- Rated PG-13
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
istory has proven that movie sequels rarely exceed their original, but as we already know, “Spider-Man 2” holds its place in history as one of the very few to ever do so. The 2004 follow-up to Peter Parker’s origin story offered better drama, action and special effects, not to mention the most engaging character study of any superhero to grace the big screen. It’s an even rarer feat, however, for the third installment of a trilogy to live up to its predecessors, but “Spider-Man 3” pulls it off almost effortlessly, thanks in part to the return of the same creative team from the first two films. Offering better action, unrivaled special effects, and yet another inner struggle for our main protagonist, “Spider-Man 3” is most certainly the must-see event of the summer.
Unless you’re one of the few people that haven’t seen the first two films, number three starts out by integrating a highlight show into the main credit sequence. From there, the story picks up right where the last one left off. Oozing with confidence now that Spider-Man has become a national icon, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) finally musters up the courage to ask Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) to marry him. But while Peter’s confidence is at an all-time high, Mary Jane’s has hit rock bottom. She’s just been fired from her first Broadway play, and she doesn’t find much solace in Peter’s cocky behavior. The arrival of a new romantic foil – Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard), the daughter of the city’s police chief (James Cromwell) and Peter’s college lab partner – only adds to her jealousy.
Meanwhile, Harry’s (James Franco) personal vendetta against Peter is put into motion when he reveals himself as the new Goblin; small-time crook Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) – and Uncle Ben’s real murderer – becomes the web-slinger’s latest arch-nemesis when he is transformed into the shape-shifting Sandman; rival photographer Eddie Brock Jr. (Topher Grace) battles Peter for the open staff position at The Daily Bugle; and an alien symbiote that feeds off negative energy attaches itself to Spider-Man, creating a not-so-friendly version of Spidey.
If that sounds like a lot of information, it’s because it is, and although the movie is noticeably longer than the first two, there’s still not enough time to properly develop every subplot. It’s not the new players that suffer, however, but rather supporting characters like Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) who get the shaft. Other familiar faces, like Dylan Baker as Dr. Curt Conners and Bruce Campbell (this time in a hilarious cameo as a French maitre d’), also make apperances, but they're still shortchanged in favor of the visually appetizing villains.
The decision to introduce three new baddies was a brave one, but director Sam Raimi pulls it off with fairly well. Thomas Hayden Church is effective as Sandman – the most prominent of the group – and is even given a motive similar to that of Doc Ock’s from the second film, while James Franco does his best work of the trilogy under the guise of the Goblin. Unfortunately, neither actor is quite as memorable as Willem Dafoe (“Spider-Man”) or Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”), so it’s Topher Grace as fan favorite Venom that ultimately steals the show. Of course, a character of his stature would have better served as the primary villain of a future installment, so here’s hoping that the writers find a way to reintroduce him later on down the road.
As far as the film’s two stars are concerned, not much has changed since the first movie premiered in 2002. Maguire and Dunst remain well-cast in their respective roles – despite the fact that neither is a particularly talented actor outside of the franchise – and we can only hope that they’ll agree to reprise these characters for as long as Sony continues to make “Spider-Man” movies. Sam Raimi has certainly shown signs of growth, though, and while he’s always inserted his trademark humor into every installment of the series, it’s more prominent here now than ever.
Add to that some great action sequences, groundbreaking special effects, a few classic baddiesm and a story that leaves no questions unanswered, and it’s easy to see why “Spider-Man 3” doesn’t disappoint. Sam Raimi and Co. have not only made one of the biggest films of the year, but have succeeded in creating an excellent bookend that’s both better than the original and nearly as good as its predecessor. And for that, they deserve every dollar this box office beast rakes in.
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review:
Unless you haven’t yet watched the special features on the first two “Spider-Man” DVDs, the volume of extras that appear on the two-disc release of “Spider-Man 3” won’t surprise you. As usual, disc one houses the film, as well as two audio commentaries, a six-minute blooper reel and a collection of production galleries. The commentary tracks are the real highlight as always, and though the first track featuring director Sam Raimi and his cast (including Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard) is a bit dull, it’s still better than listening to producers Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin on the alternate track. Didn't "Spider-Man 2.1" teach us anything?
Disc two is where all the magic happens – literally. With the exception of a short featurette on the many love triangles that inhabit the story (“Tangled Web”), the rest of the bonus material is dedicated to the making of the film. Three character featurettes (“Grains of Sand,” “Re-Imagining the Goblin” and “Covered in Black”) cover the design and SFX process of the film’s three villains, while the stunt team gets three featurettes of their own – two on specific sequences (“Hanging on… Gwen Stacey and the Collapsing Floor” and “Wall of Water”), and another generic look at the overall production (“Fighting, Flying and Driving”). Rounding out the set are two production featurettes about shoot on location in New York and Cleveland, a short look at editing (“Inside the Editing Room”), and a lengthy sound featurette (“The Science of Sound”) that most people will probably just ignore.