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Spider-Man 3: Just a bit too big, too sticky

For big fat action movies, the "Spider-Man" franchise owes an awful lot to its acting.

Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man isn't a bunch of super powers stuffed into a leotard, he's a well-meaning dork trying to figure out how to be a hero. The villains aren't mustache-twirlers out to hold the world for ransom, they're decent men done in by their own ambition.

"Spider-Man 3" isn't just a big fat action movie, though. It's like that 85-ounce bucket of pop you used to be able to get at AM/PM. Sure, 85 ounces sounds great, but what do you do with a beverage in bucket form? Is it even possible to finish it without the bottom being all warm and flat? By the end, when you're all twitchy and sweaty, wouldn't it have been better to just go with the Double Gulp?

The movie opens with the hero at the top of his game. He's saving New York from all kinds of disasters. He's got a hot-ass girlfriend in Kirsten Dunst. He's rocking college so hard the other students spend more time giving him dirty looks than listening to the lecture. Yeah, life is sweet when your DNA's been all messed up by a genetically modified spider.

All this success blinds him to Dunst's career troubles. While Maguire's off saving foxy blondes, having run-ins with the New Goblin (the son of the man he helped kill in "Spider-Man 1"), fending off an up-and-coming photographer at his newspaper job, dealing with some dude made of sand who seems intent on wrecking up the city, and being tainted by a symbiote from outer space that turns his spidey-suit black and his aggression blacker -- deep breath -- while all that's going on, he's losing touch with the girl he's been after since day one.

This may come as a surprise, but it's kind of a mess.

An infinite number of monkeys in an infinite number of cutting rooms couldn't edit all that plot into something snappy. Keeping up with the Sandman's no-goodery or Maguire's professional rivalry becomes a chore. Chores are no fun in real life, and it turns out they aren't that great in movies, either.

Nor does it help that Maguire's buddies are always sitting him down for heartfelt chats. Aunt May had her moments in the first two installments, but here, her life lessons drag like an after-school special titled "Old People Know Everything."

"Spider-Man 3's" budget ran more than $250 million (that's the highest in the history of the universe, incidentally), and that did buy them some pretty great visuals. The Sandman's creation is particularly stunning, and Spider-Man's web-swinging trips through NYC's urban canyons are the best they've looked yet.

It pains me to say it, but eye-bursting graphics can't carry a movie these days. Seeing Spider-Man get clobbered by the Sandman's car-sized fist is great and all, but when Thomas Haden Church is the one doing the punching, it'd be nice to give him a few more human moments alongside the parts where he's an invincible cloud of flying sand. The same could be said for Topher Grace as Venom, another unorthodox, inspired bit of casting who deserves a lot more space to breathe.

The movie starts to come together when Maguire, corrupted by the alien in his suit and reeling from his breakup with Dunst, cuts loose on his friends and the city. Bangs combed firmly into his eyes, Spider-Man's journey toward the dark side is funny, exciting, and a welcome change of pace after about 90 minutes of slow build.

After all that, getting the movie's hero, three bad guys, and love interest into one big brawl is relatively straightforward and definitely awesome. But so much has happened it's hard to care about any one part.

"Spider-Man 3" needed about half as much plot or to be split into two movies. There's a lot to like in what's here, it's just hard to walk away without feeling it would have been better if it weren't so damned big.

Grade: B

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