When Spider-Man 3 hit theaters it was weighed down with the crushing expectations of the critical and commercial success of its two predecessors. Spider-Man 2, in particular, is often advocated, at least on this site, as the best super-hero movie ever. Although the third installment of the web slinger’s exploits met box-office expectations it failed to raise the bar in movie-making terms the way it’s immediate predecessor did. But who the hell really cares? It’s a fun movie, so stow the expectations and be glad Brett Ratner didn’t get ahold of it and turn it into X-Men 3.
Director Sam Raimi starts the third movie with Spider-Man and his alter-ego, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), on top of the world. Peter is planning to ask Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) to marry him and Spidey has never been more popular. Such happiness does not a good movie make, so bring on the villains! There are three, which is probably two too many. Peter’s buddy Harry Osborne (James Franco) is after vengeance for Spider-Man killing his father, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) a rival photographer gets slimed by black goo that originally attaches itself to Peter and ends up as fan-favorite Venom, and Flint Marko (a buffed up Thomas Haden Church), a convict with sad eyes, turns into the Sandman and tries to steal to help his sick daughter. As Spider-Man himself mutters after one fight with the Sandman, “where do these guys come from?”
Spidey’s battles with the trio, individually and in various combinations, form the highlight of the flick. All the money spent ends up on the screen in stunts both CGI and old-fashioned. They are also widely varied with fights in the air, on skyscrapers, in moving armored cars, in the sewer, and while serving tea to the Queen of England. The CGI looks less fake than it did in the first two movies and Raimi shows some real genius for making things quick and intense but still allowing the viewer to follow the action. These will have you on the edge of your couch, chair, or comfortable futon.
While the fights and action live up to their billing, the rest of the story, typically a Spider-man strong point, does not. There are three love triangles (Grace jokingly calls it the “love octagon” in the extras) and none of them are particularly interesting. Peter and Mary Jane dither back and forth just like in Spider-Man 2. In fact, a lot of the story has a “been there, done that” kind of quality. Peter’s guilt over Uncle Ben’s murder? Check. Harry and Peter in competition for Mary Jane? Check. A basically good person becoming a villain but redeeming himself in the end? Double check. We’ve seen a lot of this before, and rather than streamlining one good story, Raimi and his co-writers, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, shoehorn everything into the plot. They never fully form any new characters or take old ones to new areas.
We do get to watch Spidey (or Parker anyway) dance! Ugh, is that a flippin’ mess. Trying to use the infatuated Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a tool to make MJ jealous, Peter, under the influence of the black goo, takes over a jazz club and lets out his inner River Dancer. The whole scene is a microcosm of the failed effort by Raimi to express Peter’s inner turmoil and dark side throughout the picture, mostly because Peter’s inner turmoil doesn’t get the time it needs to fully play out, as it did in Spider-man 2. Raimi thinks putting him in a black suit and dropping a lock of his hair across his forehead will be shorthand for what Pete is going through. For a 139 minute movie, there is actually a lot missing.
Fans of action-porn will love this movie. At times it drags and, while everything is tied up at the end, the excess plot points, villains, and relationship threads can be distracting and a little tiring to sit through. These deficiencies keep the movie from being great; however, it’s still pretty good. Hopefully on Spider-man 4, the less is more ethic will come back in vogue.
I normally don’t pay much attention to the packaging of DVD’s, but I want point out something with the Spider-Man 3 Special Edition box that is a little squirrelly. A big blurb on the front of the box trumpets “more than 6 hours of supplementary material. Maybe I’m a dope, but I thought that meant six hours of featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, trailers, and the like. After reviewing everything and adding up my running total of lengths for each item, it came out to closer to two hours. The only thing I can figure is that the two commentaries are counted as two plus hours of supplementary material, each. Added to the features, that would total more than six hours. It’s technically a true statement and maybe I’m the only one who would be misled by what is stated on the box, but it’s a little cheap.
The commentaries are, on the whole, entirely serviceable. I guess that’s damning with faint praise, but there isn’t really anything memorable or noteworthy about either. One features Sam Raimi and every lead member of the cast; Maguire, Dunst, Franco, Church, Grace, and Howard. There is the usual ass-kissing of each other (mostly directed towards Raimi) and while there is some humor (typically from Grace) it doesn’t knock your socks off. Howard is the only one who borders on insufferable, though, she sounds like she just made the definitive King Lear rather than a popcorn movie. The other commentary is by producers Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis, Editor Bob Murawski and Special Effects Supervisor Scott Stokdyk, A little more behind the scenes information is provided and less jokey palling around than the actor/director commentary. In both cases, the large number of commentators would make it nice to have identifiers on the screen when a new person is talking. They did this on the Lord of the Rings DVDs, but I never see it anywhere else, even though it is very helpful.
There is a big grab-bag of featurettes that comprise most of the second disc. Three focus on the villains, New Goblin, Sandman, and Venom, and are similar in content. Each starts out with a discussion of the character; traits, basis in the comics, and the ardent desire of Raimi and the producer to have the character in the film. The actor playing each talks about how they loved the character, series, or comics in general as a kid and loves the idea of playing this particular menace. The rest of the featurette, they run from 10 to 15 minutes each, shows the creating of the character for the movie, with an emphasis on the CGI elements. For those people who really love particular characters (or the actors who play them), this is a nice trio of material.
Another group of featurettes discuss some of the spectacular stunts or set pieces in greater detail. Two are approximately 10 minutes each and relate to specific stunts. “Hanging On – Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor” involves the scene where Gwen is doing a photo shoot in a skyscraper hit by a runaway crane, causing the floor to tilt and send her on a 60 story drop. The stunt and production coordinators discuss the amazing hydraulic tilts used and Raimi and Howard talk about shooting the scene itself. “Wall of Water” deals with the stunt in the sewer where Spider-Man opens a pipe to drown Sandman. They again talk to the special effects experts on how the shot was done and show things like water tests and the need to use a dummy because the water came out of the pipe so fast and hard it wouldn’t be safe even for a stunt man.
The other stunt featurette is longer but more general. “Fighting, Flying, and Driving” is nearly 20 minutes and highlights most of the major battle and stunt scenes. It is very interesting, in places, to see how things are done and to really appreciate the amount of actual stunt work (rather than CGI) that went into the movie. Watching the film makes you think it was all done by computer, but there is some heavy machinery at work and it looks like all of the harnesses and wires in the country were used.
While not a stunt featurette per se, “On Location – Cleveland” is not really about shooting in Cleveland, but more about the first fight between Sandman and Spider-Man on the armored truck. Cleveland stood in for New York due to the time and street space needed to shoot the car stunt. If you like seeing cars smashed around, this is the extra for you. The other location related extra, “On Location – New York” doesn’t focus much on one particular scene shot in New York. Instead, all the actors and crew tell us how much “energy” is in New York and how great it is to film in the city. It’s ok as a kiss-ass to NYC and does show a little behind-the-scenes on how Spidey flies between the tall buildings (it’s not all computers, just mostly.)
The relationships in Spider-Man 3 form the complex basis for much of the story. A ten minute featurette called “Tangled Web” looks at the relationship between (take a deep breath); Harry, Peter, and MJ; MJ, Gwen, and Peter; and Gwen, Eddie, and Peter. I think they should have tried to throw in a Betty, Harry, and Eddie triangle as well, just to round it out. If that seems like more love triangles than any one movie should have, you’re right. The fact that this area didn’t really work well is one of the main reasons the whole movie wasn’t as good as it should have been. This is the feature where you get to see some background on the infamous Spidey Dances sequence.
Moving more behind the camera are the extras related to editing and sound. The “Science of Sound” is sort of a catch all focusing on everything from the score to sound effects to and sound mixing. It would have been more fun to hear why Danny Elfman refused to work with Sam Raimi and had to be replaced by Christopher Young, but that isn’t mentioned. It is, however, a great behind-the-scenes look at how sounds are found and then put together in big complex blockbuster. “Inside the Editing Room” interviews editor Bob Murawski and has him talk about the editing process. The Peter/Goblin aerial fight is used to demonstrate some of the techniques. It’s short and sweet.
The final few extras include a blooper reel and the trailers and television spots. The blooper reel is pretty funny, especially Harry’s butler. That guy must be senile or something. The trailers are nothing special but the television spots are from countries around the world. It’s worth watching them one after another to see what parts of the movie are emphasized in different areas. Also, some spots include dubbed dialogue, some include the original English but with subtitles, and some have no dialogue and just narration in the local language. The one for Great Britain is my favorite, as it seems to imply that they want their action movies to be like cheesy 80’s music videos. There is also a Snow Patrol music video for a song used in the film. Rather than cutting a band performance with scenes from the movie, they show a second grade class performing the Spider-man story at a school performance. It’s pretty entertaining. A couple of Spidey themed toy and game commercials as well as the obligatory previews are also included.
While the movie is not up to par with the previous two efforts, this is a pretty substantial 2-disc set. Nothing in the extras could be called truly innovative or must-see, but people interested in the movie get a lot of behind-the-scenes action. Fans and those who went ga-ga over the movie despite its flaws will be pleased. Everyone else will get exactly what they got with the theatrical movie; nothing outstanding, but professional and entertaining regardless.