- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Spider-Man 3’

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence.

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 11 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 140 minutes

Common Sense review: People who see superhero movies just for thrills and chills will find plenty of reasons to love “Spider-Man 3,” but fans seeking the unforgettable combination of action, story and heart of “Spider-Man 2” will be disappointed.

In this film, Peter (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) are finally together, and things seem idyllic until Harry (James Franco) uses his father’s secret arsenal of green bombs and flying glider to attack Spider-Man in an impressive airborne fight. Harry is nearly felled. When he regains consciousness, he can’t remember that Peter is his archenemy.

But despite reconciling with Harry, Spidey’s problems are far from over. Parasitic black ooze attaches itself to Peter and creates a black Spider-Man suit that exaggerates the web crawler’s aggressiveness, hostility and even attraction to the opposite sex. There’s the unintentionally hilarious musical number in which Peter sings, plays piano and dances with his smitten classmate Gwen (Bryce Dallas Howard) to make MJ jealous.

Peter’s newly discovered dark side drives Mary Jane away and enrages Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), a self-absorbed Daily Bugle photographer who’s bent on capturing Spidey’s bad behavior on camera. When the steroidlike goo lands on Eddie, he transforms into Venom, the film’s second supernemesis.

The third villain this time around is prison escapee Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church), who morphs into the Sandman in a technically remarkable scene. Sandman, unlike Venom, has a heart. He just wants money to save his sick little girl — if only Spidey would get out of his way.

An alliance between Sandman and Venom leads to a climactic four-way battle scene set along the Manhattan skyline. The action is striking, but all the wonders of computer generated imagery can’t save “Spider-Man 3’s” overlong, underdeveloped story from falling a bit short of super.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that, like its two predecessors, this comic book-based movie features lots of action and superhero-style violence. Thanks to the enormous amount of Spidey merchandise and marketing, expect any child old enough to watch commercial television to want to see this movie — but know that the action might be too intense for the early-elementary set.

Families can talk about the movie’s major themes: character transformation, revenge and redemption. Which characters experience the biggest changes? Do they change for better or for worse? How can you tell? How does seeking revenge prove futile for both Harry and Peter? Families also can discuss the entire “Spider-Man” movie series. Which of these larger-than-life films do you consider the best? Does this one live up to the massive hype? What’s more important in superhero movies — the action or the story?

Sexual content: Various characters kiss, and there’s one romantic dance between Peter and Gwen.

Language alert: Mild expletives and a few taunts such as “chump” and “nerd.”

Violence alert: Blood is visible on a wounded character’s shirt and face and also on a dagger. A couple of major characters are killed, and someone’s face is disfigured in a fight. Peter shockingly strikes someone he loves.

Commercialism alert: The requisite tie-in to the vast quantities of “Spider-Man” merchandise.

Social-behavior alert: Harry drinks on several occasions and one point chugs hard liquor. Peter is served champagne at a restaurant. Diners drink alcohol at a jazz lounge.

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