Typically in a movie franchise the third sequel is where the series does a nosedive in entertainment quality. This happened in such famed films as “Return of the Jedi”, “The Matrix Revolutions,” Superman III (Richard Pryor and superman does not make a good buddy picture), and any Batman movies not directed by either Tim Burton or Chris Nolan.  However with the spider-flop having been in 2004’s Spiderman 2 the bar was set low enough for the tertiary movie to be comparatively better.   And it is!

After years of turmoil, everything is going right for our hero.  Peter Parker is doing well in school, he’s ready to propose to Mary-Jane and the city loves Spider-Man. How could life get any better?

Well can’t and that would make for a really short movie, so instead everything goes downhill quickly. Spidey not only has to finally face his long-time friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) who is still bitter about his father’s death, the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) also makes his presence known, meanwhile Pete gets a new rival at the Daily Bugle and a mysterious black alien goo somehow gets involved too.   Sound complicated? Well unlike the jump-the-shark moment in the batman franchise when we were thrown villain after villain to compensate for lack of plot, each supplementary character added to this film as a purpose, and it all ties together quite well.

From the opening of the film it’s obvious that Tobey McGuire has improved his acting skills by being more charismatic as Peter. Kirsten Dunst reprises her role as the lovely Mary-Jane Watson.  Cast mostly for her looks she is convincing enough as the love of Pete’s life and we also get to hear her sing.   Aside from sounding like the average first-round American Idol contestant (which plays into a plot element) she is unlikely to leave Hollywood for Broadway anytime soon.

The new additions were perfectly cast, and in some cases you wonder why they don’t have larger roles in bigger movies. First there is Thomas Haden Church.  Yes the very same man who played Lowell, the slow-witted mechanic on TV’s “Wings”.  Since the show was canceled he’s spent a lot of time in the gym. And once he puts on a green shirt it’s as if he stepped right out of a campy 70’s comic book to become the big-screen Sandman.  

Topher Grace (That 70’s Show) joins the cast as Eddie Brock, a hotshot photographer who rivals Peter at the Daily Bugle. Finally in a role where he doesn’t play a total dork, Grace, is immediately charming, witty and a scene-stealer; just enough that you’re not afraid to think of him as the jerk he turns out to be.

Amidst all of this going on, the main focus of the movie is the relationship between Peter and Mary-Jane.  This is where the movie becomes a romance with action.  Fortunately, unlike “Attack of the Clones” all the romance isn’t done all at once loosing the whole pace of the film. Each action sequence is toggled against a romance scene.  It’s clear that Director Sam Raimi believes that it’s the acceleration, not the speed that moves a moviegoer to the edge of his seat.    These relationship scenes do serve as a pause between action for a mental, an visual breath catcher, but also because this really is a movie about a romance (with tons of action happening all around the sappy stuff).

An unaccredited character is the special effects department. “Spider-Man 2” lacked any progress their computer generated animation from the first film.  It was fairly obvious what was animated and what wasn’t. On top of this the CG was not done very well at all.  From the sandman’s transition between a man and being a cloud of dust and the oozing alien symbiant, which becomes the evil Venom, visual effects are seamless, aesthetic and realistic.

True to the vision of creator Stan Lee, each of these new characters has a sympathetic cause.  Nobody is evil for the sake of being evil.  Something happens to them that becomes their reason for their malicious ways.

There is one pivotal scene in a church where two characters swap sides between good and bad.   However despite the setting there is no religious context for the change. Instead the real theme here is Karma.   While each of these characters has good intentions, good things happen to them, on the other side of the coin bad things happen to them when they have bad intentions.

Spider-Man 3 does have its problems, though. There are two music montages almost immediately following each other. While both serve to explain character personality transitions the fact that there are two end up negating each other. Finally, between the black spider-suit, all the romantic scenes, and the simple fact that Pete can’t seem to keep his mask on (my biggest problem with Spider-Man 2), you begin to think, “Gee, there’s not much spider-man in this movie”.

There was a lot expected of this movie, and everything got delivered. Take a date, there’s plenty of romance between MJ and Pete, Lots of action because everyone wants a piece of Spidey. Karma, retribution and redemption all tied up in one brightly colored, spandex-wearing package.

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