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At The Movies: Third Time’s Not a Charm: Spider-Man 3 **

It’s difficult to find a single good thing to say about Sam Raimi’s third installment of the Spider-Man franchise. The first one was the best one. The second one was, well, a close second. The third? Unwatchable. It commits the worse sin a movie can commit: it’s boring.

The film broke an opening-day record and also is tops for opening-weekend numbers. Box Office Mojo, an online analysis site, describes it this way: “$151.1 million on over 10,000 screens at 4,252 locations, the biggest opening weekend and widest release ever. The litany includes all-time daily grosses for its $59.8 million Friday, $51.3 million Saturday and $39.9 million Sunday, fastest to $100 million and the mightiest IMAX debut: $4.8 million at 84 sites (included in the weekend total), topping 300’s $3.6 million.”

Did you get all that? It broke every record. There probably wasn’t a theater near you that didn’t have Spidey playing there. That’s what you do with a movie everyone wants to see – you spread it wide early. It’s unlikely word of mouth is going to stretch it beyond maybe three weeks. It’s still going to make a killing, no matter how you slice and dice it.

The film opens on Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and MJ (Kirsten Dunst) finally a happy couple. She is the only one, outside of their mutual friend Harry (James Franco) who knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. As Spider-Man is enjoying his celebrity status in the big city he protects, MJ’s career as a singer just hit a major snag: she gets booted from her first Broadway show because of bad reviews.

She’s depressed but Peter is oblivious. This leads her into the arms of Harry and away from Peter. So boy had girl, boy lost girl, and boy has to get girl back.

In the meantime, the super-scary villains are introduced. One is Sandman (played by a scene-stealing Thomas Haden Church), another is Harry himself who has gotten a flightless snowboard he uses to zoom around and fling little bombs at his enemy. He wants to kill Peter/Spider-Man to avenge his father’s death (Willem Dafoe bit it in Spider-Man 2).

There are several themes/threads running through Spider-Man 3 that have little to do with the plot itself, which leaves much to be desired, namely a plot. Screenwriters Sam and Ivan Raimi don’t seemed too concerned with delivering a great story, and in fact are content to rely on easy plot devices and predictable twists. They do make a point about how any human being, no matter what their circumstance in life, has a choice. And that choice will make them either a good guy or a bad guy.

The actors work well together, but the real finds are Haden Church and Topher Grace, who plays a rival photographer trying to catch Spider-Man on a bad day. Dunst and Maguire don’t do much more than they’ve done in the past, though the character of MJ has really nowhere to go except to exist only for villains to capture so Spider-Man can rescue her. This is okay at times, but one misses the substance of a real person when spending time with her character.

In this film, Parker plays with his dark side when he puts on a suit that makes him feel “bad.” Powerful, confident and lacking in moral judgment. Parker must then choose to be the better Spider-Man. Some of the film’s worst scenes are when Tobey Maguire is being the bad Peter Parker. Nice try but…a little too musical/comedy for this otherwise brooding and thoughtful series. In other words, the real darkness has gone out of it. We’re left with something that’s a bit too bright.

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