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SPIDER-MAN 3

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Rosemary Harris, J. K. Simmons
Director:  Sam Raimi
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  139 Minutes
Release Date:  November 13, 2007

“One man CAN make a difference.”

Film ***

Even a nice guy like Spider-Man can have his dark days, and Spider-Man 3 isn’t afraid to explore a shadowy side of one of Marvel Comics’ most popular heroes.

One aspect that always made Spidey unique was just that he, Peter Parker (Maguire), was just a regular guy.  He had troubles with jobs, money, girls…yet when the going got tough, he donned the suit and did what he could, because as his uncle once told him (two movies ago, in fact), “with great power comes great responsibility”.

However, as the third installment opens, things seem to be going smoothly for young Parker.  Spider-Man has become a celebrity in New York.  Everyone loves him, with the possible exception of Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson (the always terrific Simmons).  His lifelong love Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) knows his secret and accepts it, and is about to take a turn on Broadway.  Peter is even in the top of his class at school.

But things never sail right for Spider-Man for long.  His one time friend Harry Osborn (Franco), believes Peter to be guilty of his father’s death…and as his father was the original Green Goblin, it doesn’t take long before Harry follows in the old man’s footsteps and comes calling for Peter.

And that’s just the start of his troubles.  An escaped convict named Flint Marko (Church) ends up accidentally in an experiment that turns his body into malleable sand.  As the Sandman, he may just be unstoppable.  And there’s also a new rival photographer at the Bugle named Edward Brock Jr. (Grace), who may be more than just a workplace challenge.

But perhaps Peter’s biggest obstacle this time around is himself.  When an alien microbe infests his suit, it brings out a much darker side (as symbolized by the now-iconic black Spidey costume).  Peter finds this dark side appealing, as it unleashes his power, stifles his inhibitions, and channels his courage.  It also seems to take away his ability for compassion, as defined in a couple of startling sequences.

This microbe eventually affects Brock as well, and before it all ends, Spider-Man will be face to face with both the Sandman and a frightening new nemesis called Venom.  Unable to tackle two super-villains at once, Spidey has no choice but to ask help from Harry, the man who had sworn to kill him.

This film, again directed by the great Sam Raimi, is possibly the most action-packed of the three.  As Raimi and crew get more comfortable with their technology, they also get more daring.  Some of the sequences are absolutely thrilling.  I also enjoyed the darker edge this time around…it was a nice change of pace.

I wish more had been done with the bad guys, though.  Thomas Haden Church is a longtime favorite of mine, and given the back story of Marko as a man driven to bad deeds for good reason, there was a lot left unexplored in his character.  Another unique aspect of Spider-Man is how the villains are frequently somewhat sympathetic, as compared to say Lex Luthor or Dr. Doom.  The film could have had more heart with a little more attention to the Sandman.  As for Venom, he makes an impressive entrance, but way, way late in the game.

The cast is still solid, with Maguire ever-believable as the ordinary guy turned hero, and Dunst a lovely damsel in distress as always.  Even Bruce Campbell is back, and though my girlfriend doesn’t usually care for superhero flicks, she lit up at the sight of his name in the credits.  I guess Bruce just has that effect on people.

Reviews were mixed, but the public voted loudly with its money, making Spider-Man 3 a blockbuster many times over.  As long as the fans are there for Spidey, I believe he’ll return the favor.  He should be back.

BONUS TRIVIA:  As always, keep an eye peeled for creator Stan Lee's cameo.

Video ****

This transfer from Sony really swings…filled with action, but able to process it all without noticeable compression or undue grain.  Colorful, crisp and clean from start to finish.

Audio ****

In a movie with this much action, you expect the 5.1 audio to rock, and this disc doesn’t disappoint.  There is so much dynamic range my girlfriend actually had to ask me to turn it down a couple of times!  The crossovers are constant and smooth and keep you right in the middle of the danger zone.

Features **1/2

The extras include two commentary tracks:  one with Sam Raimi and crew, and one with the cast, including Maguire, Dunst, Franco, Church, Grace and Howard.  There is also a Snow Patrol music video, a blooper reel, and photo galleries.

Summary:

Spider-Man 3 is a thrilling third segment of an explosively successful franchise…darker than the first two, but weakened more by what was left out than what was put in.  It’s still plenty satisfying and a surefire crowd pleaser.

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