Spider-Man 3

The latest entry in Sam Raimi's series of blockbusters about the dorkiest superhero in New York, Spider-Man 3 pretty much works on the same level as its predecessors – no better, no worse. Even as more characters get added and more twists get worked into the story (more on that later), it adheres to Raimi's goal of delivering the quintessential summer movie: You get action, comedy, romance, tragedy, psychological insight, and character development, and you leave satisfied.

At first I was afraid that packing three, count 'em, three villains into this movie would bloat it, like the increasingly overstuffed – and stupid – Batman movies got in the '90s. Somehow, though, Raimi and his cowriters (brother Ivan Raimi and veteran screenwriter Alvin Sargent) manage to make it all work, though at times I wondered if Raimi's original vision was to deliver a Peter Jackson-style three-hour opus, mainly because some scenes feel like they're either missing or noticeably shortened.

Nevertheless, Raimi still finds time for some wonderfully goofy, idiosyncratic moments, mainly in the scenes where a sticky black goo from outer space turns Spidey into an arrogant, vindictive showoff – call it "cosmic cocaine". It gives Tobey Maguire a little room to have some fun with the character. In fact, it's the numerous comic asides that keep Spider-Man 3 afloat. All too often the story veers towards the maudlin and even the corny, so the funny business amongst the supporting characters (who all get a few good lines and a bit more screen time as a reward for their service to Raimi, from the skinny Russian girl across the hall to J. Jonah Jameson and his staff) is most welcome.

What I also liked about Spider-Man 3 was that, in an age where seemingly every movie franchise has to be packaged and sold as a trilogy, this feels like just another chapter in an ongoing series of movies. Raimi knows that there's a lot of great stuff left to be milked out of the Spider-Man comic books, so if we don't see much of Gwen Stacy or Peter's lab professor Curt Connors, that's because we'll be seeing a lot more of them in Spider-Man 4. (Comic insiders will recognize that Curt Connors – played here by the terrific character actor Dylan Baker – is the alter ego of famed Spider-Man foe the Lizard, so we can guess who is going to be the big villain in the next installment.)

It's not a perfect film, and I'm getting a little tired of Kirsten Dunst's whiny Mary Jane Watson, but it's a great choice for a summer matinee and I'll keep shelling out to see more Spidey movies as long as Raimi keeps making them so well.