Oh, what a tangled web director Sam Raimi and his super-powered cast have woven with Spider-Man 3 and a terrifically entertaining one as well that'll leave the audience crawling the walls wanting more.
It's not as if Spider-Man and his neurotic alter ego Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) haven't seen a fair share of gloomy corners in the first two films, but the third installment wisely and literally darkens his life with a new black costume and a bad attitude to go with it. OK, much of our hero's turn in temperament comes courtesy of said black threads--which are, in reality, a malevolent force from outer space. But like all of Spidey's greatest Marvel Comics melodramas his always-problematic personal life delivers some curveballs to sharpen his edge. Even as the public embraces Spider-Man, Peter has to deal with: The splintering romance with his lady love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst); a smarmy rival photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who threatens to snatch his job at the Daily Bugle; the true killer of his beloved Uncle Ben, revealed to be an escaped ex-con (Thomas Haden Church) who, via a scientific mishap, turns into the shape-shifting Sandman; and, oh yeah, his best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) who is trying to kill Peter, believing Spider-Man responsible for the death of his evil dad, the original Green Goblin. Vengeance, blood feuds, broken hearts and an alien symbiote feeding on anger--dark enough for you? Don't worry. The film deftly mixes the pathos with plenty of action, adventure and some of the funniest moments yet in the superhero saga.
Maguire, in particular, really lets himself go this time around and embraces everything the story provides him to play with aplomb. The actor plays everything from angst-driven avenger to wounded romantic to cocky tango partner in perfect pitch. Among Maguire's fellow returnees, Dunst is less well-served by the ambitious story but makes the most of her emotional beats when not pressed to play MJ, Girl Hostage. Franco's turn is his most nuanced in the trilogy yet. And Rosemary Harris as Aunt May and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson deliver ably as always on sage wisdom and blowhard buffoonery, respectively. Church demonstrates that the dramatic range he evinced in Sideways was no fluke, adding dimensional shades to his monstrous Sandman without the benefit of much dialogue. Grace, with his snarky Eddie Haskell-on-crack riffs, specializes in stealing scenes, though he might have upped the menace when the plot goes pitch-black. And as the dishy girl-next-door-ish Gwen Stacy, Bryce Dallas Howard not only captures the iconic look of the iconic ice cream blonde, she makes her a genuinely appealing alternative to MJ in Peter's love life
Simply put, Sam Raimi knows how to make Spider-Man movies. As a student of the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko-John Romita school of storytelling which helped revolutionize comic book superheroes four decades ago, Raimi continues to understand that, unlike Superman's awesome powers or Batman's intense obsession, it's Spidey's Everyman humanity underneath his mask that makes him an engrossing character. And Raimi not only extends his reach beyond the '60s-'70s era he grew up on to include more contemporary characters like Venom, he along with brother/writing partner Ivan and acclaimed screenwriter Alvin Sargent does it in ways that cleverly serve the story, advance the themes and broaden the relationships. Here's hoping this isn't Raimi 's final outing, as his is one web to enjoy being ensnared in. Even with its lengthy running time and packed-to-the-gills story, the film is certainly a webbed wonder to behold.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.