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Spidey’s back! Spidey’s black! ‘Nuff said!

“Access Hollywood’s ”Scott Mantz reviews “Spider-Man 3.”
/ Source: Access Hollywood

‘Spider-Man 3’Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James FrancoDirected by: Sam Raimi

Have no fear, webheads — your friendly neighborhood “Spider-Man 3” is finally here, and it’s the biggest, most exciting Spidey of ’em all! Swinging into theaters on May 4 — about five years to the day that the first film opened with a then record-breaking $115 million — “Spider-Man 3” effectively launches the summer 2007 movie season on a spectacular note while bringing the $1.6 billion franchise to an immensely entertaining, emotionally satisfying and action-packed conclusion.

That’s high praise, given the nature of film trilogies to end on a whimper rather than a bang (witness “The Matrix Revolutions” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”). But despite boasting a bigger budget (rumored to be over $300 million), a longer running time (2 hours and 19 minutes) and a more ambitious story (with three super villains), returning players Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and director Sam Raimi have successfully completed the exceptional superhero series with a rousing capper that’s closer to “Return of the King” than to “Return of the Jedi.”

Picking up where 2004’s masterful “Spider-Man 2” left off, “Spider-Man 3” finds good-natured Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) on top of the world. He’s doing great in school, his relationship with lifelong crush Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) has never been better, and for the first time since being bitten by that genetically altered arachnid, the amazing Spider-Man has finally been embraced by the people of New York City — except, of course, Daily Bugle Editor-in-Chief J. Jonah Jameson (a scene-stealing J.K. Simmons), who still loves to hate him.

But Peter’s fame goes to his head when he starts to neglect Mary Jane, whose acting career hits the skids. Peter also faces stiff competition at work, when an arrogant photographer named Eddie Brock (a well-cast Topher Grace) vies for his job. Trouble is also looming when a new super villain, the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), terrorizes the city and, on a more personal note, is linked to the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben. Then there’s Harry Osborn (James Franco), who still blames Peter for the death of his father, the original Green Goblin.

To top it off, a mysterious alien substance possesses Spider-Man, changing the color of his familiar red-and-blue suit to black, enhancing his powers and exposing his darker, more violent side. Spidey may not realize it yet, but as he gears up for the biggest battle of his life, he learns the hard way that an even bigger battle is about to be waged within himself.

Obviously, there’s a lot going on in “Spider-Man 3,” but the brilliance of the story — which once again interweaves action, drama, romance, depth and humor — lies in its ability to bring it all together in the end, wrapping up not just the film, but also the series as a whole. Director Sam Raimi, who developed the story with his brother, Ivan, and “Spider-Man 2” vet Alvin Sargent, who co-wrote the screenplay, introduce new characters and subplots while effectively retaining key elements and images from the first two films.

Of the new characters, none have been as eagerly anticipated as Venom — created after the rejected black costume latches onto Eddie Brock, making him one of the deadliest enemies Spider-Man has ever faced. In the comics, Spidey acquired the costume on another planet. In the movie, the costume comes to him. Regardless of the changes, fans will be more than pleased with Venom’s cinematic incarnation, especially during an incredible finale that demonstrates just how far the special effects have come since the first movie.

Too bad there’s not more of him, not to mention some of the other new characters in the busy script. While great care is taken to establish the classic Sandman (a.k.a. Flint Marko) as a villain to be empathized with, blond-haired Gwen Stacy — crucial to the comics as Peter Parker’s first love interest — doesn’t fare as well and is nothing more than a reluctant thorn in Mary Jane’s side. As a result, her storyline is underdeveloped, making it hard for Bryce Dallas Howard (“Lady in the Water”) to delve deeper into the character.

Despite this, “Spider-Man 3” is still a terrific movie that couldn’t have wrapped up the series on a better note. Of course the action scenes are great, but there’s a reason why Peter Parker spends much of the film without his mask on — the movies, like the original comics, have always been more about Peter than about Spider-Man, which is why you cared so much about him in the first place. And for a character who once again realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, that truly makes him — and the movie — worth caring about.