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‘Spider-Man 3’ Falls Victim to Superhero Studio Growing Pains

What a shame that the growing pains of this system had to wreck Raimi’s otherwise successful trilogy.



Fighting Venom in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, Peter Parker remembers how the symbiote was affected by the sound of church bells, and assembles a cage of metal pipes. With the creature in distress, he heroically rescues Eddie Brock and tosses one of the Goblin’s pumpkin bombs at it; Brock doesn’t want to lose his power, and he blows up with the symbiote. Later, Sandman explains what happened to Uncle Ben, and Peter forgives him. Meanwhile, Harry lies dying, having redeemed himself by saving Spidey and Mary Jane. Three separate endings, three different emotions.

This sequence at the end of Spider-Man 3 easily encapsulates the film’s messy editing, silly plot, and troubled production, but it sells short the buried remnants of worthy filmmaking. Ultimately, absent the wonder of the first or the depth of the second, Spider-Man 3 has very little to hang its hat on to characterize it beyond its failures. That the film is known as such a legendary misstep can obscure the lessons it has for the superhero movies of today, but cannot hide the disappointing experience of watching it.

Spider-Man 3 is a classic example of too many cooks spoiling the broth. This is historically referred to as the “too many villains” problem, but the problematic upper layer disguises deeper ones beneath. Other comic book adaptations have employed more than three villains to great effect – Spider-Man 3 simply misuses its antagonists at almost every turn. Sandman has an amazing transformation sequence, but really just shows up to grunt and smash things after that (do not get me started on connecting him to Uncle Ben’s death). Notoriously, Venom was included against director Sam Raimi’s wishes, and Topher Grace was probably not the best choice either way. Harry, whose relationship with Mary Jane and Peter has opportunities for real pathos, really should have stuck around to be sorted out in a less overstuffed movie.

Each villain is disposed of as flippantly as they are tossed into the script, with little room for explanation (Sandman, whose motivation is the most humane, simply disintegrates with no indication as to what happens next). What’s worse is how each villain’s story contains the bones of a pretty-darn-good Spider-Man story. Sandman, obviously, has his obligation to his daughter and a stellar intro in the particle physics thingy (one of the few aspects of the story that works without too much explanation), while even Venom has its merits.

The black-suit portion of the film – yes, the dance sequence included – is true to the tone of the first two films in its honest and goofy externalization of Peter’s psyche. This could have been the major source of conflict in an ideal version of the story, and these days it’s easy to imagine Peter losing his black suit at the climax, with the birth of Venom showing up in a post-credits scene. Such glimpses of brilliance are a testament to the director whose vision brought the first two films to life. Sam Raimi was not interested in using Venom for 3, and the final design of the villain himself is dumb, dumb, dumb (despite some cool Akira-inspired effects on the symbiote, pre-Venom), yet there are still attempts at creative presentation throughout.

A little over an hour in, Raimi delivers a wonderful example of cinematic storytelling with Mary Jane leaving the Jazz club. A cool sign, then pan down, MJ leaves looking dejected, and as she turns down the street, the owner takes down a “Waitresses Wanted” sign. MJ walks off into a crowd of faces, her dreams of stardom dashed. These are not the bargain basement technicals of a Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3 – they are touches of great filmmaking in an unremarkable film.

What about those lessons for future films? Spider-Man 3 is not a positive example but points to modern superhero movies as much as the two that came before it. The first gave fans a true-to-the-character origin story; Spider-Man 2, absent needing to lay the table anymore, was able to delve deeper into Peter’s psyche. Spider-Man 3, on the other hand, was the 21st century’s introduction to studios handcuffing the tone and content of their films.

On paper, Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 would have avoided several of the movie’s biggest issues (his involvement with Uncle Ben was there from the start, but hey, nobody is perfect) such as Venom’s rushed intro and sudden alliance with Sandman. Like Connors in the final cut, Eddie Brock was supposed to be a minor character and Easter egg for a later film. Unfortunately, almost any series begins to bloat expectations three movies in, and this is where the studio made its moves. Raimi was overworked, pushed around, and ultimately denied his vision for the movie, leaving a half-baked trilogy of plot threads that never quite come together.

However, this has also led directly to the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (do not forget that Kevin Feige produced plenty of Marvel films before spearheading the MCU). Since the similarly-hamstrung-by-studio-mandate Iron Man 2, Marvel Studios has refined the process that resulted in Spider-Man 3 into a well-oiled machine where directors even willingly relinquish some control so that the film series remains on-brand. What a shame that the growing pains of this system had to wreck Raimi’s otherwise successful trilogy.

Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.



  1. Ricky D

    July 14, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Spider-Man 3 may have one too many villains but at least it tries to do something with all three villains, whereas the Marvel films cast some of the world’s greatest actors and doesn’t give them anything to do. Kurt Russell (GOTG) – wasted. Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) – wasted. Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2) – wasted.

    Spider-Man 3 is a hot mess but it is one hell of an interesting film and Sam Raimi is such a gifted filmmaker that even his worst movie, is ten times better than most superhero films.

    Great article though.

    • Mitchell Ryan

      July 14, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Thanks a bunch!

      I definitely agree about the new Marvel films’ villains, and that Spider-Man 3 is lightyears ahead of other superhero misfires (except for the scene where Venom and Sandman meet. The awfully delivered ‘I hate Spider-Man!’ line feels incredibly hacky, which the rest of the script avoids, mostly).

      Here’s something that didn’t make its way into the story, though … I’ve never been a fan of Spider-Man. I have no active disdain for the character, the stories just don’t hold any special relevance for me. When it comes to extolling Raimi’s filmmaking prowess, I’m much more of an Evil Dead man.

      • Ricky D

        July 14, 2017 at 12:56 pm

        Evil Dead is the best!

        Yes, there was a lot of studio interference with the third installment, but he still brings his Sam Raimi style. Stylistically, it is still a Sam Raimi film.

        I also like Richard Donner’s Superman II which also have major studio interference.

        I’m curious to watch this film again. I’ve seen the first two multiple times but I haven’t seen this since it was released, but I did see it twice, and I do remember liking a lot about it.

        • Mitchell Ryan

          July 14, 2017 at 9:57 pm

          Definitely check it out again, the black-suit scenes are great, almost in the same way the parade sequence in Spider-Man is great.

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past



Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.



Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood

A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.



Ford v Ferrari

Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.

When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.

Ford v Ferrari

Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.

Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.

Ford v Ferrari

Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.

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