Your 'friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man' swings back into town a little less friendly than before in the third instalment of Sam Raimi's cracking comic-book franchise. An extra-terrestrial parasite is to blame as it seeps between the fibres of Spidey's skin-hugging bodysuit and draws out his darker side. Once again Tobey Maguire is pitch perfect as the web-slinging geek, actually rousing sympathy and getting big laughs, looking like Adolf Hitler meets 70s hipster.
Especially unimpressed with Peter Parker's metamorphosis is girlfriend MJ (Kirsten Dunst), who seeks solace in ex Harry Osborn (James Franco). Of course Harry's got his own 'issues' with Parker, although he temporarily forgets to avenge dad's death after a knock on the noggin. Playing the amnesia card is a little desperate on the writers' part, but there are other more grating coincidences that hold together a very complicated plot, eg, the emergence of Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and, in particular, his history with Parker.
Nonetheless, Sandman is a truly fearsome villain, stunningly realised in CGI. His human side offers sharp contrast, echoing Spidey's own 'family vs. duty' dilemma. Similarly, Topher Grace, playing a rival press photographer and Sandman's cohort Venom, forces Parker to face up to Harry (who inevitably recovers his memory).
"AWESOME AEROBATICS AND SHREWD MOMENTS OF COMEDY"
It's this emotional push-and-pull that raises the stakes, prompting a sharper intake of breath as Spidey goes swinging into action. And there's plenty of that - awesome aerobatic battles, each one topping the last. Shrewd moments of comedy bring our hero crashing back to earth, like a wickedly funny scene where he channels John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever! Despite a few knots in the story, that trademark combo of warmth, wit and charm keeps you hanging.
Spider-Man 3 is released in UK cinemas on Friday 4th May 2007.