Forget all that faster than a speeding bullet stuff. When it comes to superhero superlatives, "Spider-Man 3" proves that this is still the comics-to-film series to beat. Everything about it--the special effects, the script, the sets, the costumes, the performances, the Spidey-cam cinematography--is super.
My wife's favorite is still the first "Spider-Man," and I know that many fans think Number 2 is still champ. But in my book there's been a slight-but-steady progression. Every film seems to me a little "larger," a little more complex, and a little more accomplished than the previous one when it comes to special effects. Those runaway train and Doc Ock sequences were wonderful, but it's hard to imagine anything topping the CGI-animation of Venom tendrils grabbing hold like a more sophisticated "Blob," or The Sandman deconstructing and reconstructing himself from billions of pixel-particles. And the New Goblin on his hoverboard, with all those slice-and-dice gadgets? It really does the comics justice, and you can see that from an obviously elated Stan Lee, who appears not only in cameo with a speaking line in the film, but on a multitude of bonus features as well.
Fans have got to be wondering how much director Sam Raimi and his crew can pack into one film. Just as each film has gotten progressively longer (121, 127, and now 139 minutes), the villains just keep multiplying. There was one (Green Goblin) in the first installment, two (Doc Ock and Green Goblin, albeit briefly) in the second, and three (Venom, The Sandman, and the new Goblin) in the third installment. Does that mean four baddies will beset Spidey in the next sequel, if there is one?
But that's getting ahead of ourselves, isn't it?
The business at hand is "Spider-Man 3," and I think that writers Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, and Alvin Sargent did a great job of stringing together plotlines that would allow them to fill the screen with three eye-popping villains. They also handle the notion of doubling pretty effectively, with all sorts of parallels and ironic doubles occurring throughout the film.
Spider-Man has his red suit and the black one he dons after Venom's creeping influence. Eddie Brock is not only Peter Parker's "double"--a brash and unprincipled young man who tries to worm his way into J. Jonah Jameson's (J.K. Simmons') good graces by competing with Peter as the exclusive photographer of Spider-Man--but he also has his "badder" Eddie which results when the parasitic Venom adopts him as a permanent host. Both Peter (Tobey Maguire) and his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) lose their jobs, while each of them is torn between two members of the opposite sex. MJ finds herself drawn to Harry "New Goblin" Osborn (James Franco) after Peter's head swells with Spider-Man's newfound popularity with New Yorkers, and a full-of-himself Peter can't resist a kiss from pretty Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who herself has another "other" interested in her--that unprincipled fellow Eddie Brock. And just as Spider-Man goes through "good" and "bad" permutations this outing, we see similar dualities in the New Goblin and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). Only Venom is steadfastly evil . . . and even it has a double-thing going, with two hosts, one of them good and the other not-so.
It's a lot to juggle, and I appreciate what Raimi & Co. were able to pull off. There's no slump in performances, either, with strong outings from all the actors. Church is surprisingly good as escaped convict Flint Marko, who's transformed into Sandman when he's atomized after climbing into a top-secret U.S. outdoor experiment while fleeing from police. But if there's a deal-clincher it's the special effects. From the "wall of water" that bursts toward Sandman to those supervillain super stunts, the effects are brilliant and a giggle to watch.
Given the family audience, "Spider-Man 3" offers perhaps the most profound subtle message of the three: that, as the tagline touts, "Every hero has a choice." So does every individual, as young viewers can plainly see with Peter Parker and the moral journey he takes in the third installment. It's a message that will hit home because Maguire as Parker is such a believable, likeable, average nerdy guy.
"Spider-Man 3" is rated PG-13 for action violence, but this is the kind of film that seems made for the whole family. It's a good old-fashioned super-romp that has enough romance to entice the girls in the family and enough action to hold the boys' interest. My personal favorites? When Spider-Man fights The Sandman on top of a moving vehicle and literally takes the legs out from under the grainy one, and the sequence where a crane-gone-wild cuts a swath across a skyscraper, causing an entire floor to drop on a perilous incline. It's wonderful special effects and stunt-making, and the kind of thing that makes "Spider-Man 3" a really good popcorn movie. I don't think it's perfect. There are a few moments when things get cheesy, for example, and so I wouldn't feel comfortable giving it a 10. But if we can have high fives, I'd consider this a "high nine." I'm hard-pressed to find much in it that I don't enjoy or admire.
And boy, does it look fantabulous in Blu-ray. The 1080p Hi-Def picture is superb, with brilliant and nearly full color saturation, strong black levels, and the kind of detail that makes the whole surface shimmer with hyperrealist plasticity. The film is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen.
Two solid options here, an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 or an English PCM 5.1 uncompressed. It's close, and I know there are TrueHD lovers out there, but to my ear the richest soundtrack is still the uncompressed PCM. This is a film with a multitude of audio effects, and they move across the speakers with realistic precision and balance. Additional sound options are Dolby Digital 5.1 in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, Chinese Mandarin, and Chinese Cantonese.
Even the special features have subtitle options: Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Mandarin, Thai, and Korean. This two-disc set seems to have all the bonus features found on the two-disc DVD. Disc one features two commentaries. The first features James Franco hamming it up as "director" of the project and taking the lead on a track that includes fellow actors Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Thomas Haden Church, and Bryce Dallas Howard. They're a relatively young bunch of actors who clearly want to have fun doing this commentary, as long as they have to do it at all, but there's not a whole lot of substance here. Better is the filmmaker's track that gives us producers Avi Arad, Grant Curtis, Laura Ziskin paired with visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk and editor Bob Murawski. This is the one to listen to if you want to know how the film was made. The group does a nice job of filling space without killing time or overlapping each other. Also included on disc one is a Snow Patrol music video and a blooper reel that'll get you laughing just because Maguire is such a natural-born nerd and giggles so easily when he messes up. There are also photo galleries divided into the categories of paintings, sculptures, special effects, and director/cast, plus two video game previews.
Disc two features eleven relatively short but substantial behind-the-scenes features. "Grains of Sand: Building Sandman" is a fascinating look at how they constructed this most challenging villain, with Stan Lee talking on-camera and plenty of behind-the-scenes shots and interviews with technicians. In fact, one real strength of all these features is that they don't just include honchos-on-camera. Real artists and mechanical wizards appear on-camera and talk about what they're doing as they're doing it. "Re-Imagining the Goblin" gives us a technician holding one of those sharp slice-and-dice armbands and talking about their construction (these things are lethal!), for example, while "Covered in Black: Creating Venom" takes us into the computer world for a look at how they accomplished the effects. One of my favorites, "Hanging on: Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor" shows us how they used a monster hydraulic system to get that quick drop, rubber life-sized models of furniture dropped on real people below, and actors working with wires to make it appear they were sliding off to their dooms. Great stuff!
Other features include "Tangled Web: The Love Triangle of Spider-Man 3," "Wall of Water," "Inside the Editing Room," "The Science of Sound," and two location features, one on New York and the other Cleveland. Both location features are fascinating, as we learn a few things about the costs/risks of location shots and hear from actors about what playing in front of gawking crowds can do to the cast and crew.
All in all, it's a nice bundle of extras that should please Spidey fans. The only downer is that, given the family nature of the film, there are no games for the kiddies.
The Spider-Man series is more emotionally complex than most superhero films, and the third installment is the richest of the bunch, in that respect. To my mind, that depth and the extraordinary special effects make it the king of action-comic films.