The bug is back!

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By Tyler Davidson

The villain Sandman takes a punch from the friendly neighborhood Spiderman. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

By Tyler Davidson

In these times of wild blockbuster productions, artsy indy films, and everything in between, one word can mean everything: hype. Hype can either come after the fact, turning a film that may not have been too successful at the box office into a beloved cult classic (as was the case with movies like 1999’s “Office Space”), or it can come worlds ahead of the release, resulting in what would have possibly been a decent film on its own, but instead falls much too short of its lofty expectations (much like 2006’s “Miami Vice.”)

Simply put, “Spider-Man 3” lives up to its hype. It does so barely, with a few glaring flaws, but it gets the job done nonetheless. Coming three years after its latest predecessor, director Sam Raimi’s third web slinging adventure is a testament to the staying power of a fun, enjoyable franchise.

Returning stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco are joined by new co-stars Topher Grace (“That 70’s Show”) and Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) in a picture that sees a seemingly endless supply of subplots coherently interwoven and presented in convenient, yet believable ways. At least, some of them are.

While Peter Parker (Maguire) and his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Dunst) enjoy their romance, Mary Jane can’t help but feel like she’s living in the shadow of her superhero companion, thanks in no part to what seems to be his ever-increasing ego.

In the midst of all this, an alien symbiote has landed on earth aboard a meteorite and has attached itself to Parker.

This coinciding with Peter and Mary Jane’s romance hitting the rocks hard results in what just might be one of the funniest montages in recent cinematic memory.

In bonding with Spider-Man’s ordinary alter-ego, the symbiote has seemingly created a more aggressive, sleazier Peter Parker, complete with a haircut that will elicit millions upon millions of “emo kid” references in theatres.

He struts down the street like he just watched an all-night marathon of “Saturday Night Fever,” and as we painstakingly watch him gyrate (yes, gyrate) in the general direction of whatever females happen to be around, you almost expect him to express an interest in making “sexy time” with the newly introduced Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard.)

This bizarre and hilarious montage is capped off with a jazz club scene that would put Ron Burgundy to shame, as apparently the symbiote has also turned Peter into a character from “Chicago.”

The point is, it’s funny for all the wrong reasons, as just a bit too much effort and exaggeration has gone into developing this “new” Peter Parker on-screen.

For what it’s worth, Kirsten Dunst has run out of cuteness.

If she was the quirky, lovable damsel in distress in the first two films, she is the definition of irritating in the third picture. If you want to see this film, you’d better get used to seeing her on-the-verge-of-tears, “Why me?” face, because you’re going to be seeing plenty of it.

Throw in the fact that she sings several times in a way that makes Sanjaya sound like Freddy Mercury, and the fact that she may not return for possible sequels starts to sound like a godsend.

The new characters introduced in “Spider-Man 3” are refreshing foils to the new “Night at the Roxbury” edition of Peter Parker. Eddie Brock, a brown-nosing photographer intent on upstaging Peter, is played entertainingly by Grace, even if he’s a bit less than menacing as his alter-ego Venom (whom we finally get a glimpse of when said symbiote detaches itself from Parker and latches onto Brock.)

Flint Marko (Church), on the other hand, is a sympathetic villain, even after the revelation that he was the one who killed Peter’s Uncle Ben. Escaped from prison and sent away by his estranged wife, Marko is just looking for money that he can use to help his ailing daughter, whose photograph gets about ten times more screen time than its subject.

While on the run in the middle of the night, Marko falls into some sort of molecular deconstruction chamber filled with sand that turns him into, naturally, The Sandman. Umm…ok.

Rounding out “Plot-a-palooza ’07” is a remarkably cheesy storyline that sees Harry Osborn (Franco), in the heat of avenging his father’s death from the first film, meet head-on with a steel pipe and get knocked unconscious.

When he awakens, he’s got short-term memory loss that has conveniently made him forget about his hatred for Spider-Man, as well as a brand new eight-year-old state of mind that sees him grinning like an idiot while eating cotton candy and flirting with Mary Jane.

These are all minor inconveniences, however, in an otherwise fun movie. “Spider-Man 3” may not be the best in the series, and it may not be the end-all, be-all of superhero flicks, but it serves its purpose. It has its weaknesses, but expecting it not to would be tantamount to expecting Shakespeare out of something like “Snakes On a Plane.” That would be missing the point.

High-octane action sequences, hilarious comic relief, and stand-out performances by Maguire and Grace in particular (not to mention the mandatory Bruce Campbell cameo) make the third installment of the “Spider-Man” franchise a success in the “popcorn movie” category.

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