Following through on the promise of director Bryan Singer's engagingly earnest but scattershot X-Men, Sam Raimi's big-budget, high-stakes screen version of Spider-Man represents a welcome return to some of the qualities found in the best Hollywood entertainments: satisfying character development, a palpable sense of wonder and amazement, and genuine, unironic good humor. After years of numbing, frenetic action pictures -- from the latter efforts in the Batman series to The Mummy Returns and its ilk -- the care and attention paid to Spider-Man's source material seems almost old-fashioned, in the best possible way. Raimi and ace screenwriter David Koepp retain the best elements of comic-book grammar and syntax -- in the dialogue as well as the pulpy, colorful montage sequences -- as they take minor but justified liberties with the comic's physical details. What's more, the once-controversial casting of talented young actor Tobey Maguire pays off in a big way: his pensive, quizzical nature is a perfect fit for the character. Rarely has there been a more believable everyman (or everygeek, as it were) in a superhero lead, and Maguire's fun with the role is infectious. If minor gripes can be made about the design and execution of the film -- there's an inconsistency in the look of some of the action scenes, for one -- they're quickly forgotten; this is one blockbuster where talk and interpersonal action go hand-in-hand with the thrills. More than just a victory of maximum-saturation marketing, Spider-Man's record-breaking success at the box office can only be interpreted as a sign of audiences responding to a blockbuster that for once follows through on its promise, with characters actually worth caring about.
by Michael Hastings review