Believe the hype.
Spider-man is a solid superhero movie that deserves the skyscraping profits its earned since it’s opening weekend.
Geeks know the story: Peter Parker is a nerd and borderline genius who gets bitten by a radioactive spider, and thus gains arachnid like super-human powers, including great strength, the ability to climb walls, and a “spider sense” that warns him of danger. Then — after tragically ignoring a chance to stop a common criminal who goes on to murder his uncle — Peter assumes the mantle of Spider-Man and seeks to fight crime and defend his home city at ever turn. Eventually he comes face to face with his first super-powered menace: a psychotic madman calling himself the Green Goblin.
The movie is faithful to the spirit of the Spider-Man mythos, if not the facts. Instead of a radioactive spider, Peter is bitten by a genetically engineered one. And instead of home-built web-spinners, the movie gives its hero organic ones. Those who live and die by canon will have fits at this two changes, but they make sense for a 21st century iteration of this character, and they work within the context of the movie.
The best aspects of the film involve Peter’s discover of his powers, and his evolving relationship with Mary Jane (including one of the most awkward-but-passionate kisses on screen, in which Mary Jane kisses Peter while he hangs upside down in his Spidey uniform). Peter’s near-confession of his love for one of Marvel’s most excellent redheads packs exactly the sort of power and emotion that is lacking from Attack of the Clones‘ romance between Anakin and Amidala
The webbing is suitably life-like, and Spidey flips and swings his way through the Big Apple in a style that beautifully mimics its comic book roots (in the process erasing my memories of the cheesy live-action Spider-Man television series of my youth…)
Once into full-web-slinging mode, Peter practices street-level heroism by taking out the sort of common thugs that killed his beloved Uncle Ben. He also attracts the dire attention of the Green Goblin, leading up to some of the movie’s best fight scenes. I particularly enjoyed the near-climactic battle atop Brooklyn Bridge where the Green Goblin tries to force Peter to choose between the love of his life, and a sky-cab full of kids.
In a rare show of Romanticism (and as the Green Goblin points out — (rational) selfish love for Mary Jane), Peter dives for Mary Jane, saves her, and then saves the kids — thus defeating the villain in a way that few heroes are allowed to on the Big Screen any more.
The only real flaw I found in the movie was the Green Goblin. Oh the character was fine and properly maniacal, but the costume itself was disappointing. The Goblin’s mask was obviously that — a mask — and telegraphed almost no emotion from the character to the audience. While this may have been done as a nod to the comic (or as a set-up for later, more advanced Green Goblins), the effect just didn’t work.
Aside from that, the movie was excellent and easily one of the best comic book movies of all time (I’d place it number two, right behind Superman II and ahead of X-Men).