Spider-Man takes most of its cues from 1978's Superman: The Movie. Peter Parker's journey from unassuming geek to high-flying hero mimics the Man of Steel's in story and tone. The colorful, comic spirit of Donner's gleefully exciting original is all here, just Marvel-fied. Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp approach Spider-Man's origin with reverence for Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original story. Koepp's script hits all the beats you'd expect (Spider bite, wrestling match, great power, and all that), but it's a lot smarter than your average SFX spectacular. Raimi and Koepp understand who Peter Parker is, and how his transformation into Spider-Man can metaphorically parallel his development as a character. In being confronted by new and strange spider powers, Peter is also confronted by the responsibilities of manhood. Koepp takes Stan Lee's best idea (That Peter Parker should grapple equally between supervillains and everyday problems), and pushes it to its logical max. Peter's infatuation with girl-next-door, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is given equal importance to his struggle with Norman Osborne's manic alter ego, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). The result is pretty well timeless. The quintessential Spider-Man story. A coming of age tale that gracefully weaves together every important aspect of the wall-crawler's mythos into a grand concoction of pure Spider-Man. Enhancing the story is one of the great casting jobs in motion picture history. First and foremost is Tobey Maguire, who was a revelation as Peter Parker/ Spider-Man. Like Christopher Reeve before him, Maguire completely defines the role. His Parker is a good kid; shy, dorky, and believably square. He radiates with innocence and later, teenage anxiety. As Spider-Man, he's just as good. In the costume or not, every subsequent Spidey will live in his shadow. Maguire's casting was a stroke of genius, but so was every other one. Kirsten Dunst is a luminous MJ, and she and Peter's romance sparkles with charm. Willem Dafoe relishes his villain role, with a voice and presence that burn with comic book intensity. The perfection of the cast extends to the supporting characters as well, with a legendary turn from J.K. Simmons as the hard-nosed newspaper man, J. Jonah Jameson, and two measured, twinkle-in-their-eyes performances by Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May.
But Spider-Man belongs to Sam Raimi. A Spider-Man superfan since childhood, Raimi was destined to bring the web-slinger to life. The offbeat sense of violent fun and jubilant cinematic showmanship that made Evil Dead and Darkman so entertaining is precisely what was needed to bring Spider-Man's New York to dazzling light. And what a creation Raimi's Spider-Verse is! The tone, with a precarious balance of larger-than-life action and textured character moments, never wavers once. Raimi crafts in Spider-Man, a New York where the archetypical comic book mainstays: the cackling villains, the wise-cracking heroes, and the pedestrians who shout to the skies "Look, it's Spider-Man!", fit just as well as the richly drawn human characters. Raimi and the creative team behind the film's production and costume design deserve the highest of praises. There is nothing else that combines style and realism to such astonishing effect. It's as if forty years of comics have been distilled into a real world somewhere alongside our own. Spider-Man is a captivating movie to look at. The action scenes are as fast and fun as the best of Cameron or Spielberg, and Raimi has a visceral sharpness, a comic book punch of his own that leaps off the screen. You can feel every hit in the brutal, violent climactic showdown, and when Spider-Man swings through the Manhattan skyline, you feel the exhilaration like you're right there with him. Despite a moment or two of spotty CGI from Sony Imageworks, the special effects here are world class too. The digital Spidey moves with a grace and elegance that would have been inconceivable just ten years prior, but digital or not, every time Spider-Man was on screen, I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
Spider-Man showcases Raimi at his exuberant best. Every frame of this movie is bursting with life. Whether it's the action scenes or the carefully crafted soap operatic drama, Spider-Man is an enthusiastic piece of crowd-pleasing entertainment, a passionate celebration of the Spider-Man mythos, and above all, a work of unparalleled quality. Blockbusters, especially superhero movies, with their all but guaranteed profits, can often breed lazy filmmaking. Sam Raimi and company fly in the face of that conceit. The filmmakers have taken time to craft this film. Beneath all the soaring spectacle is an enchanting love story and a poignant morality tale about becoming the man you will be for the rest of your life. Spider-Man recalls the kind of stand-up-and-cheer excitement that Hollywood has lost in the post Dark Knight/Avengers world of superhero movies. Raimi doesn't try to transcend the genre. Spider-Man is not more than a comic book movie, but through sheer craftsmanship, it is as much as a comic book movie can be. I can't imagine that we will ever see the stars align in such a perfect way again. Spider-Man came together exactly as it should have, with exactly the right people, at exactly the right time for the country. Seeing this movie in theaters was an experience I'll never forget, and the film still stands as the standard for what superhero blockbusters can be.