Spider-Man 3 (fight 5 of 5)

In which Spider-Man receives help from an unlikely ally!

Uh, no, she's not who I'm talking about. But it's about time she contributed

Uh, no, she’s not who I’m talking about. But it’s about time she contributed

5) Spider-Man and New Goblin vs Sandman and Venom

The Fighters:

  • Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker. Back in his red & blue outfit. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • The New Goblin, aka Harry Osborn. About half his pretty face got burned real ugly in the last confrontation, but considering the size of the explosion he was lucky that’s all he got. Playing the hero this time. Played by James Franco.
    • Armed with: His full bag of tricks.
  • Sandman, aka Flint Marko. He’s using the excessive amount of dirt in the vicinity to make himself bigger and denser than ever. Played by Thomas Haden Church.
  • Venom (he’s never called that in the movie), aka Eddie Brock, Peter’s sleazy rival. Brock’s role here is roughly the same as in the comic– disgraced journalist blames Peter Parker & Spider-Man for his troubles, even though they’re really his own fault– but the character has been subtly tweaked to be a “dark,” conscience-free version of Peter even before his transformation (the casting of Grace enhances this, considering the comic Brock has a physique much closer to, well, Thomas Haden Church’s). After Peter expelled the symbiote suit from his body, it bonded with the nearby Eddie*, creating a monster with every reason to hate Spider-Man. As Venom, Brock sports an altered version of the black Spidey costume, and boasts physical strength and black webbing that are superior to Spider-Man’s. Missing from the comic book is how the symbiote allows Venom to bypass Peter’s spider sense, and the unnerving way Venom, being two personalities in one body, refers to himself as “we.” Played by Topher Grace.

Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane is along as the bait yet AGAIN. She helps out a smidgen this time, but mostly her role in this consists of falling through the sky over & over. Oddly, the movie never addresses the fact that the big obstacle between her and Peter in the first two movies is how her being close to Spider-Man could make her a target, and yep, that’s exactly what happens here. Speaking of which, how come nobody else in New York ever asks why this lady keeps getting held hostage by supervillains looking to rumble with Spider-Man? The first and third kidnappings were quite public, and the police at least knew about her abduction at Doc Ock’s lair in part 2.

[*Eddie was nearby because, in an amazing coincidence, he just happened to be downstairs in the church while Peter was ridding himself of the symbiote. Everything creepy & weird about Brock is encapsulated in how he a) went to that church to pray for God to murder Peter Parker for him, and b) he addresses Jesus as “sir.”]

The Setup: Fairly involved. Having worn the suit for too long, Peter eventually hit rock bottom and accidentally hit Mary Jane after an evening spent emotionally humiliating her. Knowing that the suit is enabling his behavior, he tries to take it off, but it resists, having bonded too closely. Only the ringing of a nearby church bell seems to stun it long enough to him to escape its grasp. (This is actually straight from the source material.) The suit desperately heads for the nearest replacement host, who happens to be Eddie Brock.

Soon enough, the suited Venom finds Sandman (… somehow) and offers an alliance, seeing as they have a mutual interest in stopping Spider-Man. One would think that Marko would have every reason to stay faaaaaaar away from Spider-Man, actually, but instead this noble victim of tragic circumstance immediately agrees to team up with psychopathic alien monster so they can murder a hero together. Makes perfect sense.

Rather than opting for something sensible like sneaking into his house at night and stabbing him, the two abduct Mary Jane and dangle her from an enormous web structure atop a construction site. Yes, a superhero fight at a construction site, sorry to blow your mind. When the news cameras show up, the villains ensure their invitation is suitably blunt.

One of Eddie's many failings was that he took the wrong moral away from reading Charlotte's Web

Another weird thing about Eddie Brock was that he took the COMPLETE wrong lesson away from reading Charlotte’s Web

Between the two of them, no police are able to get close enough to effect a rescue, and apparently the city’s National Guard unit was on field maneuvers or something.

Meanwhile, Peter correctly figures this is too much for him to handle alone and goes to Harry to ask for help. Harry lays on the guilt trip again, but rather than apologizing or quite reasonably pleading self-defense, Peter offers a simple “she needs us.” Harry waves him off, but later on his elderly butler strolls in and offers his unsolicited medical opinion on how Norman’s wounds were clearly caused by his own glider, so maybe Harry should get over himself already.

Still, Spider-Man shows up alone, though the gathered crowds still cheer him and he takes a second to pause before Old Glory one last time. He makes his way to where MJ’s being held in a taxi suspended high up and tries to comfort her, but Venom ambushes him shortly after.

The Fight: With his advanced speed & strength, Venom shuts Spider-Man down pretty quick, and pins him to a bed of webbing dozens of feet below Mary Jane’s taxi. Revealing his face, Eddie taunts his rival for a bit, urging him to remember the humiliation he put Eddie through. Ever lacking in his comic counterpart’s verbal dexterity, Peter just sits there silently, rather than reminding Eddie that he only “humiliated” the guy in response to false & defamatory pictures Eddie made of him. Oh, and also while under the influence of the very same suit Eddie’s wearing now. But whatever. Not like he’s persuadable by logic at this point.

"Well, I hadn't thought about it that way. Good point."

“Well, I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way. Good point.”

All this monologue-ing gives Mary Jane plenty of time to retrieve a loose brick and drop it on the back of Venom’s head just before he delivers the killing blow. While Venom shrieks, Spidey breaks free from the webbing and fights back, causing both to lose their footing. As they tumble through the air, they have a silly but fun mini-battle, slugging it out and launching web projectiles at each other in free-fall. Spider-Man tries valiantly but the villain largely gets the better of him here, finally restraining the hero once again. Peter eventually frees himself but doesn’t web away in time to entirely negate the impact of his fall… in a pile of sand. Ruh roh.

Soon enough the ground itself starts moving, and Sandman emerges, bigger than ever.

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At least he didn’t try climbing with MJ to the top of the Empire State Building.

Our hero avoids Marko’s lumbering swings for a while, then heads back up to rescue Mary Jane, who’s started to fall through the webbing. This leads him wide open to getting blindsided by Venon again (priorities!), and the villain pins him on a girder, then hops down and holds him in place from behind via webbing around the neck.

Sandman repeatedly brings his huge fist down on Spider-Man, slowly pounding the life out of him as the crowd (and one particularly overwrought newscaster) watches in dismay. But just before Marko rears back for the final blow, a small projectile lodges in his neck from off-screen. As the background music fades to hear its rapid beeping and the camera zooms in, we see it’s one of those damned pumpkin bombs.

Hooray! Harry showed up after all. It’s the most predictable Marvel Team-Up ever, but Raimi juices it up with the expert timing of the grenade reveal. As Sandman reels in pain from his half-exploded head, the New Goblin flies by and knocks Venom down for good measure. Raimi continues his directoral swagger by having the inspirational hero music play up as Harry rises dramatically on his glider and offers his friend a hand.

Back to back, the two get to work immediately. Harry first uses the momentum from his board to spin Spidey into a perfectly timed kick at a leaping Venom, then he turns his jets directly onto Sandman, super-heating a good chunk of him into glass.

Picture4

Sick burn

They fly up together and Peter gets dropped off to save their mutual ex-girlfriend, who had started falling down again. They have a bit of a tender/awkward moment as he drops her off higher in the same building (not down below with the police to keep her safe or anything, that would be crazy) and returns to help Osborn deal with Sandzilla, which only gets him punched and knocked down into a half-finished building.

Apparently tiring of this, the Goblin gets sufficient distance from Marko, and fires two missiles at him. Both hit their target with sufficient force to make him topple and break.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man is left alone in a half-finished building, searching for the elusive Venom. After creeping the hero out by making noise from unseen places, he soon reveals himself and smacks the hero down effortlessly, then webs him up once more.

Picture2

Maybe James Cameron’s infamous “web bondage” script wasn’t so crazy after all

Eddie draws out Peter’s execution again, and Peter tries to talk him out of it, telling him he knows all too well the rush of evil power the suit can provide. In a line that perfectly straddles ridiculous and brilliant, Eddie calmly says “I like being bad. It makes me happy.”

Before he can skewer his nemesis with a length of jagged steel, he’s disarmed by two of Harry’s pumpkin blades. The Goblin himself flies in soon after, attempting to stab Venom with the blades in his own glider. Venom dodges and uses his webbing to seize the glider for himself. As Harry falls, he knocks over a few steel bars on the way down, the clattering of which has a brief but noticeable effect on the villain.

Venom leaps over to stab the still-trapped Peter with the glider, but Harry, taking one for the team one last time, leaps into Venom’s path and takes the blades instead, dying the same way his father dead but for the exact opposite reason. Bummer.

His friend’s sacrifice gives Peter enough strength to break free. He hits Venom pretty hard, and keeps him down by using the nearby metal poles to create a constant cacophony– boy genius Peter Parker has been able to deduce that the symbiote is weak against extremely loud noises. Spider-Man wastes little time exploiting this and, in one continuous CGI shot, shoves several poles into the ground around Venom and keeps clanging them together, effectively creating a “cage” of sound. It’s nifty.

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Good thing it’s not a JOHN Cage of sound, as that would have accomplished very little

The symbiote roils in ever-escalating pain, and when it contorts itself loosely enough, Peter uses his webbing to pull Brock out of it. Meanwhile it becomes a big ugly mess, towering into an even more monstrous form. Spider-Man shrinks it back down with one more clang, and flings one of Harry’s spare pumpkin bombs into the writhing mass. Conveniently, Eddie tries to jump back in to save it, and dies in the same explosion that also destroys the suit.

Oh, and afterward, Harry dies in Mary Jane’s arms, and Marko shows up again in more human form but he and Peter just talk it out. Yawn.

This fight scene is basically Spider-Man 3 in miniature: it’s epic, overstuffed, convoluted, clever, and occasionally awesome. The setting is the very definition of generic, but it’s used well enough. You get the real sense of Spider-Man being overmatched by either of the villains separately, let alone together, thus making Harry’s arrival even more welcome– cheesy as it may be. The two friends make a good team, fighting not just alongside each other but cooperatively at a few key points.

But all the creative thinking on display contrasts pretty starkly with just how repetitive and uninspired the staging frequently is. For instance, it’s easy to lose track of how often Venom HAD his nemesis dead-to-rights only to delay giving the final blow juuuuuust long enough for some outside interference to give Spidey a break. After the third or fourth time that happens, the suspense dries out pretty quickly. Similarly, Mary Jane repeatedly finds herself nearly falling to her death– not to mention this whole setup of her as the hostage/bait to kick off the climax was done in each of the previous two films. And Harry’s sacrificial death is the least surprising thing this side of a Scooby Doo episode.

It’s flawed and ambitious, but big enough to make a fitting end to Raimi’s Spider trilogy.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Let’s get mental.

City Trek Into Darkness

City Trek Into Darkness

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Spider-Man 3 (fight 4 of 5)

In which two bros can’t just hug it out.

It’s like this, but it’s also not like this.

4) Peter vs Harry

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. More accustomed than ever to his black suit. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Harry Osborn, aka the New Goblin. Renewing his ill-fated quest for vengeance against Spider-Man. Played by James Franco.

The Setup: In what is possibly the most ridiculous head-slappers of this movie, Harry got freaking amnesia from the injuries he suffered at the end of his last fight. Amnesia. Is there any more clear sign of screenwriters just transparently giving up at finding a way to put a character in narrative “time-out” until it’s convenient? Gah. Specifically, a form of his amnesia that transported him mentally back to around 19 or so, before his life started turning to crap. (Judging from some of Franco’s performance, though, he actually regressed all the way back to kindergarten.) This plot device wears off just after Innocent Harry had an inadvertently romantic moment with a vulnerable Mary Jane, and Osborn decides to seize on this as his chance to hurt Peter on a personal level before baiting him into another confrontation.

Harry blackmails MJ by promising to kill Peter (you know, that thing he’s determined to do anyway) if she doesn’t pretend to dump him for good. After the staged breakup, Harry rubs salt in the wound by violating the Bro Code and telling Peter he’s been having an affair with her. Peter, ever the genius, realizes soon enough that Harry has regained his memory, and goes off to confront him at his home as he melodramatically mixes cocktails in anticipation.

Picture1

Weird how so many people don’t take this movie seriously.

It should be noted that while Peter, shocked at what his new “outfit” was making him do, had taken it off for a while and made an effort to straighten his life out. But when he goes to face Harry, he deliberately puts the suit back on, wanting it to enable his negative behavior.

Also note even though Peter is wearing most of his black suit underneath civilian clothes and Harry’s packing a surprise up his sleeve, both fighters are essentially out of costume. In fact, both times these two fight in the movie, they’re unmasked. Hence the title entry using their real names rather than their alter egos; this isn’t superhero vs supervillain, it’s two “friends” settling old scores.

The Fight: After some more taunting from Harry (he even lifts Sean Bean’s pervy line from Goldeneye about MJ tasting “like strawberries”), Peter goes straight to fisticuffs. He gets in a few good licks, but his eyes open wide when he gets a surprise stab to the gut from his old pal.

Picture2

“I just realized I had sex with Iron Man in Wonder Boys!”

The dagger doesn’t go very deep before Peter slowly pushes Harry’s hand away, but just as the knife is removed from play, Osborn swings at him with some of those forearm claws concealed underneath his dress shirt. He’d been expecting this confrontation.

The weapon is pretty effective at pushing Parker back for a little while, and he even gets a close call when he barely stops it from going right into his eyeball. He catches a lucky break when an errant swing lodges in the wall, allowing the hero to break the blades off with a blow to Harry’s arm.

The two continue to have a pretty solid, mutual beatdown, knocking each other into walls and through windows. The taunts make it even better. After one nasty blow, Osborn asks “How ya like that, Spidey?” to which Spidey replies “That all ya got?” Even better is Harry, when it’s his turn on the ground, growls “I used to protect you in high school, now I’m gonna kick your little ass!” which elicits a delightfully sarcastic “ooooh!” from Peter. It’s not exactly Stan Lee, but it’s appropriately schoolyard.

Franco makes a couple interesting choices in this scene, using subtle body language & snarls to act animalistically– i.e., like a goblin, in contrast to Parker’s graceful, arachnid-like movements.

He gives good Dafoe Face, too

He gives good Dafoe Face, too

For this portion of the fight, there’s no webs, no gadgets, no flying and no swinging. If not for the superhuman strength on display and the extraordinary abuse their bodies are taking, you’d swear this was just a regular fight between two normal people. And that was surely a conscious choice: by keeping the brawl relatively simple, Raimi not only provides variety from the movie’s more wild encounters, but he makes it more personal for the audience.

Eventually, Peter tackles Harry through the mirror that’s actually the entrance to Osborn’s secret Goblin lab. Harry immediately grabs that green sword from its place and starts swinging away again. Peter dodges it all skillfully enough so that it instead ends up hitting pretty much everything else in the lab, including the spare glider that had been idling in the center.

Freed from its tether, the glider goes spinning uncontrollably around the room as the fight rages on. Sensing an opportunity, Peter does a nifty spider move where he grabs Harry by the lapels and pulls them both to the ground. When the board comes around again, Peter throws him into its path. He gets smacked in the face and goes flying into a rack of pumpkin bombs.

Picture4

Remarkably, none of them go off, but Harry’s pretty hurt anyway. He asks if Peter will kill him like he did Norman, but the wayward hero expresses disgust rather than pleading for understanding. He twists the knife by telling Harry his father despised and was embarrassed by him, playing on his friend’s worst fears. Especially jarring is how he finishes it with a “what? You gonna cry?” like he’s a grade school bully.

Harry tries to rise to continue to fight, but a swift chop to the neck puts him right back down, and Peter storms off like Harry is utterly beneath him. Osborn tries to get the last word in by throwing one of the grenades at his old friend, but Peter side-steps the projectile, snags it with a web and returns it to sender.

The world’s deadliest yo-yo trick

The world’s deadliest yo-yo trick

Blessed with no such reflexes, Harry can’t get out of the way in time, and gets caught up in a small explosion. Peter doesn’t even stick around to see if he lived.

This one’s probably my favorite. It’s just the right mix of genuinely fun while still being legitimately off-putting (vis a vis Peter’s behavior), and the more humble choreography is both a bold choice and a welcome change of pace. Being able to see the actors’ faces and know that they’re not being swapped out with a bunch of digital pixels helps to draw you in closer to what’s a very intimate conflict. Granted, if every fight in the franchise were like this, it wouldn’t really feel like Spider-Man, but it’s nice to see Spider-Man branch out a bit every now and then.

The music is serviceable if not spectacular, a dark & playful little tune that revs up appropriately with the action. If there’s any flaw it’s that it ends too soon after they get to the lab, and the blow that knocks Harry into the wall and effectively ends the fight, while surely painful, seems a bit anticlimactic for what had come before. But Peter’s cruel taunts and the too-cool bomb throw back help put an appropriate punctuation mark on the encounter.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Spider-Man might be tough, but Venom is Topher.

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At least he’s not Kutcher.

Spider-Man 3 (fight 3 of 5)

Clear as mud.

Picture1

Ew.

3) Spider-Man vs Sandman, round 2

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. Our hero’s gone down an increasingly dark path ever since an alien symbiote he unknowingly encountered* has bonded with him and created a blackened suit, which grants him increased power while subtly amping up his negative qualities, such as aggression. (It also makes him act like a jackass hipster, in one of the movie’s most criticized indulgences.) Unfortunately it enters his life at the worst possible time: just as he’s going through a messy fight with Mary Jane and facing the revelation of Marko’s involvement in Uncle Ben’s death. So like the kind of alcoholic who drinks because deep down he WANTS to act like a drunken a-hole, Peter enters a self-destructive spiral where he keeps donning the suit to enable his worst impulses. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Flint Marko, aka Sandman. Nothing new here. Played by Thomas Haden Church.

[*The symbiote crawled onto Peter’s scooter after landing nearby, in one of the quietest meteor landings in history. A bit  convenient, but the way Spidey finds the thing in the original comics is considerably too… involved to adapt here.]

The Setup: Not much to it. Shortly after Peter has gotten re-adjusted to his new suit, he hears some police reports of Sandman committing yet another robbery, and heads off to where he was last seen. On the way, he encounters Eddie Brock, Peter’s new professional rival, and they have an ugly confrontation. This will be important later, duh.

Marko has headed underground (in a subtle touch, Spider-Man throws respect for property to the wind by simply ripping a huge chunk of concrete away to make his entrance, rather than finding a more conventional way) and Spidey slowly stalks him through a darkened sewer/train tunnel area. For a little while, at least, it’s the sneakiest he’s been since he chased down carjacker Dennis Carradine back in 2002.

Metal Gear Spidey

Metal Gear Spidey

The Fight: Peter surprises his prey by lowering down from the ceiling right in front of him, and after dodging some blows, taunts him about Uncle Ben’s death– something that visibly unnerves Marko.

When a subway train roars by, Spider-Man webs himself to the side of it, letting its momentum pull him in for a strong double-kick against Sandman. The crook goes flying, dropping his bags of money (again) and lands on another platform in between two tracks. The hero tries to swing in again, but this time Flint is ready.

Picture3

Acrobatic even in the confined underground, Spider-Man recovers from his fall, loops all the way around from underneath the platform and strikes Marko from behind. The two then engage in some solid, painful-looking fisticuffs as two trains come simultaneously from opposite directions. Peter gets bounced around back & forth between the fast-moving cars like a human pinball, but Marko’s turn is even worse, as he gets half his face sheared off when the increasingly merciless hero grinds it up against one of the trains.

Sandman recovers his mass with some nearby dirt, but still, probably not the best experience.

After a little while of this, hero tackles villain off the platform and they both take a long fall, hitting a big pipe on the way down. Marko lands in a small puddle, and finds that the water is making it hard for him to maintain his cohesion. Spider-Man notices this too, and when he swings Marko’s way again, it’s not to hit him but to reach the big water pipe nearby. He violently opens it, making a burst of water come out and hit his opponent.

Degenerating into Mudman, Flint gets washed away in the flood, eventually coming apart completely as he hits a grate. Without remorse, Spidey smugly bids his foe good riddance.

A villain having an ambiguous death scene and getting carried away by water? How novel

A comic villain having an ambiguous “death” scene and getting carried away by water? Surely this will be the last we see of him.

The rematch with Sandman is short but an improvement in the Exciting department. Raimi & co get around the issue of the character’s seeming invulnerability not just by finishing him off with his Kryptonite-equivalent, but by having Spider-Man employ aggressive and creative techniques to keep pressing his advantage. This has the handy side benefit of further establishing not just the increased power offered by the black suit, but also emphasizing its effects on Peter’s personality; as fun as it is to watch this fight happen, there’s an undercurrent of “wrongness” to Spidey’s callous brutality. It’s the rare superhero fight where the villain feels like the victim… though, granted, Raimi had already stacked the deck beforehand by letting us in on Marko’s hard-luck story.

The underground setting is a new one for this film series, and handily allows the hero’s dark behavior to be complemented by the literal darkness of the surroundings. Who knows how “realistic” it is– half the time it just looks like a straight-up cave, but also has trains and giant water pipes running through it everywhere– but it definitely fits in with the movie’s cartoony aesthetic. Also, New York’s mass transit system played a big part in the previous movie’s climax, but you almost forget that because of the different role the trains play in this battle. Clever.

Grade: B-

Coming Attractions: Spider-Man vs Wolverine!

Ha, you wish.

Ha, you wish.

Spider-Man 3 (fight 2 of 5)

Enter Sandman.

Uh, not quite.

2) Spider-Man vs Sandman

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Flint Marko, aka Sandman. An escaped convict with a heart of gold, Marko seems like a vicious thug but really commits all his crimes to help his sick daughter (awww). In a fan-maddening retcon, this movie “reveals” (i.e., invents) the fact that Marko was not only the partner of the crook who robbed the wrestling arena, but also the one who really killed Uncle Ben… then at the end of the movie they undo the retcon, but only slightly. Anyway, while on the run from Johnny Law, Marko fell into a suspiciously unguarded scientific experiment involving some sort of weird new radiation and a pit of sand, so of course now he’s a sand monster. In addition to being able to shift his body into pretty much any sand-like shape he wants, Sandman is effectively invulnerable against conventional attacks: the harmed pieces of his body just turn into sand, and eventually they re-form. He’s pretty much the T-1000, but with sand… and short of a handy lava pit, there seems to be no guaranteed way to kill him. It should be noted that composer Danny Elfman, at the behest of Raimi (as always, showing his campy roots), devised a musical theme for Sandman that’s something straight out of a 1950s monster movie. It’s simultaneously laughable and irresistible. Played by Thomas Haden Church, in the midst of a very unexpected career resurgence.
Thomas Haden Church, serious actor.

Thomas Haden Church, serious actor.

The Setup: After getting the hang of his abilities in a poignant scene, Marko decides to return his old past time of reluctant crime, in order to pay yet more medical bills for his cherubic little daughter. For his public debut, he opts for the tried & true route of attacking an armored car in broad daylight. He enters the vehicle while it’s still moving and takes out the security detail.

Unfortunately for him he didn’t try this in some nearby city that doesn’t have its own superhero, because New York’s current favorite son, Spider-Man, notices these goings-on and swings into action. Flint tells the vigilante to back off so he won’t get hurt, which Spidey brushes aside.

The Fight: Cocky as ever, the hero dodges the first punch and throws a devastating counter… which goes harmlessly through Marko’s chest.

My spider sense is telling me this is going to be a tad one-sided.

Sandman retaliates by enlarging one of his fists (that’s a thing he can do) and knocking Spidey through the back of the vehicle. He only barely keeps up by webbing back on to it and getting dragged from behind on a piece of broken door he rides like a skateboard.

Marko gets on top of the van to escape (seems impractical), and Spider-Man launches a few web bullets at him. They form a few temporary holes in the crook’s chest, but mostly just seem to annoy him. A bigger inconvenience is when Spidey gets to the top, avoids Marko with some nifty spin moves and kicks Sandman’s legs right out from under him. Literally.

But even while just a torso, the villain is formidable up close, and knocks Spidey away onto a bus while he rebuilds himself. Undeterred, the hero comes back and clings to the side of the van, which unfortunately leaves him wide open to a hammer-shaped blow from Sandy that knocks him clear through the other side of the van.

Thor’s gonna be pissed when he sees you stole his MO

Thor’s gonna be pissed when he sees you stole his MO

Parker survives, but the vehicle is out of control. The hero just barely saves the two drivers from an impending collision, and when he checks back for Marko, his new foe is gone, though he had to leave the money behind.

Spider-Man retreats to dump sand out of a boot (who knows how many other crevices it got into. Somewhere, Anakin Skywalker nods understandingly) and wonders where the heck all “these guys” come from.

A short, varied introduction to what Sandman can do. Both characters behave believably under the circumstances, with reluctant villain Marko fighting intensely & but savagely, and Spidey adapting rapidly to the situation. Sandman’s practically intangible nature makes anything resembling extended fisticuffs laughable, so Raimi & co had to come up with some creative acrobatics in order to compensate. Setting the whole thing in and around a moving car during heavy traffic ups the ante as well. Nothing special but a respectable placeholder.

Grade: C+

Coming Attractions: Spider-Man’s deadliest asset is the thing ability Sandman doesn’t have: the ability to change clothes.

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At least Flint still has that winning smile.

Spider-Man 3 (fight 1 of 5)

No no, don’t run. It’s okay. This is a safe place.

Don’t I look trustworthy?

Spider-Man 3 gets a bad rap, only some of which is deserved. It’s overstuffed, self-indulgent, and filled with are you-effing-kidding-me plot developments. Yet it’s not without its charms. The performances still mostly work, it’s ambitious (if too much for its own good), and in many ways, the action is more inventive than ever. So while it deserves to be studied as a textbook case of Franchise Bloat, the fanboy rage aimed at it is a bit over the top.

Most of all, I can’t fully hate it because it does offer a veritable buffet of fights. To finish what we started with this film series, let’s dive into them.

It also has the best Bruce Campbell cameo, but that, sadly, is out of this site’s purview.

1) Spider-Man vs The New Goblin

The Fighters:

  • Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. You know the drill on his powers and whatnot. A lot happier than he’s been for pretty much the entire saga, and preparing to propose to his lady love. Played by Tobey Maguire.
  • Harry Osborn, son of the first film’s Green Goblin. Driven to take revenge against Spider-Man for his father’s death and newly armed with the knowledge of his secret identity, he undergoes the same chemical treatments. The procedures increase his strength, durability and reaction time, but don’t seem to result in any multiple personalities. Guess that’s only an occasional side effect. Note that he’s only called “the New Goblin” in supplementary materials, not in the movie itself; when Harry took up his dad’s mantle in the comics, he just went by “Green Goblin” again. Played by precious snowflake James Franco.
    • Armed with: A (thankfully) streamlined version of his dad’s equipment: the mask is simpler & retractable, the glider (which can also automatically return to Harry if separated) is about the size of a skateboard, and rather than bright green armor Harry has opted for a comfortable set of black clothing with light padding and a few attachments. He also has a set of retractable blades hooked up to at least one of his arms, and carries a green, katana-like sword. And while this Goblin tends to go for more up-close fighting, he also his father’s pumpkin-themed bombs and whatnot.

The Setup: At the end of the first film, Norman Osborn’s last-second attempt to kill Spider-Man inadvertently caused his own suicide, and Harry, ignorant of his father’s dual life, blames Spidey for it since that’s who he saw dropping the body off. At the end of the second film, Harry learned not only his “nemesis” Spider-Man’s true identity, but, after stumbling onto one of his backup lairs and talking to ghosts in the mirror (yep), about his father’s own legacy. Somehow his dad’s status as a certified supervillain (especially one who almost got Harry killed and either endangered or actively tried to murder his girlfriend Mary Jane on two separate occasions) doesn’t alter his view of Spidey’s apparent actions back in 2002, because apparently the Osborn intelligence genes skipped a generation.

And so it is that as Peter Parker is zipping happily along in a motor scooter, the masked Harry zooms in from out of nowhere and plucks him into the air.

Then again, look at that face. Can you really blame Harry?

Then again, look at that face. Can you really blame Harry?

The Fight: Our hero’s spider-sense may have been conveniently forgotten, but not his fighting instincts. As the two swerve all around the New York skyline, Peter doesn’t hesitate to trade punches with the mysterious figure who attacked him in broad, uh, nightlight.

The Goblin gets a good surface slash along Peter’s belly with his arm blades, but then Peter breaks free and webs himself to the spire of a tall building. As he swings slowly around it he fires several web “bullets” at his adversary, most of which have little effect.

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Osborn cuts through the web rope and punches Peter hard enough to embed him into the brickwork of another building. It’s here he reveals his face to his genuinely surprised friend, telling him “you knew this was coming.” (Did he? It seems an odd thing to expect.) As he continues his attack, Parker tries to explain what he should have two movies ago– i.e., your dad was a freaking nutbar who accidentally killed himself while trying to murder me for no good reason– but Harry’s too worked up too listen. A few missed punches knock a whole section of wall off, with the uncostumed Spider-Man clinging to it as it falls. As it tumbles end over end through the air, Raimi tracks and slowly pushes into it, and somehow manages to pull off a sneaky transition from CGI to the real Tobey Maguire.

Peter leaps to safety but gets knocked around in mid-air some more, then seized and dragged against a building. After getting thrown through two sets of glass windows, he loses the family heirloom ring he’d been planning to give Mary Jane. Pissed off, he’s able to get solid footing on Harry’s board, wrestle him a bit, and knock him off. While Peter goes to retrieve the ring just in time (it should absolutely have hit the ground by then), Harry’s board auto-homes in on him and saves him from splattering on the pavement.

Perhaps sensing that his opponent’s flight gives him an advantage in the open air, Parker tries to escape down a series of narrow alleyways. The Goblin orients himself sideways gives chase at high speed, narrowly avoiding many obstacles as he closes the distance.

James Franco, serious actor.

James Franco, serious actor.

When he’s near enough, Harry whips out that sweet green sword and takes a few swings. When that doesn’t work, he launches a handful of his dad’s guided pumpkin blade/bombs, which Peter mutters that he (quite reasonably) hates.

Unable to dodge while being pursued, the hero gets cut up a good bit. But a vertical turnaround (he swings all the way straight up and reverses course in mid-air) puts Harry right in the line of fire instead, giving him a taste of his own medicine and Peter enough time to deflect most of them with his webbing. He grabs the last one with a web rope and flings it right at Harry, who manages to survive the explosion mostly unscathed.

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Somehow.

But the ka-boom was only a distraction for Spider-Man to set up his real finisher. As soon as Osborn looks up, he runs neck-first into a web-clothesline Peter was holding taut. His trip comes to a brutally abrupt stop, and he even manages to hit a few more obstacles on the way down. Yowch.

To see how far superhero cinema had come in such a short amount of time, one has to do nothing more than look at this fight. Both characters’ abilities are creatively explored, with a few surprising developments that still arise organically from the way they operate (e.g., the finishing clothesline). As is the mark of many a good fight scene, there is a reasonable sense of give-and-take between the two; the New Goblin is formidable but not invincible, with Spidey needing to employ a combination of power and smarts to take him down.

Not only that, it happens in a wild, fast-paced frenzy; indeed, the action is so inventive and fast-paced here that it borders on ridiculous. We’re a long way from the original movie, with its admirable but stiff attempts at using special effects & stunt work to capture impossible combat, and where a simple lack of sucking prompted a collective sigh of relief. This fight here is more complex than anything in the first and arguably even the second film, and it’s the opening battle. There are surely other, legitimate reasons people found this movie disappointing, but a big one was that by 2007, we were plenty spoiled.

And, of course, the fight does end with this happening:

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Classic.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Bring me a dream.

Make him the cutest that… well, we can forget that part.

Iron Man 2 (fight 4 of 4)

In which Iron Man teams up with his greatest ally.

Er, no.

4) Iron Man and War Machine vs Whiplash and Hammer drones

The Fighters:

  • Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, our hero. Doing a lot better than before, since he’s not dying. Played by Robert Downey Jr.
    • Armed with: The Mark VI Iron Man armor. It’s powered by a new element Tony invented (building off his father’s unfinished work), and in addition to powering his suit better it also overcomes the issue of the old arc reactor slowly giving Tony palladium poisoning even as it kept shrapnel out of his heart. (Iron Man 3 would later skunk this entire plot development with the casual revelation in the epilogue that Tony could have just had surgery to remove the shrapnel in the first place. Which… huh?) Along with the triangular chest plate that Joss Whedon hated, the Mark VI boasts a few modifications, though it’s not clear which are new.
  • War Machine, aka James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Stark’s reconciled pal and Air Force big shot. Played by Don “The Dragon” Cheadle.
    • Armed with: The same Mark II suit as before, but kitted out with tons of extra armaments courtesy of the DOD and Justin Hammer. Plus a new paint job, trading in the too-shiny silver for ominous grey.
  • Hammer drones, a couple dozen of them. Built by Vanko for Justin Hammer. There’s some slight variation amongst them depending on what function (land, sea, air) they’re built for, but they’re largely the same: arc reactor-powered, remote-controlled robots based loosely off the Iron Man designs. Outfitted mostly with automatic and missile weapons, and able to fly. They also go down very easy, whether it’s to a repulsor blast, a strong punch from the Mark VI, or a barrage of regular bullets; it’s strange because these are supposed to basically be Iron Man replacements, so they ought to be more durable. Perhaps Vanko deliberately built them to be inferior, or maybe they’re just prototypes.
  • Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko. Stark’s new nemesis, who escaped prison and built up some new toys thanks to Hammer. Played by Mickey Rourke.
    • Armed with: A much more sophisticated version of his last getup. The improved Whiplash armor covers Vanko’s entire body much like the Iron Man suit. It’s also huge, though not quite the size of the Iron Monger. It contains a couple neat tricks like retractable plates in the feet which are good for locking down an opponent, but its main offensive capability is the two extra long energy whips housed in its forearms. There are cycling mechanisms visible in the back which make the whips extendable and constantly charged with electricity. It’s an intimidating design, but oddly lacking the iconic look of the previous incarnation, with all its fearless & bare-chested simplicity.

But, you know, this works too.

The Setup: Vanko has baited Tony into a trap at the Stark Expo in New York. After Iron Man arrives there and greets War Machine (who’d been demonstrating his new look on stage along with the drones), Vanko takes remote control of all the drones, as well as War Machine, and sends them all against Iron Man.

This launches an amazing chase sequence where Tony draws his pursuers away from the Expo and out into the streets & skies of Queens, evading fire and even managing to take out several of them. Eventually Iron Man is able to isolate himself and War Machine inside a large garden dome. Tony contains its attacks without hurting the helpless pilot inside until, in the aftermath of glorious Fight #3, Black Widow gets into Hammer’s computer systems and restores control of War Machine back to Rhodey.

The two’s reconciliation quickly devolves into macho one-upsmanship as they squabble over whose suit is the best; it’s highly amusing to watch such a silly argument play out with both characters wearing super high-tech armor. They spend so much time bitching that they don’t quite get into tactical position before the drones land and, one by one, surround the pair.

“We have them RIGHT where we want them!”

“We’re surrounded.”
“Good, that means we have them RIGHT where we want them!”

Without saying a word, the two close their face plates and go to work.

The Fight: At first, there’s actually no music– Favreau lets the endless cacophony of battle provide all the noise he needs. And what a cacophony it is: staccato bursts of automatic fire from the drones and War Machine, occasionally punctuated by repulsor blasts from Iron Man.

So much is happening at once you barely know where to look at any given time. The camera pans around smoothly to show the carnage as the two heroes unload at and dodge fire from the iron platoon surrounding them. Rhodey fires from both wrist gauntets and his shoulder cannon simultaneously, while Stark mixes in repulsor rays with punches for those that get too close.

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After the initial shot just showcasing all-purpose chaos, Favreau goes on to highlight a couple moments of particular badassery. War Machine grabs a drone that had gotten close and delivers a point-blank spray of machine gun fire that cuts it in half down the middle. Iron Man reprises a hit move from the first movie when he leans back casually to dodge an incoming missile (in a subtle detail, we hear a beeping sound from his HUD to indicate the computer has detected a lock), then returns fire in the form of small missiles from a hidden compartment on his wrist, which take down three drones at once; it’s so neat Tony even happily calls it out, and his friend compliments it.

It’s about 45 seconds of perfectly exhilarating CGI chaos– intense, glorious, undiluted. And it doesn’t outstay its welcome, either: when Stark realizes that there’s just too many bad guys to deal with, he orders his friend to duck and then activates two extremely powerful laser beams, which cut down all remaining drones as he pivots in a circle.

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Tony responds to Rhodey’s quite reasonable suggestion that he should lead with such an attack next time by pointing out that the beams are a one-time thing; they burn for a few seconds and then they’re done. Which is too bad, because what they initially think is just the last drone coming in is actually Vanko himself, big as life and twice as ugly.

After some talk, Rhodes launches what he assumes will be his secret weapon, the “Ex-Wife,” but it fails terribly, bouncing harmlessly off Whiplash’s armor and falling to the ground with a pathetic little fart noise. It doesn’t really make sense (would Vanko really know it wouldn’t work? Shouldn’t Rhodey have gotten farther away if HE thought it was going to work? etc) but it’s a fun excuse for just one more joke at Hammer’s expense.

Tony fires his own opening salvo– in another callback to the first film, it’s all those little smart dart-rockets he used against the terrorist hostage-takers in his Mark III debut) at Vanko’s exposed face, but his helmet comes back instantly and deflects them. Now it’s Ivan’s turn.

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From then on, it’s really mostly Ivan’s fight. The new Whiplash armor provides a seemingly perfect mix of durability, speed, and offensive capability. War Machine’s more conventional weapons can’t put too much of a dent in Vanko before he’s able to evade or fight back, and Iron Man’s quick maneuvers are canceled out by the long reach of those unpredictable whips. In what turns out to be a fairly brief struggle, both heroes are repeatedly knocked around, seized by the whips and slammed to the ground. Poor Rhodey even gets his shoulder cannon cut right off.

Stark gives Vanko the best run for his money when he comes in hard with a flying punch as Vanko is distracted by beating up on Rhodes, but a few blows later Ivan comes back even harder with a headbutt. Soon, Whiplash lassos a hero in each whip, holding them on opposite sides of him. It seems pretty bad at first, but at Tony’s suggestion, the two re-visit the idea of “crossing the streams”– having their two repulsor blasts meet in mid-air and creating an enormous energy feedback, this time with Whiplash in the middle.

Whaddya know, it works.

Whaddya know, it works.

The irony is, at that point the heroes didn’t necessarily have to resort to such a crazy tactic, because the very nature of Ivan’s double-hold meant that he left himself wide open to any attack. They were free to shoot at him in more direct ways as well.

After the smoke clears, a dying Vanko reprises his words from the race track, telling Stark “you lose.” Pulling a Metroid, Vanko starts the timer on bombs built into his suit as well as those of all the fallen drones, hoping for a Pyrrhic victory. Unfortunately for the villain, it would have been, in the words of comedian Doug Benson, more accurate for him to say “you lose… unless you happen to be wearing a suit of armor that flies really fast,” because the bombs have a long enough fuse for Stark & Rhodes to not just fly out of the blast zone but also for one of them to swing by and get Pepper to safety. Whoops.

For all Iron Man 2’s faults, where it really improves on the original is in its climax. The first film ended on a sort of limp note as it had the hero hobbled from the beginning and only barely limping to the finish line. The sequel, on the other hand, is a three-part roller coaster ride that starts with an extended chase scene, segues quickly into the chaotic destruction of the drones, and ends with not one but two fully-powered heroes up against a seemingly implacable boss.

The final fight is, unfortunately, a little too one-sided, but this is balanced out somewhat by just how one-sided (in the other direction) the showdown with the drones was. Also, while “believability” is a relative term when it comes to things like this, Whiplash’s dominance comes not from objective superiority but from a mix of quick-thinking tactics, technology, and surprise– exactly the kind of thing that would let you prevail in such an encounter. Just as in a real-life fight, you don’t win by gradually wearing down the other guy’s “hit points” or some such, it’s all a matter of acting decisively and applying just the right amount of pressure at the right place & time.

Well done.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Stop.

Hammer Time.

Iron Man 2 (fight 3 of 4)

Redheads. Am I right, fellas?

Yes, unfortunately.

Yes, unfortunately.

3) Black Widow Cuts Loose

The Fighters:

  • Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff. A former Russian spy & assassin who’s become one of SHIELD’s greatest assets. Supremely skilled at infiltration, interrogation and various forms of combat, Natasha is the ideal agent. The comics have all sorts of wild stuff about how she got her abilities but so far the movies have wisely avoided that. But one element is that she’s a former ballet dancer, which definitely shows up in her gracefulness here. The Widow has gone undercover in Tony’s organization as “Natalie Rushman” in order to… it’s not really clear. Monitor him for SHIELD and help out just in case any supervillains show up, I think? Anyway, it’s fortunate she’s around for this. Played with understated gusto by Scarlett Johansson.
    • Armed with: Like, half a James Bond movie’s worth of little toys and weapons, all secreted in her various belt and wrist pouches. A pity the Avengers movie eschewed most of these in favor of simple if effective guns.
  • Security guards, about six or seven of them, working at the offices of Justin Hammer, Tony Stark’s corporate rival. Played by stunt men.
  • Also present is Happy Hogan, Tony’s loyal bodyguard, but he’s sort of a humorous non-factor here. Played by director Jon Favreau, who’s so money, baby.

The Setup: Hammer has secretly been conspiring with Ivan Vanko, our friend from Fight #1, to utilize arc reactor technology to make his own set of weaponized Iron Man-style drones. When said drones, along with a manually overriden War Machine, run amok at the Stark Expo, Romanoff and Hogan drive off to the Hammer building to investigate. On the way over, Natasha changes in the backseat into her special ass-kicking outfit.

When they arrive, Happy insists on coming in to “help.” Tee hee.

The Fight: It is so cool, you guys.

The first guard accosts them and Hogan immediately engages him in a fistfight. Black Widow just keeps right on moving, and when a second guard approaches, she nonchalantly slides right past him and, still moving, turns around and tosses two little discs towards the guard which paralyze him with a slight electrical charge.

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This pretty much sets the tone for the entire sequence. Johansson’s Romanoff is graceful, smoothly unpredictable, and frighteningly competent. She’s not always moving forward but she definitely never stops moving— she slides, jumps, runs, dodges, ducks, dips, dives, and all the rest with purposeful swagger. Every move and decision just flows seamlessly into the next. It’s glorious to watch.

The other little technological tricks Natasha employs are two small gas pellets she throws around the corner to stun another pair of guns so she can lay them out, and later she hooks one guard’s neck with an extendable cord (not a wire, those are for killing) to hold him in place while she takes down his buddy.

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But occasion permitting she often goes the physical-0nly route, as well. She rides a push-cart and jumps off it to double-kick one guard in the chest. She slides (again!) in-between another foe’s legs and attacks them as she does so, then jumps off his double-over body to land on the shoulders of another.

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The best is the penultimate takedown, when she tackles a guard and does this crazy thing where she spins all over his body while he’s still standing, raining blows on him the whole time. Then as she strides calmly away she uses his chemical spray to do a no-look neutralization of the last straggler just as he tries to sneak up on her.

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This is all over in a minute or so, and the action keeps cutting back to the progress of Happy’s brawl with the very first guy. It takes some doing, but Hogan finally knocks him out with a strong uppercut, and jubilantly looks up with “I got him!” only to find this:

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Between the red hair and this, are we sure she’s actually Russian and not Irish?

It’s a gag that works all the more effectively because the movie treats Happy’s artless tumble with just one guy with the same gravitas as it does a super ninja-spy methodically destroying half a platoon; whenever the camera cut back to Hogan, there weren’t any overtly comedic signifiers like a change in music or something. You get caught up in all of it equally and, like Happy, don’t realize how much she accomplished while he was toiling away. Very clever.

This scene does cheat a little. On close examination (ever the bane of the summer blockbuster), a good number of Widow’s attacks really should not have incapacitated her targets. There are times we merely see her punch someone’s leg, shoulder or what-have-you, and then boom, the guy’s down for the count. Doesn’t matter how hard she’s hitting, unless she’s packing knockout darts or doing some kind of crazy nerve strikes (neither of which is visually apparent or brought up in the dialogue at some point in the film), they simply shouldn’t be getting knocked out.

However, no amount of rewinding and freeze-framing can get around the fact that this is ridiculously fun. Again, it’s brief, but the scene just glides with the same effortless charm as the Widow herself does, possessed of a too-cool-for-school cockiness that’s just on the right side of the endearing/pandering balance. In a movie that’s about high-tech armored superheroes blasting and whipping each other, a quick sequence starring a 5’3 jumpsuited girl in a running around in a hallway comes perilously close to being the best fight of the bunch.

The scene’s not perfect but it’s breezily, joyfully confident, and just like all those sleazy pick-up artists book tell you: confidence goes a long way.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Take down Iron Man?? Ha, you and what Army?

… oh.