Sam Raimi may not have seemed like the most obvious choice as director for this first proper Spider-Man movie at the time but he proved everyone wrong creating a popcorn movie with enough entertainment, humour and faithfulness to the comic books to feel like a worthy attempt.
The film begins with tedious narration more suited to a Dr Seuss animation and closes with it as well so not the most promising of starts but from the moment we actually meet Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker things start making sense. Raimi goes for a lighthearted tone actually well suited to the character and the whole film feels very much like a comic book. The build-up to Parker becoming Spider-Man is perfectly handled with the film ticking all the right boxes in terms of superhero origin stories: teen romance, tragic family crisis, growing powers/puberty, bullies, clear villain... It's cliched but in a good way. There's a sense that it's all very self-aware and knows what it's doing. I should point out that Danny Elfman's score is excellent throughout and very different to any other superhero theme prior to this film.
Unfortunately, once the initial "holy shit it's Spider-Man!" feeling wears off things take a cartoonish turn and it all gets a bit messy. For one thing, Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn (aka The Green Goblin), it turns out, doesn't work at all. I'll admit the Goblin costume is mostly to blame for that, with its static mask and its... so gosh darn tight green spandex body armour: it honestly looks a bit rubbish. The body moves freely but the face is like a weird statue with Dafoe's tiny mouth inside talking away, it's an odd vision to say the least. Now I'm not saying the original Goblin costume from the comics wasn't wacky but that was DRAWN: whole different story. The usually reliable Dafoe struggles to make his character less ridiculous sounding/looking but he just looks uncomfortable saying his, more often than not, corny lines and doing that goofy voice.
What a shame.
The second half of the film does have its share of clunky moments including New Yorkers "intimidating" the Goblin with bits of fruit and such, lame interviews with pretend-normal people telling their own experience of seeing Spider-Man in action, slo-mo being used in increasingly bizarre ways during the action sequences, a tone that's all over the place and a plot that gets more and more clichéd and, this time, not in a good way. How many times have we seen a supervillain asking the hero to "join him" before the end battle? The choice Green Goblin gives Spider-Man during the bridge scene (save Mary Jane or a tram full of kids) is frankly a bit too reminiscent of The Riddler's plan at the end of Batman Forever in that it's obvious the hero could easily save both. So yeah, the second half of the film isn't bad but it really lacks focus.
Watching Spider-Man today, a lot of the ambitious CGI effects feel slightly dated and the light comic-book feel achieved here has been done to death since, and not always successfully. Not to mention that, since, there have been countless far superior superhero flicks (including Spider-Man 2, funnily enough) but this film did start something and influenced a lot of great stuff while itself remaining an enjoyable, if flawed, ride.
I remember loving it back in the day and it's still a fun watch so do check it out but have the sequel ready nearby.