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Blockbuster matures as Spiderman 3 looks at shades of grey

 spiderman 3 stillWill Self, I think, once blamed Hollywood in part for the current 'war on terror' because its depiction in epics such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter of good and evil as black and white absolutes leads the audience to simplify incredibly complex situations. Even Star Wars  – where Obi Wan rebuked Anakin's Bush-like 'you're either with us or against us' refrain at the end of Episode 3 with 'only a Sith speaks in absolutes' – still pits the good of the force directly against the dark side with no middle ground. But the greatest light and dark battle arguably takes place within, and Spiderman 3 takes Anakin's (failed) inner struggle with the dark side of power a step further in a film which looks at villainy and heroism with some rare maturity for a blockbuster.

So yes, once again, Mary Jane is left dangling and helpless from a great height in a role not as fully developed as it could or should have been (and the song numbers?!), but we are faced with three villains and indeed a hero who tread that fine tightrope between dark and light.

It's an embarrassing length of time since I wrote about an actual film here (six months), to be doing so now for the most expensive (and highest-opening) studio film ever, and one which has also been critically drabbed, feels a little odd. But as a cultural event, a fable which works its way into the audience's subconscious, and our own perception of good and evil and ourselves, it is immense. And it made me come home, look over old photos and cry. I'm a sentimental fool, yes, but it worked.

Because watching this, I'm sure I'm not alone in becoming, briefly, Peter Parker. The dark spider suit grows around him as a dark extension of his ego. Pride, anger, envy, vengeance and total self-centredness erupt as first a little success goes to his head and next he is the star of his own fairy tail. It's a deft touch of director Sam Raimi that sees the unknown alien force which corrupts Parker arriving at the very moment he has every reason to be self-centered and smug.

As he grows more self-obsessed in response to increased adulation and popularity, so too does the dark alien slime - like the pink goo in Ghostbusters 2 - increase in force. So caught up in his own drama as to be unaware of Mary Jane's feelings and needs he falls carelessly into one mental trap after another until finally wearing the suit is a natural extension of where he had arrived mentally. The darkened Spdierman is one who does not use his power with responsibility but for cheap personal thrills.

The duality between light and dark plays out in other ways - as one 'villain' is rescued back to life, another one - Flint Marco's sandman – is created, a subtle pairing between Harry and Flint as 'noble villains', one acting for father, the other for daughter, which continues through to the end of the film. (scroll to view spoiler in white): Harry's scar echoing Marco's initial implosion from Harry's gun, and a similar ending of reconciliation and self-sacrifice for both.]

Spiderman's Venom nemesis is a creation of Parker's own pride and ambition as a photographer, another twist on how we create our own monsters. Sometimes, like Marco, they're trying to support for their family, sometimes like Harry they're driven by jealousy, vengeance and family honor, sometimes like Brock, they've been spurned by our own arrogance and anger. And sometimes, like Parker, whose punch to Mary Jane left the Glasgow cinema icy silent, they are lost on a power trip and a broken heart (and for the sake of simplicity, some 'alien force').

Regardless of whether it is the work of an artist in their bedroom or a quarter of a billion dollar studio film, a film which can cut through the layers of crap I submerge my soul behind on a daily basis and make me thing about my own dark side, and choices, and mistakes and arrogance - tho I feel strangely dirty admitting it - has to be worth watching and writing about.

The sun rising in the east over New York made for a better ending to me than the following final scene, a flimsy over-easy fob off. But that perhaps was the point. Making good the things we've done wrong isn't something a film can do anything but remind us to focus on. And perhaps provide some comfort in this too: as the ever wise Aunt May says in the film, the first step is to forgive yourself.

Which can include liking trashy money grabbing escapist threequels.