His name's not Spider-Man anymore, it's Judge Ryan Keefer. And yet they both oddly smell like bacon...
Our reviews of Spider-Man 3 (Blu-ray) (published June 21st, 2012), Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition (published October 30th, 2007), and Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published November 1st, 2007) are also available.
Every hero has a choice.
The sheer box office volume of the Spider-Man series of films for Sony has been staggering, with almost $3 billion for the studio in this trilogy alone. Yet oddly enough, receipts have declined with each release. But in this most recent installment that some people are calling the last, it made the most money for an opening weekend, and was the biggest moneymaker to date in 2007. With its video release here, how does Spider-Man 3 measure up on Blu-ray?
Facts of the Case
Ivan Raimi (Army of Darkness), Alvin Sargent (who wrote the second Spidey film) and Ivan's brother Sam all wrote the screenplay which Sam directed, as he has done for the previous two installments. Our old friend Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, Wonder Boys) has told his longtime crush and newfound girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst, Marie Antoinette) about his arachnid alter ego, and she's fine with it. The problem is that Spider-Man has now become such a beloved figure within New York City, that she's getting increasingly uncomfortable with living with both figures. Meanwhile, Peter's longtime friend Harry (James Franco, Flyboys) becomes more and more affected by his father's death at the hands of Spidey, and has begun exploring drastic measures to avenge Norman Osborn.
Yet that's not all in this film. Remember Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson, Charly), who was carjacked and killed in the first film? Well, turns out he wasn't killed by who everyone thought. A guy named Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways) was actually responsible for the crime, and he recently escaped the prison where he was held. Through an accident involving a particle machine, his body becomes the consistency of sand, hence his "Sandman" nickname. Throw in a striking platinum blonde named Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Village) and a new freelance photographer named Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, In Good Company), and you're sure to find 139 minutes of action and adventure, with a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure.
For as grandiose as the third Spider-Man film might be in vision and scope, there seems to be something lacking. You can almost sense what it is as you're going through it. When more than one actor says that when they joined the film, it was still missing a complete script, then there are problems. When the actors were doing the pre-release publicity, the ambivalence reeked (Dunst in particular) bordered on your typical snot-nosed kid. Then I finally saw Spider-Man 3 and understood why they were apathetic to it.
When I heard more and more details emerge about the film, my general thoughts then (I think I said them on DVD Verdict's Summer Movie Preview Podcast, if you want to head over there to check) as they are now are that with so many different things going on in this film, any potentially decent storylines could wind up losing their focus or effect. With all of the popular opinion wanting to see Venom, we were also given healthy doses of the villain Sandman, who, when battling against Spidey in the climatic final battle, looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, dipped in graham cracker crumbs. And as Sandman/Marko, Church plays the reluctant criminal, but he isn't really given too much to say to further convey that emotion, other than an opening scene where he visits his ailing daughter and often says "I don't want to hurt you" to no one in particular. But I've got to give credit where credit's due; Venom looks pretty cool, and Grace does seem to do some justice to the iconic character.
What is particularly troublesome about the third film is that while it appears to be so in love with parts one and two, it forgets what made the films so memorable. Both in Spidey one and two (especially two), there was a successful marriage of emotional storytelling and breathtaking visual effects. Which leads me to my point. The neglected storyline in question is the most important one. The intertwined relationship between Peter, Mary Jane and Harry, something that has been around since the first film started shooting. That trio of characters is the film's center of attention, or is the closest thing to it. The insertion of the mysterious alien symbiote that gives Peter a black Spidey suit is okay, though the larger part of his personality being consumed by it is more effective than this. A scene at the end of the film helps show that the kids have definitely changed from their experiences over the three films, but there should have been more done to help illustrate said change.
At the end of the day, if I was going to map the trends of the Spider-Man franchise (since it appears it will take a lot to bring all the principals back), I'd say that it started out strong with the first film, peaked in the second, and seemed to dip in the third. If there is a reboot or some other interpretation, one hopes it's given the time to stretch and be created, as opposed to, you know, not working on a completed script like this one did.
Normally I'm not one for hyperbole when it comes to reviews, but seriously, if there's a reason to get into the next definition technology, this is it. The video is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, and it's a beauty. Blacks are fantastic, colors are vivid without a lot of bleeding, and detail can be picked up in every scene, so much so that you can spot the green screen seams between live action and computer generated stuff. The whites appear blown out from time to time and it throws fleshtones off a bit, but it's a minor complaint. The audio is perfect, I can't really add more to this. Well, I sort of can—you can't get by any of these scenes without a lot of surround speaker activity, subwoofer use is ample and well worth the time, and in between the "Birth of Sandman," combined with the scene where a building is taken out by the crane, it's all good. Any scene with the Sandman, expect to turn down low on bass management or get a knock on your door by the neighbors, as I did.
OK, so the cover of the case talks about "over 6 hours of special features," but if you take out the two commentary tracks, you're left with a series of featurettes than run for a couple of hours, even if it does span two discs. The first commentary is with the stars and the director and is a group effort, even though Dunst is not available in person to participate. The stars fondly recall being "tortured" by Raimi, who at times seems to do nothing more than list the names of crew members who helped in a particular scene. Church is clearly the clown of the group and it would have been nice to hear more from him, but some "comic book geek" moments take precedence during the track, including one topic where Raimi discusses the then possibility that Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) would have been playing the role of Vulture for the film. But past that, you'd expect with so many people on the track that the would be more value here, but oh well. The second track is producer heavy with Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin and Grant Curtis, along with Editor Bob Murawski and Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Stokoyk. This one talks about the challenges of the production, and Murawski and Stokoyk talk about what they needed to do in their specific roles. In terms of material, it's a lot drier and stodgier, and not worth the time to be honest. From there, you've got stills galleries on the production and various sketches from the film, along with a music video and seven minute blooper reel that isn't all that funny.
Moving on to Disc Two, there are 11 featurettes that, when played together, run a little over two hours. All are presented in MPEG-4 video, which was a pleasant surprise. "Grains of Sand" discusses the process designed to transform Church into Sandman, along with his origins in the comic. "Covered in Black" is a similar look at turning Grace into Venom, just add a lot of "dark" metaphors to it. "Re-imagining the Goblin" looks at Franco's increased role in the film, while "Holding On" is a look at the stunt sequence where Stacy falls out of the building. "Fighting, Flying and Driving" is a look at the stunt and wire work put in for the film, while various members of the crew discuss the rehearsals. "Tangled Web" looks at the many romantic subplots during the film, while "Wall of Water" examines a fight between Sandman and Spider-Man. "Inside the Editing Room" is a look at that same profession, while "The Science of Sound" examines the composing, sound mixing, sound effects and sound design, all in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Separate looks at the New York and Cleveland locations complete the Featurettes section of the disc. The only other section on the disc is entitled Ad Campaign, which holds a teaser and three trailers (including one that is a little more centered on Venom), all of which are in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, focus on the Peter/Mary Jane/Harry angle a little bit more, and it would have been a great film, the scenes with all of them were actually not too bad, and this film results in the best work Franco has done in the series. Hopefully he can parlay some of the big studio work into some more substantive projects, as I think he's become as solid an actor as Maguire.
Spider-Man 3 seemed to throw a lot of things against the wall in the attempt to find some sort of moment that would resonate with viewers. But at the end of the day, all they got was a long (by about 20 minutes), loud, confused super hero film. Having said that, I wholeheartedly and eagerly recommend running out and getting this title, because the Blu-ray audio tracks alone make this a must-own.
Technically, not guilty. Creatively? Well, let's just give the kids a guilty and sentence them to a cell next to Spider-Pig.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with the Filmmakers
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