There's a point to the expanded rogue's gallery too. Just as Spider-Man 2 contemplated the perpetual tug between duty and desire, part three ponders what it means to be a hero. As the movie opens, Spider-Man is wildly popular, and Maguire is happily contemplating getting engaged to his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), who's about to make her Broadway debut. Then the troubles start, each tied to—or reflective of—problems Maguire and Dunst have been ignoring. In various ways, they're confronted with fractured relationships, pressing family obligations, and a crippling addiction to danger. Characters that are just like them, only a degree or two different, force them to confront whether they can be the kind of people who deserve to be cheered.
So Spider-Man 3's action is superb and its theme fairly weighty. Then why does it feel a letdown from its predecessor? Nearly all the blame rests with director Sam Raimi, who's taken the success of some light slapstick moments in Spider-Man 2 as a cue to get even sillier. The result is a handful of sequences—most notably a "Dark Tobey" routine—that send the movie into a tailspin right in the middle. Even worse are any scenes in which Maguire's friends and relations try to have An Important Conversation, and immediately stop the movie cold. Throughout this whole series, Raimi has never handled quiet human moments as well as comic book punch-ups, and in Spider-Man 3—where the subtle distinctions between characters are the whole point of the movie—Raimi can't deliver. On the ground, Spider-Man 3 is dreary. But in the air, it swings.