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Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has finally found a balance between his life as Spider-Man and another with his long-time girlfriend M.J. Watson (Kirsten Dunst). However, his former long-time friend Harry Osbourne (James Franco), is still upset after finding out that Peter killed his father (Willem Dafoe), and donning his father's Goblin outfits, he plans to do anything possible to see him reduced to patheticness. Of course, Peter recently found out the real man behind his Uncle Ben's (Cliff Robertson) death: ex-con Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who was recently involved in an experiment gone wrong, and has become the Sandman. And a symbiote from space has infected Peter, turning him into an arrogant, overly confident punk who gets frisky with the New York captain's (James Cromwell) daughter Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) and embarasses co-worker Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) to the point of revenge. Eventually, a bit from the symbiote has also turned Eddie into the monstrous Venom. So Peter must make up with M.J., quench Harry's thirst for revenge, stop the symbiote from taking over, and discover why Marko killed Ben.
Right up there with Bryan Singer's "X-Men", the "Spider-Man" movies have been the epitome of superhero movies since it started. Throwing in high-quality acting talent, a twisted sense of humor (from the likes of J.K. Simmons as arrogant Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson and Bruce Campbell playing different roles), affecting drama, slick special effects, and slam-bang action, director Sam Raimi has created a treat for the eyes and the heart that would lead up to "Spider-Man 3". In work since "Spider-Man 2", this is Raimi's most ambitious, expensive (the budget comes in at a whopping $250 million) project. And the wait was worth it.
It's also long. Clocking in at two hours AND thirty minutes, "SM3" is loaded with everything. Raimi includes another batch of villains to the process, which include New Goblin, Sandman, and Venom, with aliases of misunderstood chums (Harry Osbourne is filled with passion to kill Peter Parker/Spider-Man, whom he believes to be his father's killer; Flint Marko is an ex-con who does whatever it takes to help his ailing daughter, even though his wife totally despises him; Eddie Brock is upset at Peter Parker for exposing him of a fraud, and a symbiote from Peter's suit turns him into the maniacal Venom). Raimi doesn't mind letting the viewer care for them, even though they're doing awful things (the Marko subplot is the most effective).
Of course, he throws in a bunch of useless subplots. The revealing of Marko as the man who killed Uncle Ben, while weaving into the story, doesn't seem satisfactory. The Gwen Stacy subplot seems like an attempt of soap opera ridiculousness, something that the series knew well of steering clear from. And Mary Jane Watson still has no luck keeping a job (this whole subplot is getting old fast, even though Dunst manages to leave with a shred of dignity thanks to some effective line-readings). It seems like Raimi was afraid that his iconic franchise might come to an end (which it fitfully does), considering rumors going about, that he decided to throw everything but the kitch sink. Sharp line readings and good story-telling aside, maybe they should've saved some of that stuff for the recent video game adaptation.
As usual, star Tobey Maguire is sharp and intense as he's ever been. With Peter Parker faced with alot of drama in his life - losing M.J., turning into an egomaniac that would put Tom Cruise to shame, and fighting off his enemies - the actor helps all of Parker's actions ring true. While he does overplay his hand with a dose of weepy scenes, that doesn't mean he continues sharing great chemistry with co-star Dunst (who still works her magic, but that ain't no surpris).
The rest of the cast fares well. James Franco, coming off a series of bombs ("Annapolis", "Flyboys", and "Tristan & Isolde"), reclaims his powerful, brooding performance as Harry. Topher Grace, J.K. Simmons, and Bruce Campbell (now playing a French waiter) provide plenty of comic relief in their roles. Thomas Haden Church, known for playing the cocky friend of Paul Giamatti's character in "Sideways", is affecting in his role as an ex-con who may or may not have purposely killed Uncle Ben. Other memorable performances also come from smaller roles played by Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brandt) and Bill Nunn (Robbie) among others.
I'll go out on a limb here and say that "SM3" is a delgiht. The film ends on a note that the trilogy has come full circle, which probably explains why so many characters and subplots have been added. If so, hat's off to Raimi for making one of the best comic book movies of all time.