Think of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 as a kind of Ben-Hur for our time — it delivers state-of-the-art spectacle, but it also yearns to throw a spotlight on the struggle between good and evil. It ends in deathbed conversions and churchy epiphanies, and it offers more homilies than the average Sunday sermon.
There's a lot to like about the movie. Many of its bits are exuberant, and its special effects are a wow. In fact it's an embarrassment of riches, but it's also flabby and overinflated, without the snap of the last two Spider-Man movies, in which Raimi proved a whiz at mixing pop and torment.
The charcoal-black Spider-Man who emerges after a meteorite leaks black slime onto Peter Parker is pretty cool-looking, and the ostentatiously hip, black-clad Tobey Maguire brings off some snazzy-funny moves in a jazz club. (He's like Jerry Lewis's Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor.)
But Spidey's dark night of the soul is ultimately pretty vanilla, the climactic battle is a big porridge of stunts and effects, and the movie never builds any momentum. The script is full of dead spots, and the bloat and the religiosity made me long for the day when comic books were nerdy and disreputable. I wish the hero were more concerned with falling bodies than fallen souls.