Danville Express

Living - May 11, 2007

Movie review: Spider-Man 3 ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for intensity and violence Run Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes

Despite an overwhelming sensation of been-there, done-that, Tobey Maguire and company inject enough fresh material into Spider-Man's third outing to keep both fans and converts happy. Or happy enough.

It's business as usual for Peter Parker (Maguire) and lady love Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). The duo is in a good space - Parker with plans of popping the question, and Mary Jane finally nailing down her thespian dream job. Even the city is happily enjoying a newfound crackdown on crime, thanks to its favorite arachnid superhero.

That's all the goodwill to be had before the inevitable onset of doom and gloom. A beautiful star-gazing evening for Parker and Mary Jane turns "War of the Worlds" when a flashy meteor smashes to earth and oozes a slithery black slime that's clearly up to no good.

Across town, the hardened criminal who murdered Parker's uncle (Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko) escapes from prison and, in one of the film's more arresting set pieces, has an unfortunate run-in with a scientific de-molecularizer that renders him rather, um, granular. Goodbye Mr. Marko, hello Sandman!

On a more personal note, Parker's best buddy Harry Osborn (James Franco) has a beef of his own, still hanging on to the belief that Parker was responsible for his father's death. A bump on the head, courtesy of a dumbed-down superhero conflict, erases Harry's memory and turns him into an amnesiac pussycat who's nothing but sunshine and light.

Like all comic films worth their salt, Parker gets a brand-new nemesis in hotshot Daily Bugle photographer Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), whose fall from grace at Parker's hands means revenge is just a special effects unit away.

There are moments, in particular those involving the aforementioned black slime (actually an evil symbiote that bonds to a host for survival), that work like a charm. Parker gets up close and personal with the sticky stuff, which produces an unnaturally aggressive Spider-Man and Parker as an egocentric chick-magnet with Saturday Night Fever swagger. The effect is priceless, offering Maguire a chance to strut his stuff both literally and figuratively.

Dunst isn't so blessed, stuck with a one-note role that she phones in with little pizzazz and a surplus of female anxiety.

How far to go to ensure that "Spider-Man" can hang onto its blockbuster cache yet retain its core values and keep the diehard fan boys happy? That's the predicament facing "3" - an overly-ambitious mishmash of styles and concepts that ebb and flow and try - too hard -- to please everyone.

Yet the concept of dark-side duality is well-crafted, both the Parker/Spider-Man struggle and Parker's tangled relationships with friends and family. This very human element is critical in offsetting some silly superhero battles and an over-the-top finale that leaves lingering languor in its wake. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

--Jeanne Aufmuth

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