Andy Bockelman: Pay your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man a visit

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Marvel Comics mania is once again in full swing with the release of "Spider-Man 3."

The life of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is far from easy; besides the normal hassles of life in New York, he also has to lead a double-life as superhero Spider-Man.

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Now that he and his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) are further along in their relationship, it is getting more and more difficult for Peter to find time for her while still keeping the city safe.

The stakes are raised when his former friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) embarks on a plan to exact revenge because he believes that Peter killed his father.

Things get more complicated with escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) being transformed into Sandman, a shape-shifting powerhouse of living sand, enabling him to continue his criminal activities.

The capper is Peter's fusion with an alien symbiote, which not only gives him a new costume, but also a new, dangerous personality.

Maguire is clearly enjoying his run as one of the most popular characters in comic book history, and that is reflected in his screen time.

A noteworthy feature is that Dunst and Franco draw more of a focus than they have in the prior entries, and their characters develop better because of this.

Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons are reliable as they have ever been as Peter's Aunt May and his boisterous boss J. Jonah Jameson, respectively.

Church is significantly underused, but since the character of Sandman relies heavily on special effects, nothing can really be done about it.

Bryce Dallas Howard is likable as Gwen Stacy, one of Peter's fellow college students, whom Mary Jane perceives to be a threat.

The most questionable casting is Topher Grace as Peter's rival at The Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock, who soon becomes more than just a minor nuisance for the hero.

Grace fares all right, although he is clearly not the ideal choice for the role.

Bound to be analyzed thoroughly by fans of the first two movies, "Spider-Man 3" is excellent albeit admittedly flawed.

Director and co-writer Sam Raimi attempts to keep the special effects from overshadowing the less apparent elements of the movie with a complex story and developed characters.

Unfortunately, these prove to be somewhat of a drawback as well, because the story is a little more drawn out than it needs to be and the character development is inconsistent with some characters getting more attention than necessary (Sandman) and others not enough (Gwen).

The film goes for laughs just a few too many times, but when one of these gags is a cameo by "Spider-Man" creator Stan Lee, it is hard to find much fault with that.

As the kick-off for what looks to be a good summer at the movies, "Spider-Man 3" is a thoroughly entertaining and often heartfelt continuation of the saga of the boy who was bitten by a radioactive spider.

So pay your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man a visit next when you utilize the local cinema.

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