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The Independent Critic

Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Topher Grace, Thomas Haden Church, Bryce Dallas Howard
Sam Raimi
Alvin Sargent
Rated PG-13
140 Mins.

 "Spider-Man 3" Review 
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With "Spider-Man 3," writer/director Sam Raimi has tossed away the charm, intelligence and sensitivity that made "Spider-Man 2" the rare sequel to actually be superior to its original. Instead, Raimi seems intent on following "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" helmer Gore Verbinski in choosing style over substance and special effects over storyline.

Fans who favored the first "Spider-Man," are likely to find themselves happy again as "Spider-Man 3" offers up three times the villains, $258 million worth of special effects, twice the women for Peter Parker to swoon over and, yes, the already revealed Spidey journey to the dark side.

"Spider-Man 3" picks up, to a certain degree, where "Spider-Man 2" left off. Spidey (Tobey Maguire) is accepting his responsibilities as a superhero, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) has discovered Spidey's identity and Spidey's long time friend Harry (James Franco) is still ticked off about the whole killing of his father thing.

It's difficult to review a film like "Spider-Man 3." As a fan of "Spider-Man 2," I quickly realized that there was virtually no way a film such as this one could ever hope to garner a 4-star or "A" range rating. At its absolute best, "Spider-Man 3" is simply a marvelous, escapist popcorn flick.

There's nothing wrong with being a popcorn flick and, while "Spider-Man 3" falls short of the wonderfully balanced, entertaining and eye-popping "Spider-Man 2," it still is an entertaining, exhilarating and visually arresting film.

The simple problem is that "Spider-Man 2" was so much more. "Spider-Man 3" feels, despite its $258 million in special effects, incredibly devoid of the soul and heart that we've come to expect from Spidey films.

Don't get me wrong. There are emotions in "Spider-Man 3." Lots of them, in fact.

Kirsten Dunst? Boy, can she cry.

Bryce Dallas Howard, showing up here as new love interest Gwen Stacey? Yep, she cries too.

Heck, even Peter Parker seems to cry a lot. Of course, that really doesn't surprise any of us as much, now does it?

Yet, through all these alligator tears it seems something is missing. Whereas the first two films, especially the latter, allowed the audience to build a connection to Peter Parker and Spidey, "Spider-Man 3" seems content to razzle and dazzle the audience with special effects and visual imagery.

In "Spider-Man 3," even the villains seem a little less villainish. Spidey takes on Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who becomes Sandman, along with Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who later becomes Venom and, of course, Harry Osborn, who will become the NEW (not necessarily improved) Green Goblin. Haden Church, in particular, offers a multi-layered, complex take on Flint/Sandman that is both sympathetic and yet never takes the attention away from Spidey.

The special effects for "Spider-Man 3" are frequently awesome, a reassuring fact given the somewhat cartoonish feel of the film's trailers and, simultaneously, the opening scenes that, while exciting and fast-paced, somehow seem less captivating than those in the previous film. Other times, however, the visuals are nothing short of spectacular...though, I will confess that more than once I found myself thinking "Where did the $258 million really go?"

Raimi's script, which he co-penned with his brother Ivan and "Spider-Man 2" collaborator Alvin Sargent, tries too hard, involves too many storylines and, yes, leaves it just a bit too obvious that a fourth Spidey film may very well be in the works.

Performances? Not that "Spider-Man 3" is even remotely about acting, but Maguire and the rest of the core cast continues doing here what they've done in the other two Spidey films...with, of course, the exception of the seemingly endless amount of tears flowing throughout "Spider-Man 3." Grace, too, despite being new to the "Spider-Man" series, doesn't have to stretch himself much for this role. Likewise, Howard isn't really called upon to do much...sure to be a disappointment for those who've so loved Howard's recent work in the likes of "Lady in the Water" snd "The Village."

Much like Gore Verbinski's "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel, "Spider-Man 3" runs about 20-30 minutes too long and, at times, falls victim to its visual and action excesses. Also like Verbinski's film, "Spider-Man 3" is about as close as 2007 is going to get to a critic proof film.

The simple fact is you don't really care what I say, though I'm sure my only slight recommendation is likely to attract at least one or two nasty letters or e-mails. Spidey's fanboys or simply long adoring fans will likely find nothing here to change their minds, however, it's equally unlikely that "Spider-Man 3" offers anything to attract new fans to the series.

Action galore, Peter Parker and Mary Jane and even more villains all add up to one thing...despite falling short of its predecessor, "Spider-Man 3" likely still has what it takes to be 2007's box-office champ.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic