Review by James Harvey
Spider-Man returns for a third swing on the big screen in Spider-Man 3, this time tackling three villains and a complicated love-life. There are more complications, of course, in the form of a mysterious alien ooze which has attached itself to our hero. That in itself seems a bit much for two movies, let alone one, and while the movie does struggle to give each storyline its due, there are some moments where things seem to fall off to the wayside. And everyone cries . . . a lot. However, as the movie gears up for the finale, wrapping up every plot thread imaginable before the end credits, it does seem to fit. As flawed as this movie may be, it can easily stand up as a good finale to the first Spider-Man trilogy, yet leaves the door open for the inevitable future installments.
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) finally has the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and New York City is in the throes of Spider-mania! But when a strange alien symbiote turns Spider-Man’s suit black, his darkest demons come to light changing Spider-Man inside as well as out. Spider-Man is in for the fight of his life against a lethal mix of villains - the deadly Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), and the New Goblin (James Franco) - as well as the enemy within himself.
Out of the many “threequels” that hit theatres this summer (I believe it was around five or six, all together), Spider-Man 3 was easily the most anticipated of them all. The teasers and trailers were popping up everywhere and comic book fans were excited. Hell, even non-comic book fans were excited. Of course, when it was finally released, the first big movie of the summer, it hit big. It broke a host of box office records and went on to be the top grossing film of the Spider-Man trilogy worldwide. And it’s easy to see why. The trailers, and the film series itself, truly appealed to everyone. Whether it was long-time fans of the character, new fans, fans of just the films, etc., there was something there for everyone. And then some.
And when I say “and then some,” I mean it, because, boy, there was a lot in this movie. This movie was so crammed with plotlines that I could’ve easily been divided into two or three different movies. And, since there was so much in these movies, not every character got the time they deserved. However, somehow, despite all the faults, I still found Spider-Man 3 to be a good final act in the first Spider-Man trilogy. While everything seems wrapped up, it’s also in place to a fourth film can easily pick up where they left off.
So what do we have in this movie, exactly? Well, we have Harry Osborn out for revenge against Peter Parker, believed he killed his father. Then, on top of that, after a tussle above the city, Osborn finds himself stricken with amnesia. Mary Jane is also struggling with her acting career and, in effect, is finding it difficult to be with Peter, who’s finding so much success as Spider-Man. Spider-Man is now a highly regaled protector of the city, and Parker is enjoying every minute it. Of course, all that becomes problematic when a mysterious alien ooze attaches itself to him, bringing out the darker side of Peter. Now, toss in a subplot with Sandman, an escaped con man trying to save his sick daughter, and Eddie Brock, a rival for Peter Parker, eventually comes in contact with the alien ooze and becomes Venom. Oh, and Gwen Stacy has a small role in the movie as well. And Peter wants to marry Mary Jane.
See the above paragraph, and how jumbled and messy it is? That’s . . . pretty much the movie. Of course, it works better in the movie as just about every situation featured above is resolved, but still, look at that. That is one busy movie. Even clocking in at around 140 minutes, it is a very busy movie. And it starts off like that right away, too. The movie takes off about five minutes in and, really, never stops.
Despite being a bit overstuffed, I really liked the movie. Now, it wasn’t as good as Spider-Man 2, but I would place it on the same pedestal as the original Spider-Man. And what makes me enjoy this movie so much mostly has to do with the directing and skill of Sam Raimi. He really throws so much into the movie, even when having to handle a character he has no interest in, such as Venom (as reported). Without a doubt, this is his rendition of the character, a character he grew up with. All of his influences come pouring into the movie and, as you can see, the results are usually quite successful.
Of course, some people don’t always get his jokes, his references, his influences. I feel that some people missed out on probably one of the best gags in this movie – Peter Parker . . . as a 1950’s greaser (with a hint of Tony Manero). While it does push everything off the wayside for a few moments, it’s a great idea and does add to Parker’s character. Yes, yes, Parker does look a bit “emo” when he dons the black suit, but, personally, I thought it was very obvious that Raimi was going for a more greaser vibe with the whole thing. It makes sense thematically and for the character. Some fans complained that Peter didn’t go dark enough, but we have to realize that, first and foremost, Peter’s a bit of a dork. He’s not going to change to some buffed-up lunatic. He’s going to become, simply, a nerdy jerk, and we see that during the now-infamous montage/dance sequence. He’s a jerk now, though and through, but he’s still a nerd. Besides, at one point of the movie, he believes he’s killed Sandman. He seems very proud and even brags to Aunt May about it. He even hits Mary Jane during a scuffle, albeit accidentally, after the infamous Jazz club dance scene. That’s pretty dark, for Peter, if you ask me, and well it's played.
Now, like I said, I liked this movie. It’s not the best, no, and it does have a few problems. Like I said early, there is just too much crammed into this movie. And because of this, the character work does suffer. The character of Gwen Stacy basically has an extended cameo, Sandman comes up a bit short in his motivation and doesn't really have alot to do, and Venom is only introduced in the third act of the movie. Of course, Venom’s Eddie Brock persona also gets shortchanged, and his hatred for Peter seems to come up a bit short. There’s just so much going on that, at times, the movie can’t take a moment to breathe. It jumps from scene to scene to scene, and is sometimes very clumsy in both scene transitions and exposition. The big climactic fight scene at the end is littered with clunky exposition, excessive crying, and very hokey dialogue from the newcasters covering the event. There’s also a scene involving J. Jonah Jameson buying a camera from a kid that seems to go on for far too long.
This movie, much like the previous ones, does have a charm to it, and I can’t quite place it. There’s something about these films that, even when there are some major flaws or faulty CGI effects, I still come out with a smile on my face. Maybe it’s because I’m a comic geek and it’s just a thrill so characters that I only know from the page and cartoons come to life on the big screen. Now, I’m someone who knows what I like and what I don’t, and this? This I like. It has an insane amount of breathless action and some pretty amazing special effects. Of course, with that, there are also a few lame duck effects, too. I thought that there were instances when the effects could have been much better, such as some faulty CGI during the big end battle, or the obvious green screen work during the initial Harry/Peter battle that essentially kicks off the movie. Don’t get me wrong, there’s also some pretty amazing special effects to be found, too, but the really great effects just make the subpar quality ones stick out all the more. I think a little more time could have been used to refine some of these effects.
I will say that, without question, the effects work on the initial Sandman sequence, when he first tries to regain his composure after being doused with radioactive sand, are amazing. There’s so much emotion in that sequence, and the CGI really brings it out. It’s a truly emotional, very powerful moment.
Like the afore-mentioned scene, there’s a lot to like about this movie. I enjoyed what they did to Peter Parker’s character and I thought the translation of the infamous black suit from the comic page to the big screen was dead-on perfect. I enjoyed the few great scenes we got between Topher Grace (Eddie Brock/Venom) and McGuire, and I really dug the Harry/Peter conflict. Sure, the amnesia aspect of the conflict is a bit of a cliché, but it does fuel some excellent exchanges between the Peter, Harry, and even Mary Jane. It's interesting to see Harry become more charming, as a result of his amensia, and Peter slipping to the dark side, due to the symbiote. Peter's descent is also fueled by the appearance of his father's real killer, Flinto Marko/Sandman, played by Church. As great as Church was as Sandman, I felt his plotline could have easily been dropped for the sake of clarity in the movie. While I understand how his plotline is supposed to re-invoke Parker’s guilt and rage over Uncle Ben’s death, now enhanced by his new costume, I felt that it could have been left out.
I can't help but also point out, in my opinion, the fumbled handling of the alien ooze’s introduction. Why go with a random meteor crashing near Parker’s bike? Why not go with the excellent origin from Ultimate Spider-Man, and have the ooze be scientific in nature? Seems like the best way to go, in my opinion. I understand Raimi was going for a 1950's sci-fi vibe with the ooze's introduction, but I don't think it fits in this case.
I know it seems like I’ve complained a lot, but, like I’ve already said, I accepted the flaws and just enjoyed the movie. And why? Well, besides the solid director, the acting was pretty much solid across the board. Every actor, even in the smallest role, shines with the material they’re given. In-fact, it even seems like they’re actually having fun. And that sense of fun pops out in just about every scene. Despite the darker installment, the cast and crew never lost the sense of fun and imagination this film series is known for. As overstuffed as this movie seems, there’s a lot of great moments found within, and a lot of fun to be had. It’s still a good movie made possible by a solid effort from the creative team, despite the imperfections.
And there are just some great scenes, like the aforementioned Sandman scene, or the small character bits here in there. The scene where Spider-Man is at his apartment listening to the police tuner, waiting, is a brilliant little scene. It’s effective and something we rarely see in these types of flicks. It’s the scene that basically sold me on the movie, warts and all.
And, despite what you may have read, or the impression you may get even from this review, Spider-Man 3 is better than alot of people make it out to be. I think fans tend to forget that comic book-based movies always do their own spin on the established mythos. They will almost always be different than the source material. And, personally, I don’t mind. It comes with the territory, really. Fans can be quite rabid at times, attacking even the smallest alteration and blowing it up to ridiculous proportions. And the fan reaction to Spider-Man 3, on the most part, was no different. Personally, I found the hostile reaction toward this movie unwarranted because, overall, these Spider-Man films have been pretty excellent. Even Spider-Man 3, as flawed as it was, still did a great job at bringing these characters to life and giving us a gripping yarn. I know it’s not a success across the board, but it got more right than wrong. More importantly, it pays tribute to the characters we all know and love instead of just forgetting the mythos that spawned these amazing characters. And despite its problems, Spider-Man 3 continues to successfully pay tribute to these characters and deserves recognition.
Spider-Man 3 successfully wraps up probably the best comic book trilogy to date. Sure, it’s not the best of the bunch, but it achieves what it sets out to do, even if it seems like it’s taken on just a bit too much. For every flaw I find or criticize, I can find five other parts I like. Sure, it may not seem like that from this review, but that’s how I feel toward this movie. It’s a flawed film, but a winner nonetheless. There’s a lot to digest here, and a lot going on, but, in the end, and despite whatever problems the movie has, it’s still a worthy installment of the film franchise and an overall enjoyable movie.
Now that you’ve made it through that jumbled movie review, let’s move right on to the DVD, shall we? As far as I can tell, both the audio and video are near perfection for a standard DVD release. The video seems crystal with few, if any, flaws. And, along those lines, the audio transfer seems to be just as rock solid. It sweeps across the speakers, delivering great audio booms when needed, and never coming across as muddy or jumbled.
The Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition comes in a regular hinged-flap Amaray case holding both discs. Inside is an insert for the Blu-Ray line of discs and outside is, of course, an embossed cardboard slipcover replicating the front and back artwork. Menus are a mix of still photographs and animation with music underscoring most of the screens.
For a movie this big, the extras are very plentiful, as you can expect. Sony is pushing this release as their big earner for the 2007 holiday season and, without a doubt, they have a sure-fire winner. Whether it’s on standard DVD or Blu-Ray, this title will likely be the big seller for the next quarter. I can honestly see this outperforming Transformers, Shrek The Third and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Not only did Spider-Man 3 outperform those four movies at the domestic box-office, it’ll outperform them on home video, too, and it’ll have a solid DVD to back it up.
And I say that because the extras here are handled excellently. They may not be as extensive or solid as the amazing documentary included in the Spider-Man 2 DVD release but, here, they extras are well-rounded and very informative. While the information we get here is basically nothing new to those familiar with DVD extras, they remain interesting nonetheless due to the content and topic at hand. Naturally, the extras are spread over two discs.
The first disc contains two audio commentaries. The first presents Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Topher Grace, Sam Raimi, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thomas Haden Church, and Kirsten Dunst in a chatty gathering. The second is commentary with producers Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis, editor Bob Murawski and special effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk is from more of a technical standpoint, but contains the odd interesting tidbit. The disc is rounded out with a collection of pretty good bloopers, a photo gallery, a music video for the Snow Patrol song “Signal Fire,” and some previews. As you can imagine, based on the description above, the major goodies are on the second disc.
Featurettes are the dominant extra on the second disc, clocking in with over two hours of behind-the-scenes material. In “Grains of Sand: Building the Sandman,” the featurette looks at the Sandman character from the Marvel Comics and how he was adapted to the big screen in an arduous two-year process. Somewhat related, “Wall of Water” looks at the special effects used to create a SFX-heavy scene involving Sandman and a water main. After that, James Franco gives us a look at his character, Harry Osborn, and the Green Goblin legacy in “Re-imaging the Goblin.” “Covered in Black: Creating Venom” looks at the comic history of Venom and how he was adapted to the film. “Hanging On: Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor” gives a step-by-step look at how this sequence was filmed. “Tangled Web: The Love Triangles of Spider-Man” is pretty self-explanatory, looking at the assorted love triangles found in Spider-Man 3.
“Fighting, Flying and Driving: The Stunts” looks at the stunt-work for the film and how, surprisingly, a lot of the stuntwork was focused more on Peter than on his Spider-Man persona. On Location on Cleveland - The Chase on Euclid Avenue” is self-explanatory, looking at a few scenes and stunts were performed in Cleveland, doubling for New York City. And speaking of New York, New York - From Rooftops to Back Streets looks at how locations in New York City were utilized for the film, including Time Square, and how Spider-Man is emotionally tied to the great city. The featurettes finish up with a look at editing the movie, in “Inside the Editing Room,” and “The Science of Sound,” an in-depth look at Christopher Young’s score for the film. Oddly enough, Sony has yet to release the score to Spider-Man 3, which I believe is a major oversight on their part.
The movie’s theatrical teaser and three theatrical trailers are included, as well as assorted TV spots from all over the world, rounding out the second disc. The international TV spots, I believe, are a great addition to the disc, providing a global perspective on how huge these Spider-Man movies are.
All things considered, the extras are well-produced and worth watching, covering interesting, if familiar, aspects of the film’s production. Whether you like the film or not, you simply have to appreciate the work that went into Spider-Man 3, documented here in the extras. They serve as a great companion to the main feature and may provide viewers with a few new nuggets on their favorite Spider-Man characters.
It goes without that saying that Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition comes Highly Recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the film or the character. Spider-Man 3 is a fun blockbuster that’s a solid movie on it’s own right, even if it doesn’t match up to the perfection exhibited in Spider-Man 2. Still, it’s a packed movie that will definitely keep you watching for the duration. On top of that, the extras on the two-disc set are very well done and definitely add to the Spider-Man 3 experience. If you’re a casual fan, the one-disc set is likely the way to go, but for movie buffs and fan of the character and the film franchise, go out and pick up the Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition.