(Sam Raimi, 2002)
Raimi is a director perfectly suited to comic-book material. He is unafraid of camp; in Spider-Man he and screenwriter David Koepp wholeheartedly embrace some awfully camp dialogue, and it works. He understands the power of pulp imagery, and he knows how and when to use it - unlike some directors who take on the superhero genre and try to make it slick, or beautiful, or arch, Raimi shoots it as brightly-lit, visually exciting pulp. Which is as it should be, and which suits this particular superhero beautifully.
This is an origin story. The familiar origin story of Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), entwined with that of his villain the Green Goblin (Willem Defoe). It is also a relatively early example of the huge super-hero film; and that means it works in a slightly different way to many of the films that followed it (even its own sequels). It gets its characters and emotional dynamics just right: Maguire is brilliant as Peter Parker, sensitive, bright, unsure of himself, always feeling guilty, and finally exhilarated to cut loose inside his costume. His love for Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is delicately played and moving by the end of the film, as is the pivotal role played in his emotional growth by his Aunt and Uncle (Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson). Less successful is the material about the Green Goblin, which is a bit too camp in places, and lacks the emotional basis of the Spider-Man storyline.
The action scenes benefit from Raimi's fine eye and sense of rhythm, but the effects are occasionally dodgy, and strangely enough, there perhaps aren't quite enough action scenes.
That the final confrontation comes down to a simple slugfest is nicely true to a classic Spider-Man/Green Goblin story, and places the emphasis firmly back on the raw emotions of these characters.
Raimi would go on to perfect his approach to this genre with his next Spider-Man film a few years later.