Directed by: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin)

Summer blockbusters. You know the drill: “Yeah, the effects were great, but didn’t think much of the story.” And then director Sam Raimi went and changed all that.

With Spider-Man, Raimi wove a simple comic strip tale of love, tragedy, betrayal, revenge and sacrifice into a spellbinding script packed with passion, action and vibrant characters. Which was lucky, because many of the over-ambitious effects – with CG spider-stunts and animated web-slinging – looked alarmingly cartoony.

For once, though, the authenticity of the special effects really didn’t matter. Every other aspect of the movie hits the mark, Raimi clearly having such a deep love for and understanding of his subject matter that the film’s rather simplistic message – “with great power comes great responsibility” – takes on an almost Tolstoy-esque resonance.

Raimi, like Richard Donner with Superman and Bryan Singer with X-Men, steers clear of the camp or pompous approach usually applied to big screen superheroics, instead delivering a film that’s rattlingly good drama with a spandex top-coat. Superficially, the film may be about a web-slinging teenager battling a man in a cybersuit, but the real story – the reason why audiences loved the movie so much – is about unrequited love. As Peter Parker says in the opening narration, “This is the story of a girl”; not the kind of mission statement you expect from a superhero flick.

In fact, the film is at its weakest when it becomes too much like a comic book. The Spider-Man/Green Goblin fight scenes are robbed of intensity because both antagonists are wearing immobile masks. Contrast that with the emotional high of the scene when Peter Parker first discovers his powers; Tobey Maguire’s infectious grin truly makes you believe a man can climb walls.

Raimi also pulls off an incredible feat by tampering with the Spider-Man mythology… but yet making you wonder why the story wasn’t told like this all along. The fact that it’s a wrestling commentator who gives Spidey his name (“The Human Spider? That sucks!”) is a touch of fan-pleasing genius. It’s a shame that he never gives a good explanation as to how Peter Parker suddenly discovers expert costume-making abilities, though.

Spider-Man is simply one of the most charming, warm and human superhero movies ever made. It’s also expertly paced, superbly acted and boasts some memorable edge-of-your-seat action sequences. And the computer-gamey web-swinging effects? Well, if you can suspend your disbelief – which is easy – even they have an appealing, energetic verve.

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