Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Does director Sam Raimi still got it?

My answer is still "yes" even though my faith in Raimi as an artist has become somewhat shaky since 2004.

See, unlike every critic on Earth and a majority of fans of the SPIDER-MAN movies, I thought SPIDER-MAN 2 was the weakest of the three films. Yes, you read this right: even weaker than SPIDER-MAN 3.

Sure, SPIDER-MAN 3 was contrived and overstuffed, but they got the Sandman part of the movie right (I could've done without the whole Venom B-plot). And it was strong enough to carry the movie, even though I was thoroughly disturbed by the end revelation (over who shot Uncle Ben) which totally undermined the potency of Spider-Man's origin.

That said, SPIDER-MAN 2 misfired for me on many more levels. The pizza delivery "humor" that kicked off the movie was lame and boring, it took forever to really get going, the love triangle had grown repetitive and tiresome, and as much as I enjoyed Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, the resolution was lame and I hated, despised the contrived stuff of getting his mask off in the subway fight and having the entire train car of New Yorkers keep his identity secret (yeah, riiiiiiiiiight).

The worst crime of SPIDER-MAN 2: I found the psychosomatic robbing of Peter Parker's powers too lame for words and problematic. My analogy is this: if you're having a bad week, do you lose your ability to drive a car? No! You might be distracted a little, but you can still drive, walk, talk, jog and run. Well, to Spider-Man, climbing a wall or lifting a Volkswagen bug is like driving, walking and talking, and to suggest that an emotional block would rob him of physical powers also undermines future adventures, as the implication is that if he's too emotionally overwhelmed, he'll lose his powers again. What a crock of pooh! (The walking off the job stuff was cool, though!)

By comparison, I found SPIDER-MAN 3 to have an element of MARVEL TEAM-UP, particularly with the climax. And the Sandman effects were pretty dazzling.

The first SPIDER-MAN is still my favorite of the three, despite its biggest flaw, the use of a clunky helmet on Willem Defoe, whose face, a special effect in itself, was suppressed. Imagine what a great Green Goblin that would have been had they used latex and allowed Defoe to use the same expressive range he did when he was out of costume.

I'm taking the long scenic route to say that I just saw DRAG ME TO HELL last week, a summer hit in which Raimi sets the SPIDER-MAN franchise on pause long enough to turn to his horror-comedy roots.

Based on DRAG ME TO HELL, which was cinematic cotton candy -- tasty and colorful if low on nutritional value -- I believe that Raimi is still a master of the genre, even though I enjoyed this 2009 flick less than DARKMAN and ARMY OF DARKNESS (my two favorite Raimi films). I might have even enjoyed it less than EVIL DEAD 2 . But I still enjoyed it.

DRAG ME TO HELL was a nice reunion of Raimi with his best writing partner, his brother Ivan (last I heard, a working surgeon in the Valley by day, screenwriter by night).

It was nice to see Raimi do a non-Spidey film before the decade was officially up. And as I'm reading that SPIDER-MAN 4 has been delayed due to script problems, I hope Raimi will continue to challenge himself as a director and pursue his non-Marvel muse.

I remember the exhilaration of interviewing Raimi for this interview back in 2002. It was one of the best interviews I've ever had the privilege to write up and I still believe that Raimi is one of the most clever directors working in Hollywood today, even if his material has been sometimes beneath his talents in recent years. Perhaps the new decade will be kind to Raimi. If not, there's always Werner Herzog.

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