Case Number 12297


Sony // 2007 // 139 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 30th, 2007

The Charge

"It's me. Peter Parker. Your Friendly know. I've come a long way from being the boy who was bitten by a spider." -- Peter Parker

Opening Statement

"Where do all these guys come from?" Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, Seabiscuit) asks himself as he empties sand from his Spidey boots after a battle with Sandman. In Spider-Man 3: 2-Disc Special Edition, the answer's easy: they come from the Spider-Man comic books.

Perhaps the most resilient swinger of the 1960s, Spider-Man slung his first web in issue 15 of Amazing Fantasy. If you read his Marvel bio, you'll note that since 1962, Peter Parker has seen nearly all of his friends and college professors mutate into insane super-powered villains.

In the pen-and-ink version, though, Peter has graduated from years of geekdom -- finally winning the heart of the woman of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson -- and even held a press conference to announce he's Spider-Man.

Wisely (as anyone who's read Spidey's newspaper comic strip lately knows), the Spider-Man movie series took Peter Parker back to his roots as a geeky science whiz struggling with life as much as he struggles with villains. Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) may step up the modern effects as much as a director can, but the movies ultimately focus on Peter Parker, not Spidey.

Spider-Man 3 finds Peter, for once, not completely on the bottom of the heap -- and he's finding the lack of complete, utter heartbreaking failure hard to deal with.

Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition finds him surrounded -- by extras.

Facts of the Case

Peter Parker and MJ Watson (Kirsten Dunst, Marie Antoinette) are getting into the swing of things -- even using Spidey's web as a hammock to watch the stars. Peter's working up the nerve to propose, but MJ's got her Broadway debut on her mind. She's upset with watching Spidey become the toast of the town while her acting career stalls because of bad reviews.

Elsewhere, escaped convict Flint Marco (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) is risking all to visit his dying daughter. Chased through the marsh lands, Flint wanders into a demolecularization experiment with a pile of sand and becomes -- a living pile of sand, the sort of guy you might call Sandman.

Harry Osborn (James Franco, Flyboys) becomes the Goblin, going after Peter to avenge his father's death. Their fight sends Harry tumbling to the ground. Harry wakes up with short-term memory loss, and Peter hopes it'll last.

Peter's got problems at the Bugle as well, thanks to Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, That '70s Show), a rival photographer who's on the scene -- and in Spidey's face -- whenever there's trouble.

Peter's beautiful lab partner Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady in the Water) locks lips with Spidey after he rescues her from a runaway crane, angering MJ.

What more could you ask for? How about an alien symbiote that follows Peter home one night and weaves itself into a new Spidey suit, changing his personality for the worse? How about having that alien symbiote have an even worse effect on Eddie Brock?

The Evidence

Revenge is the thread which ties Spider-Man 3 together. Peter wants revenge on Flint Marco for the death of his Uncle Ben. Harry wants revenge on Peter for the death of his father. Eddie wants revenge on Peter for the death of his job. For Peter and Eddie, the alien symbiote will amplify that desire.

That thematic unity makes the fight scenes more interesting, as when a mad Harry is confronted by a maddened Peter. It's not just CGI flash; there's some real acting here, and the battles take on a metaphoric quality. The final battle -- with the obligatory teaming of supervillains -- runs a bit too long, but the shout-out to King Kong with the giant Sandman was fun, and a final scene with Tobey Maguire and Thomas Haden Church is played well.

The movie becomes more about Peter's coming to terms with the death of his Uncle Ben and becoming responsible enough for marriage than about catching villains. It makes room for graceful moments, such as when the pile of sand struggles to become Flint Marco so it can grasp a locket with his daughter's picture.

It also gives a good storyline to James Franco as Harry Osborn. With Harry having to deal with his emotions, Franco finally gets something to do -- and occasionally threatens to steal the show from Tobey Maguire.

Of course, that's a tough thing to do. If you've seen the first two movies, you know Maguire is Spider-Man. Not the supposedly cooler rebooted version, but the original awkward kid coping with great powers and great responsibility. As usual, he makes Peter Parker seem like an average guy with average problems -- even when those problems include an alien symbiote, an angry Goblin, and a living pile of sand.

I enjoyed the scenes with "bad" Peter, even if he looks a little too much like Mr. Bean. They remind us that Peter has been kind of a wimp -- he needs an alien symbiote to give him the nerve to ask not-so-jolly J. Jonah Jameson for more money. While Maguire's mostly just having fun and goofing around, he makes sure the conflict in Peter's mind as his personality changes is evident.

Thomas Haden Church was great as Sandman; he gave the role the kind of dramatic touches necessary for an action movie that packs metaphoric punches. When "bad" Spidey went after Sandman with murderous intent, Church was sympathetic enough that I wasn't sure who to root for. Since his departure is ambiguous here, let's hope Church returns for round two in the next sequel.

With two strong villains showing a lot of internal life, Topher Grace's comic relief turn as Eddie Brock (before turning into pure evil as Venom) got lost in the shuffle. Grace shifted gears on a dime and delivered a believable, funny performance, but his role seemed more like a good comic cameo, Bruce Campbell style, than that of a major villain. Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy also got lost in there somewhere; when Howard talked about Gwen's motivations in the featurette, I thought it might have been nice to see enough of her to figure those things out on my own. The creative decisions that gave these two the short shrift weren't bad in the end, since the emphasis on Franco and Church brought two strong actors to the forefront.

One thing I never thought I'd rave about in a Spider-Man movie is the soundtrack. With classical and jazz standards -- not to mention "The Twist" -- it's an unexpected pleasure. I was particularly amused by the final number, in which MJ sings that she'll "never fall again." Doesn't it sound like a rebuke to Peter ("If I end up falling from a taxi suspended over Manhattan one more time, you're through, Buster! You hear me! Through!")? The music choices -- and their delivery -- sound fantastic throughout.

The CGI-heavy visuals on Spider-Man 3 at times look cartoonish -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It helps let us know we're in a different world here, not the real New York. When watching the featurettes, I was surprised to see that there was a lot of live-action battling in there. The DVD transfer was beautiful, as you'd expect from a recent big-budget release.

Since it's Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition, two commentaries are a must. The first features Sam Raimi, surrounded by actors James Franco, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thomas Haden Church, and Topher Grace. It seems like an all-star press conference at times, since the actors are often asking Raimi questions. There's also a lot of joshing, as when Franco and Maguire debate which of their characters had the mopiest personality. The best discussion surrounds the final fight scene. The second commentary features Producer Avi Arad, Producer Grant Curtis, Producer Laura Ziskin, Film Editor Bob Murawski, and Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Stokdyk. This one reveals that it is Kirsten Dunst singing and lets you know what became of the sets to Strong Medicine, a canceled TV series. Both commentaries were interesting, but suffered from the "too many voices" syndrome.

That isn't all. Featurettes show, in detail, how the movie was put together. Most interesting was "Wall of Water," which dissects the subway fight scene between Spidey and Sandman, and manages to make it even more impressive. "Grains of Sand: Building Sandman," also stood out, showing special-effects guys studying sand to find out what the grains do so Sandman can do whatever sand can. I was also fascinated watching a crew in "The Science of Sound" as they got all the little sounds heard in the film and "On Location: New York from Rooftops to Backstreets" as the SpyderCam took shots that would make it look like Spidey was really swinging through New York. "On Location: Cleveland -- The Chase on Euclid Avenue" shows the team taking a chase to the streets of Cleveland because there's "much less traffic" -- at least relative to New York City.

If that's not enough, you can learn about what went into portraying and visualizing the new Goblin, Venom, and Gwen Stacy, and then get a primer on fight scenes and editing. They may be short features, but they clock in at about two hours collectively.

The package is rounded out by a "blooper" reel that turns into shots of the stars clowning around, galleries which show the storyboards and production designs, trailers, and the "Signal Fire" music video.

There's one conspicuous absence, since deleted scenes are mentioned in commentary but not included. A soundtrack CD would have been great, too.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If you still read comic books or the funnies page, you know how Peter's tribulations with MJ are going to turn out -- if the movie series lasts long enough. You probably know how anything else in Spider-Man 3 will turn out, too.

And how long can Peter Parker keep his identity a secret when he's always losing his mask -- especially when Spider-Man keeps rescuing Peter's friends and fiancee? The Spider-Man movies adhere to their own internal logic -- one that keeps Peter Parker's struggles relatable but could leave you scratching your head.

You'll also be puzzled over how Peter Parker -- even with the proportionate strength of a spider -- withstands all the pounding he gets in this movie.

Closing Statement

Spider-Man 3 wraps up a lot of storylines from the previous two movies, but Peter and MJ still haven't reached the altar. Will Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst stick around long enough to see the relationship through, with Sam Raimi as matchmaker? All three have left the question open, according to Sci-Fi Wire.

Even though the Marvel nuptials were left to Reed Richards and Sue Storm this summer, Spider-Man 3 reaches a satisfying conclusion, with Peter growing as a person so he can live up to his responsibilities, web-slinging and otherwise.

If you've seen the first two, you've got to see Spider-Man 3. If you're one of the few who hasn't, I recommend it, but try to see this series in order. Spider-Man 3 works on its own but the series has a serial aspect, as you'll note from the recap montage during the opening credits. Maybe they should just do a "Previously on Spider-Man..." at the start of the film next time.

Should you plunk down for the Two-Disc Special Edition? Fans will find that there's plenty to keep you occupied, but the lack of deleted scenes foreshadows a possible double-dip later. If you just don't care how Sandman was brought to life, the features won't impress you much anyway.

The Verdict

By now, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst might be hoping for bad reviews -- a la MJ's stage debut -- in hopes of being rid of the Spider-Saga forever. That "I'll never fall again" line could have had literal meaning for Dunst as well as MJ. Sorry, you two: Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2007 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 98
Audio: 99
Extras: 90
Acting: 95
Story: 90
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary by Sam Raimi and Cast
* Filmmakers' Commentary
* Bloopers
* "Signal Fire" Video by Snow Patrol
* "Grains of Sand: Building Sandman"
* "Re-Imagining the Goblin"
* "Covered in Black: Creating Venom"
* "Hanging On: Gwen Stacy and The Collapsing Floor"
* "Fighting, Flying & Driving: The Fights of Spider-Man 3"
* "Tangled Web: The Love Triangle of Spider-Man 3"
* "Inside the Editing Room"
* "The Science of Sound"
* "On Location: New York From Rooftops to Backstreets"
* "On Location: Cleveland--The Chase on Euclid Avenue"
* "Wall of Water"

* IMDb

* Official Site

* Marvel Comics: Spider-Man

* SCI-FI Wire on Spider-Man 4