Monday, May 28, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End / **½ (PG-13)

Captain Jack Sparrow: Johnny Depp
Will Turner: Orlando Bloom
Elizabeth Swan: Keira Knightley
Captain Barbossa: Geoffrey Rush
Lord Cutler Beckett: Tom Hollander
Davy Jones: Bill Nighy
“Bootstrap” Bill Turner: Stellan Skarsgard
Tia Dalma: Naomi Harris
Admiral Norrington: Jack Davenport
Captain Sao Feng: Chow Yun-Fat

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Based on characters created by Elliot & Rossio and Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert and on the Disney amusement park ride. Running time: 168 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images).

It seems this might end up being the summer of two and a half star movies. With countless sequels in store over the next couple of months, we’ll continue to see a lot of successful ideas revisited and a bunch of new ideas on dumped on top of their already overstuffed frames. We’ve already seen this with earlier May releases “Spider-Man 3” and “Shrek the Third”. Rounding out this months’ trilogy of trilogies, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”, is a film not only overstuffed with ideas, it’s a nearly three-hour extravaganza to boot.

Watching this third installment of pirate adventures based on the popular Disney Parks amusement ride, I was struck with a different approach to critiquing it. Since the filmmakers found it okay to incorporate just about any idea that popped into their heads while crafting its story, I think it would be just as appropriate to drop the standard synopsis/reaction structure of the typical review and discuss all the other ideas that popped into my head while watching it.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned the three-hour running time, as that never really becomes a factor in the movie. (Although it was a lot of work just to arrange the time to see the film. But that’s the case any time for parents trying to see a movie without the kids.) It will pose the studio a challenge in winning the ever-coveted box office race, since the long running time means there will be fewer opportunities to show the film. But much like the way the filmmakers have overcompensated with the movie’s plot, Disney has certainly more than compensated for the long running time with multiple screenings of the film on the Thursday before it officially opened and by booking it on more screens than any film in history.

To say the screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have gone overboard on plot is really a gross understatement. This film is all plot. Plot, plot, plot, plot, plot! To try to explain everything that happens would be a waste of space and time. (Perhaps that sums up the value of the movie right there.) It involves first saving Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, “Finding Neverland”) from the purgatory of Davy Jones’s Locker and then gathering all the pirates in the world (along with the ever-growing list of cast members) to face off against Jones (Bill Nighy, “Love Actually”) and the East India Trading Company (EITC).

Amazingly, the ever-developing plot never bogs down the pace, and three hours slip away fairly unnoticed. There are elements from the previous films, like Jones’s sea-beast the Kraken, that are unfortunately discarded. Even storylines that are introduced in this film, like Tia Dalma and the Calypso, just fizzle away. But the film retains all the high seas adventure, swashbuckling action and state of the art visual effects that made the series popular. And there is still the indomitable performance by Depp to keep it fun.

Unfortunately, the effort needed to focus on so many plots takes away from much of the series’ comedy and charm. Much has been made by critics about the confusing nature of the plot. If you’ve seen the other two, it should be easy enough to keep up, but if you are coming into this a “Pirates” virgin, you will be hopelessly lost. And there are some hallucination scenes involving Depp’s character that will leave even devotees slightly dumbfounded, wondering if they somehow stumbled into “Being John Malkovich” by mistake.

In a review for another film I was reading this past week, the writer quoted a colleague as saying, “There is nothing so tedious as non-stop action.” Whoever said that would have a difficult time with “At World’s End”, but I wouldn’t exactly say the film proves the statement true. The action, though, does lack some of the spectacle of its predecessor, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”. As I mentioned, there is no threat from some enormous sea-leviathan this time around and the Calypso is not used as effectively as it should be, but there are sword fights in every major location of the film and the sea vessels spend much time ripping each other apart with canon fire.

The movie starts out as any respectable summer popcorn blockbuster should: in an exotic locale (the port city of Singapore), with a spectacular action sequence, and nary an explanation as to just what the hell is going on until after the fact. Gone is the mystery and awe of Davy Jones’s misshapen sea creature crew, so in the scenes involving them, the action takes center stage. And although there is little logic employed in a sequence where Lord Cutler Beckett’s (Tom Hollander, “Pride & Prejudice”) ship is cut to shreds by canon fire, it is one of the most beautiful sequences in visual effects history.

Director Gore Verbinski (“The Ring”), producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Armageddon”), and the writers also went to a lot of work to present a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration’s foreign policy and terrorist witch hunt. With their depiction of the EITC’s no tolerance policy against pirates, they spent much more money and took much more time than necessary to get their point across about not assuming that anyone who is different is bad.

Using pirates as their heroes, they have certainly made it clear just how murky the waters can be when trying to determine good and bad. The characters spend almost all of their time double crossing each other to achieve their own ends, and many unlikely alliances are formed. But a scene where all the pirate lords have gathered to decide whether or not to go to war with the EITC succinctly sums up the film’s take on current world politics. Each pirate votes for himself to be the Pirate King, and every potential decision is met with threats and fist fighting. Jack Sparrow offers as an explanation for the pirate lords’ behavior, “This is politics.” A grim, yet accurate reflection.

Buy it: Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shrek the Third / **½ (PG)

With the voices of:
Shrek: Mike Meyers
Princess Fiona: Cameron Diaz
Donkey: Eddie Murphy
Puss in Boots: Antonio Banderas
Prince Charming: Rupert Everett
Queen Lillian: Julie Andrews
King Harold: John Cleese
Artie: Justin Timberlake
Merlin: Eric Idle

DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Chris Miller. Written by Andrew Adamson and Jeffery Price & Peter S. Seaman and Jon Zak & Howard Gould. Based on the book “Shrek!” by William Steig. Running time: 92 min. Rated PG (for some crude humor, suggestive content and swashbuckling action).

Reviewing “Shrek 2” I wrote that the film “never reaches the magical platitudes of the original. While the first film played like an enduring classic, the second slips into the realm of passing fad.” With “Shrek the Third” the slide into mediocrity continues. For kids, this phenomenon will be barely noticeable, as the third installment still plays to the same fairytale spoof, pop-culture referencing mentality that has become the series’ signature. But the freshness label on this product seems past expiration. The free-spiritedness of the earlier films comes only in spurts here; most of the time the film is just going through the motions.

As the film opens we find the ogres Shrek (voiced by Mike Meyers, the “Austin Powers” series) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz, “Charlie’s Angels”) happily married and still in the kingdom of Far Far Away. Fiona’s father, King Harold (John Cleese, of “Monty Python” fame), has been ill and Shrek has been standing in as king in his stead. One of the best laughs comes during the King’s dying moments, a fun spoof on the false death scenes found in so many films. However, it felt strange for the filmmakers to throw in a concept like death so early in a family film with such an otherwise light approach to life.

After the King’s passing, Shrek must take the throne for good, but his insecurities won’t allow him to accept a position of such responsibility. Those insecurities also manifest themselves in his poor reception to Fiona’s news that he will soon become a father. Facing two great responsibilities is too much for the jolly ogre, who decides he must track down another heir to the thrown, a teenager named Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake, “Alpha Dog”), who prefers to go by “Artie.”

With his sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphy, “Norbit”) and Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas, “Spy Kids”) in tow, Shrek now must throw himself into a new realm of responsibility, the task of mentoring a teenager on the importance of owning up to responsibility. The irony is rolled on a little thick here. But with the help of the absent-minded wizard Merlin (voiced by Eric Idle, another “Python” alum), Shrek just might be able to trick Artie into the role of king.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”) is still fuming about losing his chance at the crown to Shrek. He has gathered all the fairytale villains, from Frumpypigskin (or whatever his name is) to Captain Hook and the Ugly Stepsisters, to take siege on Far Far Away Castle. Fiona recruits Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) and the fairytale princesses Rapunzel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White as resistance fighters against Charming’s forced reign. The filmmakers have more fun with one of Julie Andrews’ songs from “The Sound of Music” and Snow White’s sing-songy nature in a couple of the film’s other brilliant moments.

I also enjoyed the baby nightmare Shrek has about becoming a father. (I think it inspired my own puppy nightmare last night; there were puppies relieving themselves everywhere.) And I did like the direct nature of the film’s message about being true to who you are. But for its few shining moments, much of the adventure this time around is stale and somewhat contrived. For example, Artie is too confident to be the loser he’s portrayed as when Shrek and friends first meet up with him.

I opened my “Shrek 2” review with a list of all the movies that film referenced. I don’t think I can even remember more than two or three of the references in “Shrek the Third”, although they come just as often. It seems these jokes are becoming either more obscure or less related to the material that surrounds them. Even those I can remember are almost too subtle to have any comedic effect. Gingy’s (The Gingerbread Man) life passes before his eyes at one point and he sees images resembling the title sequence of the television show “The Six Million Dollar Man.” But where’s the voice-over saying, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology…. Better than he was before. Better, faster, stronger.”?

Plus, there aren’t enough show-stealing antics from Shrek’s sidekicks, Donkey and Puss-in-Boots. Their subplot seems almost like an afterthought, as if all the other characters are getting in the way. Characters like Gingy started off as referential jokes and have become major players, but without the personalities to allow us to care for them as we do Donkey, who earned the audience’s respect through his persistent, annoying effervescence in the first film.

One point that has bothered me about each “Shrek” film has been their reliance on bodily function humor; or more directly, the secretion of gasses and other waste by-products. I understand there is nothing a kid loves to hear more than a giant ripper; I do have a five-year old, after all. But these cheap gags have become so abundant that it seems to be a security blanket for the filmmakers. If a sequence isn’t working, they just punctuate it with a whoopee-cushion, a grimace and the desperate hope that the audience rolls in the aisles with laughter.

It isn’t that “Shrek the Third” is unenjoyable. Visually, it is just as glorious as any of the past installments, sometimes even more so. And it retains the series’ wonderful on-going message of self-acceptance. But if the makers of the series continue to rehash the same material in the same way each time around (a fourth installment is already in the works), moviegoers will eventually want to stay far far away from Shrek, his freakish friends and all their flatulence.

Buy it: Shrek DVDs

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Georgia Rule / **½ (R)

Rachel: Lindsay Lohan
Georgia: Jane Fonda
Lilly: Felicity Huffman
Simon: Dermot Mulroney
Harlan: Garrett Hedlund
Arnold: Cary Elwes

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Garry Marshall. Written by Mark Andrus. Running time: 113 min. Rated R (for sexual content and some language).

As the Internet has become such a daily part of everyone’s lives and allowed more and more people a voice for their opinions, the importance of critics has become increasingly questioned. While most people stick to what they are familiar with, both in their viewing choices and their opinions, the best critics are open to all choices. The critic is not there just to shower praise upon what is exceptional and deride the vulgar and sub par; the role of the critic is more involved than that. Most films fall into that wide gray area between the exceptionally good and the unbelievably bad. It’s the critic’s job to act as a guide to films that will interest the reader and an educator on what is good and bad in film.

I went into “Georgia Rule” with low expectations, but it was Mother’s Day and my wife had first choice. My apprehensions were based mostly upon the advertising campaign, which suggested a film about a wild child, her stressed mother, and the grandmother who’s controlling nature is the root of all the family’s problems. The ads gave the impression that it would be a generational comedy, with each woman’s eccentricities being ridiculed until that enlightened moment when they realized how good their lives were because of each other’s influence. The movie I saw, however, was an entirely different experience. Not only was this not how events unfolded in “Georgia Rule”, but the title itself may be the biggest promotional miscue of this surprisingly emotional look into the misinterpretations of family and the ways family express love toward each other.

Lindsay Lohan (“A Prairie Home Companion”) plays Rachel, the daughter who has been sentenced by her mother to spend her last summer before college with her grandmother, Georgia. Lilly, Rachel’s mother, despises Georgia for her unbending adherence to the rules by which she lives her life. “Dinner is at six o’clock every night. No exceptions.” If you miss it, you can’t eat until morning. Despite her reservations about her mother, Lilly feels this is her last ditch effort to change Rachel’s wild ways.

Georgia lives in Hull, Idaho, a backwater community that is a far cry from the party life Rachel is used to in L.A. Like any city girl fish-out-of-water story, we’re assaulted with the shocking “realities” of country living. The local vet, who also happens to be the best catch in town, sees human patients along with their pets. The hunk that Rachel falls for happens to be a Mormon with a girlfriend that is far less experienced in sexual matters than Rachel is accustomed. And everyone in town waves hello. (That last one is actually pretty universally true about small communities.)

The first half hour of the film pretty much runs the normal course, establishing typical characters, stock settings and conventional subjects. Then something happens, which I won’t reveal here, that changes the entire direction of the movie. Suddenly this innocent comedy of manners becomes a serious drama involving manipulation, sex and an understanding of truth versus fiction. I felt like I was watching a completely different movie; it became staggeringly engaging and even offered reasonable explanations for the typical caricatures to which we’d been introduced.

The movie evolved from a paint-by-numbers set into a wonderful vehicle for the three main actors. Lohan, whose character’s actions have been compared to her own recent personal misfortunes, proves that, if nothing else, she can play herself very well. I like that director Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”) does not allow any sympathy for her character until her possible motivations are revealed. Lohan’s performance invites the audience to hate her to the point that, when possible secrets are revealed, we feel sorry for how we felt about her.

Felicity Huffman, as Lilly, also offers the audience little room to sympathize with a mother who struggles with alcohol addiction and seems unable to cope with simple problems. Her performance lacks many of the subtleties of her Oscar nominated turn as a transsexual in “Transamerica”, but she does a wonderful job of keeping the audience with her as she’s pulled in two different directions.

Georgia does not present Jane Fonda (“Coming Home”) with the pivotal role that the title of the film suggests, but she is the anchoring force in the film. While she has much to do in the film’s opening passages, by the end, she almost gets lost in the shuffle. She is never fully connected to the events involving the men in the story. I would have liked to know more about how she felt about the vet (Dermot Mulroney, “About Schmidt”), the Mormon hunk (Garrett Hedlund, “Friday Night Lights”) and Rachel’s stepfather, Arnold (Cary Elwes, “The Princess Bride”). These men are very important in her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives. She has strong opinions about them but they are never fully articulated.

As much as I’d really like to, “Georgia Rule” is ultimately too flawed for me to recommend to general audiences. Its limitations are fairly closely related to its flawed ad campaign. Marshall spends too much time exploiting the “aw-shucks!” nature of small town life. And I don’t think even a big city could produce the extravagant variety of animal life these people bring into the vet’s office. As for Georgia’s titular “rules”, I suppose they allow for an efficient way to introduce the three different generations of women, but they have very little to do with the rest of the film’s true purpose.

I also get the impression that Marshall never came to terms with the film’s ‘R’ rating. Considering how Lohan’s sexual identity plays so heavily into the plot’s developments, I can’t imagine he could have expected anything different. However, Marshall often treats the moments of sexuality with a ‘PG-13’ mentality, as if there are some taboos that he is unwilling to confront directly. This lack of commitment to the film’s subject matter is its true failing. What could have been a wonderful study in the differences and connections between female generations is ruined by the distraction of unnecessary comedic elements and a timid approach to the sexuality of a character that seems to exist primarily as a sexual being.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Is an ‘R’ Rating the Right Choice for Smoking in Movies?

I remember quite well the first time I ever tried smoking a cigarette. I will not disclose all the details to protect others involved. I was about twelve and had a friend whose brother was just a year or two older than us. He was already a confirmed smoker; and, as kids tend to look up to older kids, we wanted him to let us try it out.

My friend’s brother was not one to look out for his little brother’s interests and certainly not those of his friend’s, so he took us out into the woods to try a puff or two. Well, two is all I got out of it before hacking so violently I decided to step back out of the woods. Maybe he was trying that old fashioned lesson of giving the boy too much of what he wants to turn him off of it.

The Motion Picture Association of America decided this week that it was no longer going to exercise the old fashioned approach of just allowing anyone to witness the act of smoking in movies. From now on the MPAA will “consider smoking in movies” when rating them. In a statement on Thursday, the MPAA said that they would award an ‘R’ rating to movies with “depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside a historic or other mitigating context.”

MPAA CEO Dan Glickman went on to say, “There is broad awareness of smoking as a unique public health concern due to nicotine's highly addictive nature, and no parent wants their child to take up the habit. ... The appropriate response of the rating system is to give more information to parents on this issue.” This move has garnered a good deal of support from within both the Hollywood and medical communities. The Directors and Screen Actors Guilds of America have both offered statements of support, and the American Cancer Society has said that the new rating guideline will help to keep parents and children away from the health issues caused by tobacco usage.

As a critic, I have to wonder what impact this new precedent will place upon the film community. For decades smoking was an acceptable public practice, and in many classic films a cigarette in the hand was as common as a handkerchief in the pocket of a gentleman or a scarf on a woman. Actors smoked in movies as often as they drank or ate, sometimes more so. Does this new rating criterion mean that hundreds of Hollywood classics are now considered unacceptable for younger viewers, who already struggle to gain an appreciation for the great art of the Golden and Silver ages of cinema? When a classic, like “Casablanca”, is re-released for a revival run in theaters in the future, will it be subjected to a new ratings review and be forever branded with an ‘R’ rating from that time forth?

More importantly, what effect will it have on new movies? The MPAA is notorious for being a controlling factor in the artistic content in movies by utilizing an outdated and sometimes arbitrary system of rating films, more conducive to profiteering for the major Hollywood studios than in the interest of presenting the public what is in its best interest. The IFC Films documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” is a shocking uncovering of the MPAA’s often corrupt policy in their rating practices.

Already, sex is a subject that is off limits to teenagers in film if it is dealt with seriously but perfectly acceptable if it is treated as a silly, degrading joke. Filmgoers must pretend that drugs are a problem to be dealt with only by adults, and therefore children are not allowed to see their destructive nature depicted in film. The MPAA still operates under the antiquated notion that teenagers do not know the meaning of the work “fuck” and certainly would not use it out of context in their everyday speech. And for some reason only a certain amount of “shit” is dirty.

What power will the MPAA now wield over smoking? Their vague definition of the smoking policy in films leaves a lot open for consideration. Can a main character purchase a pack of cigarettes? In a historical context, is the bravado of which smoking is talked about in a film like “Thank You for Smoking” unacceptable, even though it is a critique of our government’s permissive relationship with the tobacco industry? What if someone is smoking in the background of say… a bar scene (in the Midwest, because you probably can’t even smoke in bars on the coasts anymore)? Is that considered “pervasive”? And how will the tobacco industry get the proper amount of product placement into the studio films now?

Now, I understand that the purpose of the MPAA is to inform parents of the appropriateness of film content for children. I certainly don’t feel that smoking is something in which we should be encouraging children to partake. An ‘R’ rating has been proven to cut into ticket sales for a film, especially for that coveted teenager crowd. In theory this will keep kids from seeing it, but if it is a film a teen wants to see, he will.

I’ve seen death from lung cancer, and it is appalling that a preventable condition could have been so easily avoided by the person who dies such a painful death from a smoking induced illness. Smoking related illnesses are one reason for exaggerated medical costs and even uninsured patients in this country. Try getting a worthwhile health insurance policy with a claim that you are a smoker. It seems to me, however, that placing smoking restrictions on the film industry is like putting a band aid on your thumb when it is your throat that is gushing blood.

People smoke. That is a fact in our society. Film is supposed to be a reflection of that society. How can you make something essentially illegal on film that is not illegal in reality? Film can show us the dangers of smoking. Now, if someone wants to make a film about that, it is going to get slapped with an ‘R’ rating and will not be able to reach the people who need the education the most. Our children follow our lead. Why not make greater efforts to ban smoking all together, before taking away one resource that could actually show us why we should?

Buy it: Thank You for Smoking
Buy it: This Film is Not Yet Rated

Now, this may seem counter to my point, but here is an anti-tobacco ad featuring clips of smoking in popular movies:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spider-Man 3 / *** (PG-13)

Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Toby Maguire
Mary Jane Watson: Kirsten Dunst
Harry Osborn: James Franco
Flint Marko/Sandman: Thomas Haden Church
Eddie Brock/Venom: Topher Grace
Gwen Stacy: Bryce Dallas Howard
Aunt May: Rosemary Harris
J. Jonah Jameson: J.K. Simmons

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Sam Raimi. Written by Sam & Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, based on the comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Running time: 140 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action violence).

As of Wednesday evening, when many of the internet fanboy critics had opined on the latest geekcore summer blockbuster extravaganza, “Spider-Man 3” was sitting at a comfortable 80% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer critics’ opinion poll. But by Friday morning, as the mainstream print critics began to post their thoughts on the web slinger’s latest adventure, it was possible to witness the film’s rapid fall of from “fresh” to “rotten”. First the poll was at 78%, then 72%. A few hours later, it had dropped to 68, then 63. As of my writing this, the film rests at a not-so-fresh 62%.

I attribute this decidedly mixed bag of reviews to a sequel’s worst enemy, expectation. With many scribes hailing Spider-Man’s previous dance upon the silver screen as “the greatest super-hero movie ever”, and a budget reportedly nearing the $300 million mark for this follow-up, it was nearly impossible for industry watchers not to expect to be blown away this time. But sometimes with great effort, comes less reward.

That’s not to say the film is a failure, it just doesn’t soar quite so high. You see, as with any genre film, these comic book adaptations aren’t necessarily designed for universal appeal. This is fanboy territory, and in director Sam Raimi (“Evil Dead”), the “Spider-Man” franchise has itself been helmed by a fanboy. Raimi sees the true essence of the Spider-Man universe, which is why the first two films were so successful. But he also wants to make sure all his favorite parts get squeezed in somewhere. With this third installment, that meant throwing a great deal into the pot.

While “Spider-Man 2” wisely restrained from adding the customary two new villains into its mix, Raimi just couldn’t help himself this time around; we get three villains and three separate but equal storylines. For the uncommitted, this could mean too much stuffed into a film that is both too long and overflowing. For some fanboys, this means more of what he wants to see. Others might be happier to see each of these storylines developed more diligently in more than one film. I found myself between the two camps.

Continuing from the previous films is the storyline focusing on the friendship triangle between Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn. Toby Maguire (“Seabicuit”), Kirsten Dunst (“Marie Antoinette”), and James Franco (“Annapolis”) reprise these roles respectively and the webs they all weave become more tangled than ever. As the film opens, Harry still broods over his newfound knowledge that Peter is Spider-Man, whom he feels is responsible for the death of his father. That Peter and Mary Jane seem to have found happiness together as a couple doesn’t help comfort Harry in his growing isolation.

But things aren’t as rosy as they seem for Peter and MJ. She struggles with the fact that he spends so much time helping others as Spider-Man when she needs him emotionally. Peter’s newfound acceptance as a true hero in the eyes of New York’s citizenry chafes at MJ as well. When Harry realizes the cracks in the surface of their relationship, he seizes upon the opportunity to cause his former friend some emotional pain to accompany the physical pain he dishes out as a new costumed nemesis made in the image of his father’s alter ego, the Green Goblin.

In another storyline, we’re introduced to Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church, “Sideways”), an escaped convict with a closer connection to Peter and Spider-Man than is comfortable. Marko has his own problems: his daughter is dying of a debilitating disease and, while he’s on the run from the authorities, he stumbles into an experiment that leaves him with his own debilitation. He finds that he now appears to be made only of sand. He figures out how to regain his former appearance and use his new powers to steal the money needed to help his daughter.

Finally, there is Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, TV’s “That 70’s Show”). Eddie is the new photographer in town, vying for Peter Parker’s job at the Daily Bugle. He finds himself the host of an alien parasite that feeds off of aggression and mutates him into the hate-filled super villain Venom.

To give any of these plotlines any justice, I would have to spend a few thousand more words recounting them. Thus many critics are accusing Raimi of bloating the plot. But I was happy to take in all of these divergent Spider-Man tales. Some holes, however, are left unfilled, most notably the underdeveloped character of Eddie Brock, who never seems evil enough to deserve the transformance that turns him into Venom.

The plot holes, however, are more a reflection of just how broadly Raimi explores his separate storylines. Although he sometimes stays away from each storyline a little too long, he doesn’t sacrifice the story to the action. He also does a good job tying these stories together thematically, as the central character of each finds himself engaged in a battle against his own morality. The action maintains the level of excellence established by the series’ last film. Each fight between Harry and Peter is a spectacular battle, and Marko’s transformation into the Sandman is stunningly realized.

No, I don’t think this installment of the series is good enough to satisfy critics looking for the perfection of “Spider-Man 2”, but it does provide the thrills and some of the emotional explorations that Spidey fans will want. And it is the technically savvy, special effects-filled extravaganza that has come to be expected from the summer blockbuster season. It may not win any screenwriting awards, but this fan was won over by its aim to please.