There is something about being first in line for the midnight showing of the premiere of a summer blockbuster, not to mention that I was probably the oldest person in the theater.
The Experience: A young friend of mine insured our place at the front of the line by camping out since Monday for the Friday 12:01 AM premier. You’ve heard of people who bring a tent and a sleeping bag — this young man built a Spider-Man Den, a veritable “Spidey Suite” in the portico in front of the theater, including posters, a couch, chairs, coffee table, rug, TV, game consoles, a projection screen, and a DVD player where they watched Spider-Man 1 and 2.
It helped that he’s been doing movie campouts for 5 years and knows the General Manager and mall owner. He even had sponsors: Lowe’s supplied the lumber, Chipotle’s brought burritos daily, Sideshow Collectibles provided giveaway cards for everyone in the theater(s). This movie complex has gone digital, meaning they don’t need multiple expensive film prints, but the movie is played off a hard disk. Seven theaters showed the movie after midnight. Before the movie we were treated to previews of other upcoming summer blockbusters: Shrek-III, Pirates-3, Harry Potter-5, and Fantastic Four-2.
We had gotten into the theater for first showing 2.5 hours before the film rolled. Trivia contests, feats of Spider Strength, and Sony Pictures giveaways ensued. Oh, how it took me back to my youth when I collected comic books for 22 years. I sold my entire collection to buy my then-fiancée an engagement ring. I went cold turkey, but I can still remember.
History: I started reading and collecting comic books in 1961, both DC and Marvel comics. Spider-Man first appeared in August 1962 in Amazing Fantasy #15. The storyline for the first two movies was taken from the comic book characters and timeline during the 1960s and ’70s, but Spider-Man 3 uses a villain, Venom, who first appeared in 1988.
Spider-Man has become the flagship comic for Marvel, in the same way as Superman for the DC line. But Marvel had its finger on the pulse of 60’s teens – the major comic buying demographic – in a way that took DC longer to catch on to. Spider-Man was the story of shy though bright high school teen Peter Parker who was bitten by a radioactive spider and gained surprising spider-like powers. But unlike the more straight-arrow Superman or other DC comic heroes of the 60’s, Marvel in general and Spider-Man in particular dealt with teen angst, psychological conflict, and moral ambiguities. This character, initially developed by artist Steve Ditko and writer Stan Lee (who has had cameos in all the Spider-Man movies) connected with youth during a turbulent era and a difficult age. Peter had classmate and girlfriend problems, employment challenges, and unresolved guilt over his uncle’s death. Yet his free-style fighting style and wise-cracks during combat with villains helped him cope. Spider-Man became more than a cult hero – at one time he had four regular monthly comic books in publication.
Movie review: Without telling you the plot of the movie, I will say that I found this third movie quite enjoyable and satisfying, from the fabulous special effects — at $250-300M this is one of the more expensive, if not the most expensive movie in history — to some standout performances. I am a bit kinder with my review than the critics. I’d give this movie a “B” primarily for the performances rather than either the writing, dialog or pacing. Some of the standouts include Tony and Emmy award-winning actress Rosemary Harris as Peter’s Aunt May, who I met in London a few years ago. She has a remarkable presence in person as well as on the screen.
Thomas Haden Church (Oscar nomination in Sideways) played Sandman, who while not as threatening as Doctor Octopus, portrayed a tortured misunderstood criminal. Even James Franco — who looks like James Dean and played him in a TV movie — as the tormented Harry Osborn, turned in a less one-dimensional performance than he did in Spider-Man 2. Tobey Maguire got to stretch in several directions, both physically and emotionally, as he portrayed a more aggressive side of his personality. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson chews up every screen he’s in. Topher Grace, who you know as the lead in “That ’70s Show” was a bit too unctuous for my taste, and Kirsten Dunst, who I have loved in other roles seems miscast as Mary Jane Watson. In the comic book, MJ is a saucy, sexy persona and not a whiner — though her hair color looks better in this movie than in the previous ones.
Speaking of hair, a natural redhead appeared as the blond Gwen Stacey, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard, and last seen in the movie Lady in the Water. She makes a striking appearance in this movie, though in the comics, she was Peter Parker’s second girlfriend and MJ Watson was his third.
Did you know: For the last 22 years I’ve been signing my articles “Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian.” I got it from the very earliest days of the comic book when Peter Parker called himself “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Fan