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By Brad Cook | October 30, 2007

Now that Hollywood has figured out how to string together two good superhero movies back-to-back, they’re running into a problem that the comic book industry never has to face: How do you wrap up a trilogy? Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, The X-Men, and the rest will live forever in the pages of comic books, because those characters are the lifeblood of DC and Marvel. The X-Men movie series, however, came to a mediocre conclusion, and, sadly, so has Spider-Man’s screen story.

“Spider-Man 3” starts out strong, with a nice contrast between Spidey’s ascending popularity and Mary Jane’s crashing career. The Goblin is back, of course, and Spidey’s fight with him results in a concussion that conveniently causes Harry Osborn to lose his short-term memory. Now Harry thinks Peter Parker is still his pal, and Peter is willing to play along, until Harry gets his memory back and decides to take advantage of Mary Jane’s frustration with Peter, who is getting more and more lost in his Spider-Man persona.

Meanwhile, a new villain, Sandman, enters the scene with pathos o’ plenty. He’s just trying to do right by his sick daughter, so he uses his newfound abilities to keep stealing stuff, ostensibly to help her, although that’s never clear. Director Sam Raimi and his co-writers decided to muck with the official comic book continuity by making him the real killer of Uncle Ben, thus giving Sandman and Spidey more to do in their shared scenes than simply duke it out. When Peter learns this new piece of information, his dark side comes out again.

This change in Peter coincides with him coming into possession of the infamous black suit. While Raimi and company couldn’t use the comic book version of its introduction (“Secret Wars” movie trilogy, anyone?), they could have come up with a better way to bring it into the movie. Here, it simply plummets to Earth from a place unknown and targets Peter for reasons equally opaque.

At this point, the movie starts to head downhill. Eddie Brock is a nice foil for Peter Parker, but his transformation into Venom needed to be shoehorned into the film. The Sandman plotline also wanders along until he’s given a plan beyond “Steal stuff.” (Here’s a clue: Give him a goal that ties into his desire to help his sick daughter. Said goal should bring him into conflict with Spider-Man. Is it really that hard to figure these things out?)

So the black suit saga, which unfolded at a nice pace in the comic books, races along at top speed, forcing the characters to do random things simply because they need to be in place for the next event. For example, Peter just happens to wind up at the same church where Brock is praying, so that the suit can transfer to a new owner. It’s a shame Peter’s scientific abilities didn’t come into play here, rather than having him simply stumble across a solution to his problem.

In fact, Peter’s scientific aptitude is pretty much gone in this film, aside from him talking to a professor who has examined a piece of the symbiotic black suit. And don’t even get me started on Peter’s transformation into Mr. Bad A*s; Tobey Maguire looked like he was channeling a parody of John Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” character. I couldn’t believe for a second that any woman would think he was Joe Cool. He came off more like Joe Dork. Sorry, Tobey, you’re a good actor, but you don’t have that kind of persona in you.

And while I’m on the subject of bad acting, let me also point to John Paxton as Harry’s butler, Bernard. Not only was he supposed to be an Alfred clone, but his big scene with Harry hit the screen with a thud. There enough ham in the air to make a Dagwood sandwich, and I couldn’t figure out why he withheld such a crucial piece of information from Harry for so long. There was no reason for it, other than a need to bring Harry into the final battle at an important moment, a la Han Solo.

Finally, let me just say that I couldn’t figure out how the Goblin’s exploding balls worked. At close proximity, they can apparently either damage just the side of your face or completely vaporize you. I guess it depends on what the filmmakers needed at a given moment in the story. And, in the end, these kinds of random decisions are what makes up the “Spider-Man 3” story, where so much stuff has to happen in such a short time that none of the plot turns get a chance to breathe.

If you’re a fan of the film, though, you’ll be pleased with this two-disc Special Edition. While there’s nothing Earth-shattering here, and the documentary materials have an EPK-ish feel to them, they’re a nice supplement to the film. Disc one has a pair of commentaries, one with Raimi and his actors and the other with the producers, visual effects supervisor, and editor. The former is a fun track, although, like a lot of group commentaries, it descends into a joke-fest at times. The latter is more technically-minded and less prone to kidding around. I think a better option would have been cutting the first track and sticking Raimi in the second group.

Disc one also has a Snow Patrol music video, a blooper reel, sketch and photo galleries, a toy commercial, and a videogame preview.

Over on disc two, we have 11 featurettes that are focused on special effects and the ins and outs of making a movie of this type, such as scouting locations, creating costumes, and so forth. There’s a little discussion here and there of the characters’ comic book origins, particularly Sandman and Venom, and Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee offers a few words, but the overall feel is “Look how cool this stuff is!”

Yes, Sandman was quite an achievement, and the discussion of how hard it was to deal with all of those grains reminded me of the issues Pixar faced with simple things like hair when they made “The Incredibles.” In addition to covering how Sandman and Venom were created in the computer, we also get to see how the filmmakers pulled off some of the big set pieces, such as the scene in which the floor collapses under Gwen Stacy. (Nope, she doesn’t die. So: Kill off the villains who have survived in the comic book all these years, but keep Gwen alive?)

A bunch of TV spots and trailers, along with the movie’s original teaser, round out disc two. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll be very happy by the time you’re done with all of the stuff in this set.

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