Spider-Man 3: Special Edition (2 Disc Set) Review

Enter Sandman…

Life is going well for Spider-Man and for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), something that the superhero could not have foreseen, not even with his spider-sense. Parker has settled into school in a new year, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) has landed a part in an off-Broadway musical, the Daily Bugle continues to provide Parker with a modest income for his photographs and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) offers Peter her own engagement ring as he confides in her that he’s thinking of proposing to Mary Jane. Even the city of New York loves Spider-Man, with the headlines proclaiming him a superhero. When Spider-Man is offered the key to the city after saving Gwen Stacey from a fall from a high-rise, Parker wonders what could ever go wrong?

Small time crook Flint Marko escapes from prison and after hiding from his family, runs out into a bit of deserted wasteland and falls into an experiment with sand. As the cops chasing him back off, he finds himself in the middle of a sandstorm that whirls around him. This slowly peels his skin off his bones but not before the sand integrates itself into his DNA. Meanwhile, in the Osborn mansion, Harry (James Franco), having learned that his friend Peter Parker was responsible for the death of his father, plans his revenge. He leaves for the Oscorp building and to the same laboratory in which his father first became the Green Goblin. Reading through his father’s notes, Harry learns the truth about the experiment and inserting a serum into the machine, steps inside.

Elsewhere, Parker and Mary Jane are enjoying an evening in Central Park when a meteorite lands near them. Out of it crawls a glistening black creature that crawls towards Parker and attaches itself to his motorbike as he leaves for home. And if things couldn’t get any worse, Parker has got himself a bit of competition at the Daily Bugle with the arrival of Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Finally, Mary Jane receives a string of bad reviews for her part. Just as life was going so well, it threatens to fall apart…

I did wonder if I was watching the same film as the one that had been described as a mess on its release earlier in the year. Throughout this film, there is comedy and romance, or as much as there ever is in the stumbling affair between Parker and Mary Jane. There is the sight of Spider-Man flying through the streets of New York and there are three memorable villains, each one with a personal grudge against Peter Parker and Spider-Man. There is excitement, thrills and the two hours of the film fairly zip by. It also does what every good superhero film ought to do, it tops every stunt in the previous films with a series of new ones that has Spider-Man fighting every villain in turn before dealing with them together. And, for a moment, it looks as if our superhero’s days are well and truly over.

That this film isn’t Spider-Man 2 seems to be the problem with Spider-Man 3. What is now the middle film in a trilogy was as good a superhero film as any made. Unlike the first film (and this one) the accident that created a superhero or villain wasn’t the result of some ordinary Joe stumbling into something they didn’t understand while Doc Ock took a very personal interest in Parker and his family and was much more frightening than a scientist with four robotic arms ought to be. Consider him a marvel of acting and of character design and of Raimi overturning the rule that says a sequel has to be inferior to the film that preceded it. On the contrary, Spider-Man 2 is the highlight of the series to date and only X-Men 2 comes anywhere close to it.

The main fault of this film is that there is simply too much happening and what there is is sometimes too obvious a steal from another film. Harry Osborn may have been skulking about in Spider-Man 2 plotting against Spider-Man but he was never the film’s focus. Instead, director Raimi concentrated on one villain and made him a memorable one. Perhaps the fault with Spider-Man 3 is that it stumbles into the same territory as the Joel Schumacher-directed Batman films, in which awful villains fought for time on the screen and for space in the script. Venom, with his relationship to Spider-Man, deserved a film of his own but, here, he must jostle for space alongside the Sandman. At least, however, Venom gets a gravity-defying fight against Spider-Man and Eddie Brock gets to bare his fangs at the webslinger. Poor old Sandman, in spite of Thomas Haden Church’s best efforts, has a fine beginning and ending but, otherwise, is a rather lumpy CG creation that stomps and growls but lacks anything that one might describe as a character. Theresa Russell, as Flint Marko’s wife, does much more in her minute onscreen than the Sandman does in his hour.

The alien symbiote that forms Venom attaches itself to Spider-Man gives the hero a more brooding quality, something that was also present in the original comic book. However, it can be overplayed here. Parker swings in the same way that he did in Spider-Man 2 after throwing away his suit but he’s forced to play it for laughs, strutting down the street in a Saturday Night Fever-inspired gag that has women, though impressed at first, looking at him with a mix of care-in-the-community sympathy and barely-disguised loathing. At first, it’s only the dark suit and a fringe that says all is not well in Parker’s soul – Superman III did much the same thing with the Man Of Steel’s kiss-curl becoming a parody of Superman’s wholesomeness – but when he lashes out at Mary Jane in a club the film tells us that something has gone terribly wrong. Then again, with so little time to fit this turn of events in, Spider-Man goes from there to a church tower, where, in the rain and darkness, he realises that this suit is tearing him apart.

As for the Sandman, he has a great beginning. In spite of some saying that it is more accident than any folly of pride or of science, it is much the same kind of coincidence that led to Peter Parker getting a bite from a radioactive spider. Although the special effects threaten to overshadow the action, there is a very effective and heartbreaking interplay between the sight of Flint Marko fighting to regain control of his body and the music that plays as he does so. Later, he arrives as dust behind Spider-Man but, by then, Flint Marko is implicated in the killing of Peter’s Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and with the rot already setting in to Peter’s Venom-cast soul, Spider-Man leaves to find the Sandman and to kill him. Now, as then, all he wanted to do was to go home to see his daughter. Both times he’s terrified of losing his family but now leaves it to Parker do decide what he must do and to begin, if he can, by forgiving him.

It is this theme of forgiveness that runs through Spider-Man 3. Parker must learn to forgive Mary Jane and she him. Parker begs for Harry’s forgiveness, telling him that he was not responsible for the death of his father. Marko asks for Parker to forgive him for the killing of his Uncle Ben and for his wife and daughter for the many years that passed while he was in prison. Eddie Brock asks Peter Parker to forgive him for faking a picture of Spider-Man for the Daily Bugle just so he can hold onto his job as a staff photographer. But the turning point comes when Brock goes to a gothic cathedral but rather than asking for forgiveness, turns only to God to kill Peter Parker. It suits the film that the audience, if it is capable of forgiving Sam Raimi his most frantic moments, will be able to enjoy a thrilling blockbuster that, if not doing so as successfully as Spider-Man 2, treads the line between fair weather fans and those that would proudly describe themselves as die-hard. This film will not suit the latter as much as the former, who will be more much more forgiving in its treatment of Venom and the Sandman, but with a similar tone to the two films that went before, this doesn’t shame the Spider-Man films and certainly, unlike Superman III or Batman Forever, won’t be an object of ridicule in the years to come. Not when it’s so content to laugh at itself so thoroughly.

The Spider-Man films are a bit of a mish-mash of styles, less so in the first film but certainly evident in the second and in this one. For every glossy effects shot, Sam Raimi, the same man who directed the Evil Dead films, has sneaked in a shot or two that would have been right at home in his grisly horrors. In Spider-Man 2 it was the bloodbath that followed Doc Ock’s awakening in hospital while, in this one, it’s the shadowy stalking of Peter Parker by the alien symbiote that would later become Venom. Similarly, there’s the bustle of the offices of the Daily Bugle, the parties on the streets outside and then the blazing fights in the air above New York as Spider-Man faces off against Venom, The Green Goblin and the Sandman.

Like both of the previous Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi continues to mix styles in this one but the DVD largely rises to the occasion. There are still problems with the CG characters – it may be that there is more action in this film but Spider-Man doesn’t look as fluid here as he did in Spider-Man 2 – but the picture looks very decent throughout. There are, of course, no obvious flaws in this anamorphically presented 2.40:1 print, which is what I would have expected, but there are also some outstanding scenes in this film, such as the time given over to the rise of the Sandman, the detail in Peter Parker’s rundown apartment and the lights that reflect off the smooth black surface of Venom. However, there are also moments when the encoding of the DVD lets the picture down. Sometimes, Spider-Man 3 is just too frenetic for the format to cope with. The security van chase proves to be a low point both for the characters or for the presentation of the film, with all detail getting lost in the whiplash editing. However, this is, in general, a good presentation of Spider-Man 3, just not one where the standout scenes greatly outnumber the disappointing ones.

The audio tracks are just as good. Again, there are some obvious highlights, such as the subway fight between Spider-Man and the Sandman, the marching band playing the theme for the old cartoon show and the bell-ringing in the church tower but it tends towards being decent throughout. With the care taken over the presentation of the film, there is no loss of dialogue, no moment when the story of the film gets lost in the action and no particular scene that’s particularly disappointing. Instead, there are moments that are simply ordinary but it remains a decent, if sometimes very good, audio track. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout the film.

Commentaries: There are two on the set, one with Director Sam Raimi and cast members Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard and another with producers Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis, Editor Bob Murawski and Special Effects Supervisor Scott Stokdyk. The first is the more light-hearted of the two with the various actors and actresses showing Sam Raimi previous little respect. Whether or not they listened to the earlier Raimi commentaries on the Evil Dead films and considered this his usual form isn’t made clear but the director comes across as the butt of everyone’s jokes. But then, having spent a life as a good friend of Bruce Campbell’s, Raimi takes it all in good humour. Still, one thing isn’t made clear and that’s a small amount of on-set conflict between Topher Grace and Raimi but which neither fully explain, more that they reached an agreement not to let it come between them.

The second commentary is more technical with producers Ziskin, Arad and Curtis describing the production from before the point at which Spider-Man 2 was completed to its eventual release. Stokdyk talks in detail about the special effects and while this is all fairly fascinating, which includes Stokdyk’s technical chatter, it’s not a patch on the first commentary. However, coming after the superb Henenlotter commentary on Brain Damage, which was funny, fascinating and very filthy, neither of these could be classed as essential. All they had to do was to invite Bruce Campbell to the recording and these, and I would include both of them, would have been very much better.

Disc Two

Bloopers (6m43s): Now, normally, as regular readers will know, I’m not much of a fan of Bloopers but Tobey Maguire has such an infectious laugh that I found myself smiling throughout this. There’s even a nice little CG scene at the end that sees Spider-Man and the Green Goblin meeting a sticky (and sandy) end.

Photo Galleries: There are five such image galleries here, each one offering plenty of behind-the-scenes stills. The first, Sketches, offers designs for Spider-Man and the three villains in the film as does the later Sculptures. The next, Paintings, looks at set design while Special Effects offers stills set against blue-screen and on-the-set wire work. Finally, Director And Cast offers a set of photographs of the actors, actresses and director Sam Raimi.

Snow Patrol Music Video (4m35s): Good God but they’re dull. Not even a rather charming school play version of the Spider-Man story, complete with a child dressed up like a giant radioactive spider, can save this song.

TV Spots And Trailers: From around the world! So, rather than have out localised TV Spots, we have those from China, Brazil and Chile amongst other place. But whaddaya know…they’re no different to the UK one and all of them last about 20s or thereabouts. This is followed by four Trailers (8m27s), one Teaser Trailer and three Theatrical Trailers.

Featurettes: There are eleven short features included in this set, which, when viewed as one, form a behind-the-scenes making of Spider-Man 3. However, better than a straight making-of, which often features far too much footage of the cast and crew standing about as they prepare shots, this selection of bonus material picks out what stands out about Spider-Man 3 and describes them in detail. It’s no surprise, then, that these begin with three features on the villains of the film, with Grains Of Sand (13m50s), Re-imagining The Goblin (10m37s) and Covered In Black (15m35s), which deal, in turn, with the Sandman, the Green Goblin and Venom. Each of these begin with a look at the comic book origins of the character, how they were first portrayed and how they developed over the years. With Venom, for example, there’s a look at how the alien symbiote was first found by Spider-Man and brought to Earth before attaching itself to Eddie Brock. Later comes a comparison between the development of the character in the Marvel comics and how his increasingly grotesque features were reined in for the film.

Next up is a feature on the scene in which Gwen Stacey hung out of a high-rise building – Hanging On: Gwen Stacy And The Collapsing Floor (10m14s) – that deals with the stuntwork, how a pregnant Bryce Dallas Howard prepared herself for the stunt and how it was integrated with the background effects in a mix of live-action and CG. This is followed by Fighting, Flying & Driving (18m59s) in which Stunt Coordinators Dan Bradley and Scott Rogers describe the filming of the impressive stuntwork, the cameo appearances of the crew and how good old-fashioned wire work took the place of much CG in the film. A shorter feature follows, Tangled Web: The Love Triangles of Spider-Man 3 (9m13s), which looks at the troubled relationship that Peter Parker has with Mary-Jane Watson and how Gwen Stacey comes between them.

The biggest stunt in the film comes next in Wall Of Water (7m21s), which features the set-up before Spider-Man, in the middle of the New York subway network, pops the rivets from a water tank to wash away the Sandman through the sewers. Of the eleven features here, this is the only one that comes with far too many shots of a crew standing about preparing for a shot before Raimi calls, “Action!” but it’s the only one. Inside The Editing Room (3m59s) is one of those tail-end features that doesn’t do very much more than make up content on the disc. By this stage in DVD’s life, everyone must know something about storyboarding and editing a film and this doesn’t add anything to that. The same can be said of The Science Of Sound (16M22S), which features orchestras, foley artists, mixing desks and everything else that you’ll have seen in a hundred other features. Finally, there are two features that present location shoots, one for New York (12m54s) and another for Cleveland (6m47s). New York is the natural home of Spider-Man and it’s clear that he’s made most welcome here while Cleveland, which doubled for New York in one special effects shot doesn’t offer that same sense of place for Spider-Man, with the length of the feature making this clear.

Four figures who star in all of these behind-the-scenes features are writer/director Sam Raimi and producers Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin and Special Effects Supervisor Scott Stokdyk. Raimi is the one who adds most to these features, retaining something of the same spirit of the man who made The Evil Dead, Darkman and Crimewave and has kept a sense of humour and of his place in things, even when he’s at the helm of a major studio production such as this. There are also two Easter Eggs, one on the recording of a piece of music by Vic Mizzy and another of a piece on ADR during post-production, neither of which are difficult to find. Finally, all of these bonus features are subtitled in Chinese, Thai and Korean.

Available from site sponsor CD WOW for just under a tenner, Spider-Man 3 closes off this trilogy in style, albeit a rather cluttered style that doesn’t give ample space to so memorable a villain as Venom. However, it is the least effective of the three Spider-Man films and it is for this reason that I would rate it lower. One can’t help but think that in his rush to get two villains into the film, to resolve the Osborn/Green Goblin story and to get Mary Jane and Peter almost to the altar that Sam Raimi is bidding farewell to Spider-Man. Certainly, there’s so suggestion here that he’d come back for another or that there would be much of a story to come back to. If he’s wise, this will be his swan song. What might be less forgivable is if he holds on for another one or two more, leaving the high of Spider-Man 2 an increasingly distant memory.

Eamonn McCusker

Updated: Oct 29, 2007

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Spider-Man 3: Special Edition (2 Disc Set) Review | The Digital Fix