Spider-Man 3

The hype machine is in high gear, but for once there’s truth in advertising. As far as megabudget superhero adaptations go, Spider-Man 3 delivers exactly what it promises: more of the same. If you liked the first two installments, this is great news. Unlike the self-important Batman Begins, the Spider-Man movies know exactly what they are and what they want to be.

Again, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco engage in cheeseball humor and soapy storylines illustrating bromides like “everybody needs help sometimes.” As before, Sam Raimi’s crisp direction makes elaborate three-dimensional action set pieces as transparent as a few well-chosen comics panels would. Again, the bright color scheme, the iconic NYC locations, the funny bit players (J.K. Simmons and Mageina Tovah as Ursula), the swooping score, and the gee-whiz wholesomeness that leaves no doubt that this poppy entertainment is squarely aimed at kids.

There are three new villains: Franco turns into the hoverboard-surfing New Goblin, Sideways Thomas Hayden Church becomes the Sandman (who, by film’s end, looks like the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock), and Topher Grace as Eddie Brock, who is covered with alien goo as Venom, the most wicked of the Spidey villains. Their tag-team battles are the most exciting of the series so far.

Peter Parker also undergoes some transformations. As a deft metaphor externalizing his anger and aggression, the alien symbiote colors Spidey’s costume black, and he ends up with a hipper haircut and a mean new attitude: the dweeb struts to a James Brown tune and turns into a sexual predator (or at least a dweeb’s idea of a sexual predator.) In mythic terms, the symbiote represents the Devil of the Tarot deck, but by the end of the movie, the Sun of forgiveness comes up over Manhattan. There’s room for plenty of sequels.

Spider-Man 3. Sam Raimi, 2007. ***