“Peter has to put aside his prideful self. He must put aside his desire for vengeance. He has to learn that we are all sinners. He has to learn forgiveness.”
– Director Sam Raimi, official press materials for Spider-Man 3-
To say that the Spider-Man films have Christian themes is an understatement on par with “Tiger Woods is a good golfer” or “Rosie O’Donnell talks too much”. It’s a given. I mean look at Raimi’s quote again. This isn’t a Christian movie reviewer saying this, it’s the director of the movie. You know, the guy in charge of delivering the movie’s overall quality and message. And he’s not just saying it to a Christian reviewer as part of some “faith based” strategy. It’s in the bona–fide, official media guide. If part one was “Peter Parker:Superstar” and part two was “The Passion of the Parker” then you might as well just call part 3 “The gospel according to St. Peter”. Spider-Man 3 even takes the allegory and symbolism up a notch. In fact, the movie is written at times like it comes straight from scripture, “I love you as your father loved me.” is just one example of lines that would feel more at home in an ancient scroll than a modern day superhero movie. The truth is I don’t have the time or energy to go into all the spiritual themes and allegories that present themselves over the course of the 150 minutes of Spidey goodness, but sufficed to say it’s a pretty compelling bit of messagery that centers around the need for and power of forgiveness (Christianity Today does a good job of summarizing it in this interview ). Yet, it is only one part of what makes this movie great.
Spider-Man films have a lot to live up to. The first and second entries were embraced by both critics and the public. Before seeing #3 this weekend the buzz I was hearing was split. Critics were saying it was pretty bad and my friends were saying it was awesome. My brother, whose opinion on all matter super-heroic I value, fell somewhere in between, giving it a six (he didn’t say out of what, but I’m assuming 10). So, I really didn’t know what to expect. I only knew that they had quite a job ahead of them if they were going to match what they pulled off with the second one. Did they? Not quite. In fact, my first response was that this movie was the worst of the bunch, not by a lot, but still a B maybe B+ in the scheme of things. As I got more and more distance from it though, I realized how many of these scenes I wanted to see again. From the opening tussle between New Goblin and an unsuited Parker, to the finale where four super powered freaks go head to head to head to head, the battles in this film were astounding. As a straight up action movie it was incredible. My view of the film started to increase, but there was still something not quite there.
Well, the message is spot on, and the action is intense, so it must have been the humor that docked it points?
Nope, it’s really funny too. J.K. Simmons’ Jameson remains a great source for comic relief and Bruce Campbell’s waiter cameo was worth the price of admission by itself.
Ok, not the action, message, or humor, it’s the acting then?
Not really, Tobey, Kirsten and the rest of the regulars continue to do fine (with the usual unfortunate exception of James Franco’s over the top Harry), and the newcomers (Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace, and Bryce Dallas Howard) are phenomenal.
Fine, I give up, why is it an A- and not an A+?
Honestly, I think it’s the direction. It just seems sloppy at times. All the pieces are there, but the pacing seems off (too much start and stop), and the order seems mangled. There are even back and forth cuts between scenes that make no logical sense. That’s a device you use to emphasize parallel stories, not further plot, isn’t it? It’s as if you went to Subway, ordered a club sub with tomatoes and Mayo and they put the meat and cheese in the bread, but then balanced the tomatoes on top of the bun and spread the Mayo on the bottom of the sandwich. Sure, it’s the same ingredients and it probably tastes the same, but the presentation is a bit off and you need some extra patience (and napkins) to get through it.
Overall, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film, made even more amazing by some wonderfully deep truths embedded in the story. If Raimi’s only fault is that the delivery is a bit botched I think I can forgive him. After all, that’s what Spider-Man would do.