The first summer blockbuster of 2007, 'Spider-Man 3' arrives with fans divided on whether the series should end or continue charting the adventures of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Maguire). Whichever camp people find themselves in, the expectation that this third instalment would beat the previous two was the same for both sides.

The story finds Peter Parker completely comfortable with his double life, dividing his time - unequally - between girlfriend Mary Jane (Dunst) and his calling as a crime fighter. Now a hero and celebrity in New York as Spider-Man, Peter has fallen for his own PR and let his achievements go to his head, unable to see that he's driving a huge wedge between himself and his true love. And the more he lets his superhero costume consume him - literally here - the more he's in danger of paying the ultimate price.

'Spider-Man 3' is a case of contradictions galore. It's the longest of all the 'Spider-Man' films, but manages to feel rushed. It has intriguing subplots - involving Peter's temptress Gwen Stacy (Howard) and the baddies The New Goblin (Franco), The Sandman (Church), Venom (Grace) and the enemy within - but none of them live up to their potential. And while the action scenes and effects raise the bar for future superhero movies, it's the drama you really wanted to remember. Ultimately, 'Spider-Man 3' is a case of too much resulting in too little.

For 'Spider-Man 3' to work as well as it could have, it had to be either three-and-a-half hours long or followed by a '3.5' in six months' time. That way, Raimi could have given the four villains - and the actors who played them - the depth they deserved, provided the love triangle between Peter, Mary Jane and Gwen with the energy it needed and tackled Peter's dark nights of the soul more memorably. By the close you'll be hoping there's an extended cut heading for DVD.

With Raimi attempting to cram so much onto the screen, 'Spider-Man 3' has the poorest pacing of all three films, its stop-start dynamic and disjointed script making it the weakest of the series. The biggest disappointment of all is that all the pieces were here for the best to be made. Had everything fit into place, this would also have been the perfect swansong. Instead, no-one will think that things should end like this.

Harry Guerin