Spider-Man 3 swings, baby!

This summer’s movie season promises to be good enough to lure me to the theaters at least a few times more than I typically go in a year. Between the next Harry Potter movie, the final installment in the Bourne trilogy, and even the upcoming Halloween remake, I’m set for the year. But up first is perhaps the biggest of them all – Spider-Man 3.

I’ll get right to the point – there is a reason this movie made an estimated $148 million in its first weekend. It builds on the strengths of the first two, and has the powerful climactic impact George Lucas wishes Revenge of the Sith would’ve had. Even at a beefy 140 minutes, SM3 never seems drawn out or bloated. I’ve read some reviews that complained about the overly long and extended ending, but those are obviously written by half-wits. An epic conclusion to this storyline deserves exactly the ending Sam Raimi delivered.

I won’t delve into the story here, because it’s frankly not all that complex. What really carries this movie (besides the absolutely top-notch FX) are Raimi’s nimble direction, and some fine acting performances by Tobey Maguire (who at this point has to have silenced the masses who cried murder when he was cast), Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman, and Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom. Church in particular was a revelation, breathing real life into what is really one of the more one-dimensional villains in the Spider-Man comic canon.

Raimi kept things moving along so well I never noticed that for perhaps the first time ever, a superhero movie successfully fit three major villains into the same movie. Sure, as a longtime Venom fan I would’ve liked to see more of him, but what I did get was satisfying.

In what has been a hallmark of the Spider-series (as in all good superhero flicks), there are a ton of subtleties added that made it extra-sweet for (reformed) comic book geeks like myself. Of course there was the Stan Lee cameo, complete with him uttering his trademark phrase. Nice to see he gets something to do, given how Marvel has consistently screwed him over the years. I also loved the nod to the old Spider-Man cartoon theme played by a marching band.  I’m sure there are many I missed, to be revealed upon subsequent viewings.

There are inconsistencies with the original comic storylines, but that’s to be expected (biggest of all being the late introduction of Gwen Stacy’s character). Enough of the original story elements (especially concerning Venom’s origin) were retained to satisfy all but the geekiest comic fanboy. What was taken away wasn’t really missed, and the new twists were welcome – particularly a scene involving a newly confident Peter Parker cavorting in a jazz club a la Jim Carrey’s character in The Mask.

Complaints? Not many. I have never really cared for Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, and she did little to change that opinion in this movie. There were also a few hokey moments involving dialog and the way certain scenes were shot, but not enough to detract from the proceedings.

If you didn’t like the first two SM movies, you won’t like this one. But if that’s the case, what the hell are you reading this review for? If you thought this movie would be worth all the hype, you were right. I can’t really rate its importance in the superhero genre after just one viewing, but I think this easily ranks near the top.