Friday, May 4, 2007

Sometimes I Hate Being Right...


(MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS TO BE POSTED. If you have plans on seeing the movie, do NOT read this).


When I heard they were doing Venom, I knew it was going to royally screw things up. Why?

  • Spiderman 1 + 2 were setting up for Harry Osbourne to become the Green Goblin 2. Along with that comes a REVENGE story.
  • The problem is the Venom storyline is not a revenge story. It is a story of an IDENTITY CRISIS.

From that point on, I knew things were going to be messed up. Here is an excerpt from The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri:

QUESTION; IS it possible to write one play on two premises?

ANSWER: It is possible, but it will not be a good play. Can you go in two different directions at the same time? The dramatist has a big enough job on his hands to prove one premise, let alone two or three. A play with more than one premise is
necessarily confused.

And we have located the problem with SPIDERMAN 3, before ever stepping foot inside the theater, or reading the script, or knowing anything other than the characters.

What blew me away was that it not only tried to juggle two premises... it tried to juggle upwards of SIX, if not more. It was worse than I had ever imagined. The themes that are vaguely present and somewhat expanded upon in Spiderman 3 are, in no particular order:


Note: Egri intentionally makes no distinction between premise and theme. I do. I think a movie can present multiple themes, while still having only a singular premise. They can exist together in some form. You just can NOT try to PROVE more than one.

Unfortunately, Spiderman 3 tries to prove ALL of them. Symptoms include the drawn out the drawn out ending and a majority of the corny dialogue.

So let's get to the nitty-gritty.

The script sucked.

The script was 100% to blame. Whether it be the studios, the director, or the writer that made it that way, I have no idea. All I can tell you from watching the movie is that it was very obvious that the script was at fault. Evidence:

  1. The movie, in TONE, played move like a sappy romance than a Spiderman movie.
  2. Opportunities to use the VISUAL METAPHORS inherent from the comic books where completely wasted.
  3. Opportunities for GREAT CHARACTER INTROS where BLOWN!
  4. Complete lack of DRAMATIC TENSION, which resulted in melodrama.
  5. Flat and in some places just horrible Dialogue.
  6. Inconsistencies.


This goes hand in hand with genre. People are going to see SPIDERMAN 3, a superhero blockbuster, because they want to see the hero kick some badguy butt in only the way Spiderman can.

Not to see a sappy, overly drawn out romance. And a bad one at that. The love story is, will be, and ALWAYS has been SECONDARY to the plights of being Spiderman. The love story is an OBSTACLE to being Spiderman, but it is not THE story of being Spiderman.


It is the same mistake made time and time again with comic book adaptation. Particularly those of the superhero variety.

  • Comic books have this unique way of turning inner turmoil into externalized Action.
  • Movies MUST externalize inner conflict.

I think most comic book movies get OVER-analyzed to death. To put it simply, you could have the most absolutely mundane plot, as long as you cash in on the visual metaphor to its fullest.

Simply have Spiderman go around doing his thing, saving the day, being the hero, and when the Venom symbiote attaches itself to Spidey, all of a sudden he starts doing bad things.


Oh nos!

Now he starts hurting those around him and has to decide whether or not to keep the symbiote. INNER CONFLICT. See how easy it was to get to inner conflict?

Then he finds out he can't. You have both INNER and EXTERNAL CONFLICT. The act of Spidey trying to remove the symbiote is now completely integrated with his INNER CONFLICT.

That is the definition of visual metaphor. Most comic books innately externalize the inner conflict. The symbiote is an AMAZING externalization of the conflict within ones own self.

Here's where the movie got muddy...

Eddie Brock. essentially Peter Parker. A darker version.

Venom essentially Spiderman. A darker version.

See the parallel here?

Eddie Brock's "revenge" story is really Peter Parker's IDENTITY CRISIS story. The revenge aspect is simple plot, to give Eddie motivation to put Venom and Spiderman head to head. But it is not the CORE of that story. The IDENTITY CRISIS is.

Peter Parker gets the symbiote. Gets power. Cocky. Hurts those he loves. What have I become? Decides to lose the symbiote. Finds out he can't. Goes to the bell tower because he knows sonics hurts it. And removes it.

Meanwhile, Eddie Brock has been shown up by Peter Parker at every turn. Peter always gets the perfect shot of Spiderman. Spiderman saves the day. Hell, it'd even STRENGTHEN Eddie's character to have him save the day, only to be overshadowed by Spiderman. Now, you're hitting his character on all cylinders. He can't accomplish ANYTHING because of both Peter Parker and Spiderman.

In a rut, Eddie goes to the church. Praying for forgiveness of his sins... Why? Because he is about to kill himself. Suicide.

The bell rings. Venom symbiote drips on him. And what do we have? A good old-fashion, hero's journey, RESSURECTION. The symbiote knows Parker/Spiderman's secrets. And now EddieBrock/Venom does too.

And there's innate structure in that as well. Getting the symbiote is the INCITING INCIDENT (Call to Adventure). The need for Parker to get rid of it is the MIDPOINT. Parker getting rid of it is the ORDEAL. And Venom being created is the twist that propels the Third Act.

Everything else is gravy. Mind you, it should be steeped in IDENTITY CRISIS gravy. but gravy none-the-less.

There really is no room for Harry's REVENGE story in that. The one thing that actually did fit, however, was Harry's amnesia. The nice thing about his amnesia was that it opened up the door to put the REAL Harry Osbourne comic book stuff in there. You could have had Harry doping up with his own Identity Crisis, while Peter was "doping up" on the symbiote of his identity crisis.

Likewise, I thought the idea behind M.J.'s character was a good choice. But... well... to be put bluntly... obviously written by a man. It was lacking in execution, let's say.


Where the f--- were they?

I can harp on all of them, but I'm going to stick with Venom because it is by far the WORST of the bunch, that could have easily been the best.

So... Eddie Brock gets dipped in leftover Peter Parker goo. It really isn't clear what happened at this point (Bear with me, comic book fans. I know, you know what happens, but still, to tell a dramatic story, you need to pretend no one knows).

Did the symbiote kill him? Is he something new? It's up in the air.

So, you have M.J. at home. Maybe she's sad. Still pissed at Peter for combing his hair down in front of his eyes to be Emo-Parker. Spiderman swings in through. It's dark. All you see is the black suit. The black suit spider symbol. The white eyes.

M.J. rants and raves. Wants him to leave. And "Spiderman" smiles. In the darkness, a giant white, toothy grin.

See, what happened there? Nice little twist. Intro of a new character. Your Venom fans would LOVE you. Plus you're actually using the original material. The only ones left in the dark, but now incredibly intrigued (and most likely with 1/2 a clue after seeing Brock doused in symbiote) are the non-fans. But, man... you've hooked them.

A brief segway: A little backstory on VENOM.

Besides having all of Spiderman's powers. Being bigger and stronger. He does have an extra bonus, that is rarely used anymore. He doesn't set off Spidey's Spider-Sense.

Let that sink in for a moment. No one can sneak up on Spiderman because of that damn Spidey sense. No one, except Venom.

THIS HAS TO BE CAPITALIZED ON! Really, there's no point for the power other than to make a very, very frightening character entrance.

Being a movie, makes this a little harder to sell. But being a sequel, and third at that, helps. His Spidey sense has been established (Hell, it's how he kills the Green Goblin... or lives I should say). A minor scene early in the third movie to establish that no one can sneak up on him would pay off HUGE for a later Venom intro.

Pretty much all character intros dropped the ball. Peter, Mj, Spidey, Harry. They aren't really introduced. They are just there.

The Sandman with his powers intro was the one real saving grace. Well handled. I thought it was great to see him actually learning how to be Sandman.


I'll just refer back to my previous post on dramatic tension.

This happens because the movie doesn't have a central idea. Instead the only thing it has to cling to is plot. And because plot doesn't give the huge emotional swings that creating tension through a central premise does... well...

You get scenes like... Harry, as the Green Goblin, abducting M.J. for no real reason (other than that shock scare). If Harry hadn't abducted her, he probably could have had the EXACT SAME RESULT just by flirting with her a little more.

Cut that scene, and M.J. breaking up with Peter would seem fine as well. You'd never notice it missing.

You also get a lot of talking heads. And very unmotivated action.

Not to mention a predictability that makes me want to hurt someone. Did anyone seriously thing Harry wasn't going to come back and save the day at the end?

Bad choices also lead to a lack of dramatic tension... the first example of Sandman's power is to become a giant sand monster. Umm, that's really cool. I actually leaned over to my g/f in the movie and was like, that's a bad choice. You have no where to go from there, without being redundant or less cool.

Show him making rock fists. And sliding under stuff to start.

My g/f laughed with a "You were right" when you see the even bigger Sandman at the end. It's like... oh yeah... great... an even bigger sand man. Didn't we see this already?


M.J. and Parker sitting in a web. Looking at the stars. A couple lines about the play. And how much she likes to sing. Followed by a TOTALLY unnecessary:

"I love you."
"I love you, too."

And then they kiss.


How about... her return line being something more like... "But you have to stop singing along." And then they kiss.

That says more about the playful nature of their relationship, while still saying I love you, without actually saying it.

Similar comments for the majority of "deep" conversations between M.J. and Parker. There is a hefty lack of subtext. The scene in the French restaurant nearly killed me. It was a great scene up until the point where M.J. shows up and becomes a total rag. Good job on that characterization boys.

For future reference, the overwhelming majority of female leads/co-stars/etc in comic books are BADASS! Tough as nails. They have to be to keep pace with their superheroic counterpart. Lois Lane in SUPERMAN RETURNS, is NOT Lois Lane. M.J. is not M.J. in this flick.


I never knew sand could fly.

Apparently, a bomb going off next to someone's face, only disfigures half their face. Yet, that same bomb going off next to Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote completely disintegrates them.

Hmm... Do you think Sam Raimi hated Venom? /grumble Make me do Venom. Fine! I'll just make sure no one else can use him. So much for the Carnage storyline, eh?

The whole movie is one large inconsistency.

This movie was a let down on all fronts. As a screenwriter. As a Spiderman/comic book fan. As a fan of blockbuster tentpoles. As a normal person that wants to see a good movie at the theater.

I don't typically like doing movie reviews. And to be honest, this isn't much of a movie review. This was a dissection of SPIDERMAN 3 and why it is so heavily flawed. Gotta keep those screenwriting skills honed and sharp.


Hollywood Hack said...

"I never knew sand could fly."

Of course it can, it's called a dust storm.

Please tell me (like in the comic book) they finally kill off MJ. Please, please, please.

James said...

Blown with the wind and fly are two different things :)

There was one guy in the audience that loved it when Parker hit M.J.


was his exact words.

Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... I know that I, at least, went in expecting the story of Harry Osborn vs. Peter Parker, but instead just got a bloated mess that, admittedly, still had splashes of brilliance

James said...

Read your stuff. Seems like, pretty much everyone feels the same. My brother called me last night and was like, "Dude, wtf!"

On a side not, I don't think there were too many villains. I just think the writer didn't know how to handle all of them in balance with the story.

Spiderman (and Batman) are notorious for having hordes of badguys teaming up in one arc.

The trick is which ones to emphasize and which ones to push into the background as more or less, normal Spiderman everyday life.

Sandman should have been toned WAY down. My guess, is that because he was the only remainder from the original James Cameron scripts is why he got bumped up so much.

The first 2 Spiderman movies were HEAVILY influenced by Cameron's 1991 and 1993 Spiderman scripts. The last one was a hodge-podge.

Like you can't tell lol.

You should be able to do a plot villain and an intimate villain and get away with hordes of characters.

For instance... have the Vulture doing something, but hiring the Rhino or other lesser villains (The Scorpion) to gather the materials he needs for his anti-aging deal.

Meanwhile, in the background is the Eddie Brock/black Spiderman/Venom storyline.

So now you can see how Spiderman was before the symbiote, during, while trying to get rid of it, and after.

When he finally gets rid of it, now he has to fight the Vulture (who's story can fit into an IDENTITY CRISIS... "Oh, I wish I were young again.") Spidey shows up to save the day...

And Venom shows up to kick his butt.

The trick really is structure. You'd have to wrap up The Vulture type story prior to the third act. Essentially it would drive the first Two Acts, be resolved at the end, but the splintering off of the symbiote has created a new problem... a Third Act.

Spidey NEEDS something to do while black Spiderman, right? So make it something good. Spiderman good. Rather than pimping the bitches, smacking the hos, Emo Spdierman style.