and some from Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Extinction version (and wasn’t that great, having Richards do the Ellis-written speech about nerds? Even with the easy coda of Alba saying ‘I’m so hot for you right now’ afterwards.) and not mixing them very well. The Ultimate version gave us the Galactus Cloud, which works in that story, but the original comics (which inspire these films more) need to have the giant Galactus with the silly helmet for the heroes to fight against, rather than leave the climactic final battle to the guest star in this film.

Still, the film is light and entertaining and slightly better than the first film, even if it doesn’t get the real feel of a FF story. There is a great scene at the end where Johnny is essentially the Super Skrull and fighting Doom, who has Silver Surfer’s powers. That’s what a FF film should be like the whole way through. The character moments should still be there but as an accessory to the action, rather than the clunky bits in between they have here. There is a lightness to the whole thing (perhaps too light, to go for the family audience) that makes the 90 minutes zip by, but you are left feeling that there was more of a movie in there.

However, when you have the Silver Surfer in a film (albeit in too few scenes, and I didn’t think the voice of Lawrence Fishburne was quite right for the character) and he looks that good, it’s hard to be too harsh.

Rating for both films: DA

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