Spider-Man 3

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      Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Thomas Haden Church. Rated PG.

      Forget, for the moment, the rumours that Spider-Man 3 cost $350 million dollars in production alone. You, probably, are not Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony. Only Stringer should feel the anxiety of needing this movie to be one of the all-time hits. It's enough that it is a pretty good popcorn movie.

      This is not to mock the film. If anything, the Spidey-flick team of director Sam Raimi and actors Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco has overdelivered in terms of story. The movie ties up most of the loose threads of the first two films, making for a coherent trilogy. It also provides generous fan service for secondary characters like J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Uncle Ben, and Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn (who must die again, in flashback), a Bruce Campbell cameo, and that kooky Russian girl who lives next door to Peter. It must find room for two new villains (Venom, formed of a parasitic, psychoactive extraterrestrial goop, and Sandman, a, uh, sand guy). We learn that they are not merely beasts, but people with connections to Peter Parker himself. Then we are brought to speed on Peter and Mary Jane's respective careers, emotional wallowings, and dysfunctional friendship with Harry Osborn.

      Fans of explosions and computer effects can groove on the impressive eye candy. Fans of the Jean Harlow look can adore Bryce Dallas Howard as romantic rival Gwen Stacy. There are genuinely interesting oddities, as when studious grandma's boy Parker, a '50s ideal of a model conformist, develops an ego, causing him to instantly morph into a finger-snapping, crazy-dancing, piano-jamming, insult-spewing dude with an emo-ver. It's a scene of such fantastic incongruity that it could have gone on indefinitely.

      These are practically dozens of comic books' worth of ideas, compressed into two hours and 20 minutes around such formulaic bits of business as origin sequences and the use of Mary Jane as bait. The result is fairly impressive but ultimately busy and wearying, suggesting that the most comfortable viewing environment will be at home, with generous uses of the pause function. After all, the comics are meant to be read one story at a time, not strung together and sped-up, Chipmunk-style.

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