There’s fun to be had at Spider-Man. Director Sam Raimi’s tone is pitch perfect - his treatment of the material is serious, without being po-faced. His Spider-Man is both a coming-of-age story with a sensitive young man learning to accept responsibility, and an action film about a nerdy teenager who’s transformed into a superhero by the bite of a mutant spider.Although Raimi’s touch is generally light, he wisely obtains sober performances from leads Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. They help ground the fantasy, especially in the scenes featuring Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s alter ego. CGI, as you’d expect, is a key element. It allows Maguire’s Spider-Man to leap spectacularly across the New York skyline.
David Koepp’s screenplay incorporates every superhero cliché imaginable. At times, Spider-Man isn’t much more than an amalgam of Superman, Batman and X-Men. Willem Dafoe’s cackling Green Goblin is certainly indistinguishable from any other number of bizarre comic book super-villains.
But more remarkable than the film itself is its phenomenal popularity in America. Within 6 weeks of opening, Spider-Man is already the fifth highest grossing film of all time. Of all the comic book adaptations, why has this one come out on top? Spider-Man is a canny mix of romance, fantasy and adventure with one of the most recognisable of comic brands. It also represents the triumph of old-fashioned heroism - we’re talking babies being rescued from burning buildings here - over cynicism.It’s hard not to wonder if Spider-Man struck gold for capturing the mood of the American public following last September’s terrorist attacks. Especially when ordinary New Yorkers help Spider-Man save the day, and the American flag features prominently as the last image before the closing credits.