As Spider-Man 3 opens, we see a Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) that we aren’t used to seeing: accepted and happy. He has come into his own, reaping his long overdue reward, possibly even have struck a balance between his life as Spider-Man and as a man wanting a normal life with his love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Of course it can’t last, luckily for us.

If anything penalizes Spider-Man 3 it is the sense of having to out-do it’s previous chapters. Everything has to be bigger, more bang for our movie buck: more action, most spectacular fight sequences, more emotional drama, and more bad guys. Let’s see:

-new alien entity that possesses Peter and plays on his dark side
-a freshly empowered Harry Osborn (James Franco), bent on getting vengeance on Spider-man for the death of his father
-Mary Jane feeling isolated
-the introduction of Gwen Stacy as possible alternative love interest
-Peter trying to find the right moment to propose to her
-Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) running around
-Sandman who now may have been the one truly responsible for Peter’s uncle’s death
-competition from the workplace
-the introduction of fan-favorite villain, Venom

That’s a lot of balls up in the air that Sam Raimi (director and co-writer) attempts to juggle and the movie teeters under the strain of trying to fit it all in. Multiple villains can be done without that feeling of being unfocused (see Batman Begins for an example of the former case and Batman Forever for the latter). A lot of the movie rides on the not-quite-broad-enough shoulders of Tobey Maguire. Maguire wears the same half-pursed lips expression no matter what he seems to be emoting. When he finally lets his hair down, in the throes of the dark side, he finally seems to cut loose a little and brings the audience along with him. Sort of. One can’t help but wonder that with fewer villains, and more screen time devoted to their story arcs, the movie would have come together better.

“Whatever battles rages inside us, we always have a choice … it’s the choices that make us who we are and we can always choose to do right.” –Spider-Man

The uniting theme of the movie is how many of the central characters are all wrestling with their dark natures: Harry Osborn/Hobgoblin, Peter Parker/Dark Spider-Man, Flint Marko/Sandman, Mary Jane/failure and aloneness, and Eddie Brock/Venom. The alien costume, a symbiote that binds to its host, is a symbol of what they all struggle with: a corrupting influence that brings with it a cycle of destruction, warping their sense of right and wrong, and spirals into a pattern of fear, hopelessness, violence, and death.

“You want forgiveness, get religion.” –Peter Parker

We all have moments we wish we could take back. Bad decisions, regrets, battling our enemy within (or, as Flint Marko puts it “I’m not a bad person, I’ve just had bad luck”). Interestingly, both Spider-Man and Eddie Brock have their true selves revealed in a church. However, though we’ve all done terrible things, those choices have not placed us past the point of redemption. It begins with forgiveness.

Aunt May says, thoroughly stuck in the role of the Holy Spirit/spiritual conscience of the movie, says that “You start by doing the hardest thing: you forgive yourself.” We all have forgiveness waiting to be accepted, all we have to do is ask. That probably is the greatest take home lesson of Spider-Man 3: the movie demonstrates the power of forgiveness to heal and make people whole.

“I guess one person can make a difference. Nuff said.” –Stan Lee

On the whole, Spider-Man 3 doesn’t match, much less surpass, Spider-Man 2 in transcending the comic book-to-movie sub-genre into great film-making. Think of comic book movie franchise trilogy, from Blade to X-Men. Right around the third one they tend to peter out a bit, if not fall off entirely. So Spider-Man 3 gets a “close enough” as far as that goes. The dizzying action sequences of the movie begs repeat viewing in order to catch it all. With all of the stuff going on in the movie, not to mention three villains all vying for screen time, it’s a wonder Raimi managed to squeeze it all into its 2 hours and 19 minutes running time. The movie plugs along—pay no attention to the plot contrivances that clumsily move it forward—with plenty there to keep you distracted.