When a popular film is made into a continuing franchise there is a requirement to make each installment better than the one before. The problem is when one film in the series is extremely well done. Coming up with better special effects and a more complex story line often can not do the trick and the film pales in comparison to its predecessor. This is what happened to the Spider-man flicks. The first had to establish the origins of the characters, set up the relationships and create the parameters of the universe. As such it was slower in its pacing. The second Spider-man was a near perfect movie. It had emotional depth, incredible special effects and was just great fun to watch. When the third film came around there was a lot of pressure to go to even greater heights. Unfortunately the franchise is showing signs of wear and tear. By piling on more of everything the producers managed to make this film too over the top and in the process the emotional center of the film was lost. While the second film had a real love story this on is more of a super hero soap opera. As soon as you introduce such plot devices as amnesia, a love triangle and an evil twin (of sorts) I had to start wondering when Susan Lucci was going to make an appearance. Now this is not a bad flick at all. It does what a big budget summer action blockbuster should do, thrill and entertain. It is just a matter of comparison where it falls down a bit. Spider-man 2 reset the bar for all comic book related films and it will be a long time before that position is challenged. So just consider this a good popcorn flick that you can enjoy with the family.
It’s difficult enough for a young man in love living in New York City. There is the burden of making your rent, working your schedule and your girlfriend’s and there is just trying to find some alone time. These problems can become almost over powering if you also have to have super powers and a secret identity. This is the case for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), better know to the world as ‘Spider-Man’. His girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is an actress whose once promising career as an actress is meeting with some difficulties. Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is having a normal day until a construction crane breaks loose. Just as it is about to kill her Spider-Man swoops in and saves the damsel in distress. Has is happens Gwen is Peter’s lab partner in college, small world. Gwen is also an aspiring model and has a photographer wannbe, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) to help make her portfolio. Eddie is not very well founded in reality and thinks the friendship with Gwen is a lot more. He also hates Peter because he always manages to get great action photos of Spider-Man. This results in Eddie resenting the super hero as well. It seems that Eddie has a lot of what are called ‘issues’. Eddie is not the only one with an ax to grind with Peter. His former best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco) knows that Peter is Spider-Man and blames him for killing his father. The fact that dear old dad was the Green Goblin and was responsible for a good number of deaths and a lot of destruction and mayhem doesn’t seem to matter to the loyal son. This seems to be an episode of ‘This is Your Life’ for Peter Parker. Also running around is Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), the crook that Peter lets get away who then went on to kill Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben. As if these situations weren’t bad enough all the guys just mentioned become super villains.
While Peter is on a data with MJ a meteorite crashes nearby. Like any such rock from space in a science-fiction the meteorite contains a blob. Unlike the one that Steve MacQueen had to deal with this black substance adheres to Peter’s moped and eventual to his costume. When he puts on the new, black version of the costume it greatly enhances his powers while also making the normally even tempered Peter much more aggressive. In another part of town Flint falls into a particle accelerator that fuses him with the nearby sand making him the Sandman. He is now able to change his body altering his shape and density. Harry battles Spider-Man and loses his memory. Just for good measure Eddie is about to get super powers. After Peter knocks down MJ during a brawl at the night club she works he realizes that the black goop is changing his personality. He goes to the top of a church’s bell tower to figure out how to get rid of it. The sound of the bells weakens the symbiote allowing his to remove it. It falls on Eddie who is below praying for Peter to die. Eddie is transformed into a dark version of Spider-Man, Venom. He joins forces with the Sandman and they use MJ as bait. Isn’t MJ always the bait? I guess that is just part of loving a super hero.
The film just seems to be trying to cram too many issues of the comic books into the story. Installment two was basically the issue ‘Spider-Man No More’ and kept true to the mood of the issue. With so many story lines and plots going on some are short changed. For example Gwen is an important character in the comics but here she seems to have been added just to provide some continuity for the die hard fans. The story would have been stronger with the omission of Venom. That was a whole arc in the comics and animated Spider-Man series and would have done better as a stand alone villain. Like other third movies in a series this one is the younger brother that tries but still remains in the shadow of its older siblings. At times the computer generated graphics seems to have taken a step back. In the climatic battle it is all too obvious that the fighters are CGI. Still, this is an entertaining flick that delivers the promised action.
This film has an excellent cast which helps to carry it. Tobey Maguire is still able to play the boy next door that just happens to shoot web and climb on walls. He is fully human beset by more than the usual concerns. Maguire has the talent to sell his dual personality when the black goop covers him. This is one of the better examples of emoting in the flick. Kirsten Dunst seemed a little tired of her role. She has been playing MJ since she was 17 and now five years later she is still stuck in a web or streaming for her life. She is a talented actress who naturally wants more challenging roles. Sharing the maiden in danger spotlight is Bryce Dallas Howard. As the daughter of famous actor-director Ron Howard she has the right genetics although she has not been provided the best roles to showcase her abilities. Here her role is too superficial and seems to be little more than an excuse to get Gwen in the franchise. Ironically she also inherited her father’s red hair which was dyed blond here while the naturally blonde Dunst had to go red head. One of the best actors in the fray here is Thomas Haden Church. He has a command of comedy and drama that allowed him to take on this more complex role with ease. Topher Grace is another actor without enough to work with here. His presentation of Eddie is good but could have been done better.
Even if the film is not as strong as the previous two installments Sony Pictures still maintained its commitment to bringing out the best DVD possible. Like the other releases there is a plain one disc version and a special edition with two discs. Most places have the two disc version for about $5 more so you might as well go for it. In addition there is a Blu ray version. The two DVD versions both have an excellent 2.40:1 anamorphic video transfer and a full, rich Dolby 5.1 audio. There is also a cast and crew commentary track, blooper reel and a music video. The two disc version has a few extras well worth the additional five spot. ‘Grains of Sand’ looks at the work that went into bringing this famous comic character to life. There is a featurette that focuses on the re-imagining of the Green Goblin. Another shows the work that went into making Venom a reality. Add to this a featurette on using New York City as a back drop for the action. Just for good measure there are three featurettes on the amazing stunt work. The bottom line is this is a good movie that could have been great.