Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco
RRP: £5.99
C820 9245
Certificate: 12
Available now

When geeky student Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, he gains superhuman strength and the ability to climb up walls. But, as his beloved Uncle Ben tells him, "With great power comes great responsibility..."

As is always the case when a major comic-book franchise is brought to the screen, some changes have been made so that the characters and situations are better suited to their new medium. Most notably, the villainous Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) wears a green protective mask instead of actually having green skin. Evidently it was also decided that having the Goblin hurling pumpkin-shaped bombs at his enemies, as he does in the comics, would have looked too silly for a live-action movie, so his deadly devices are simply spherical. As for Spidey himself (Tobey Maguire), instead of shooting his webs from gadgets worn on his wrists, the superhero develops the ability to spin the substance out of his own skin. And, of course, genetic engineering has replaced radioactivity as the sci-fi weapon of choice for creating mutated superheroes.

There has been no pointless tinkering with the mythology, however, and the essence of Spidey's origin is maintained. The production team have also managed to cram in a lot of supporting characters from the comic-book series, including Peter Parker's guardians Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), the girl next door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), Peter's roommate Harry Osborn (James Franco) - who also happens to be the son of wealthy scientist Norman Osborn, alias the Green Goblin - and newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). It is a credit to the writers and director Sam Raimi that the movie does justice to each member of this ensemble. The narrative in which they exist is a coherent one, in which events and relationships unfold as convincingly as possible given the fantastical premise.

It also helps enormously that the casting is damn near perfect. In particular, Tobey Maguire is the epitome of the shy, sensitive teenager who has greatness thrust upon him. Spidey was always the most angst-ridden of Marvel's pantheon of heroes, and Maguire really brings out this aspect of the character, without ever letting Peter's geekiness turn the audience off. Willem Dafoe is also excellent in his own dual role. The Osborn half of his split personality remains sympathetic to the end, even while his Green Goblin id commits ever more heinous acts of carnage and destruction. There's a particularly effective sequence in which Dafoe converses with himself in a mirror. And J.K. Simmons looks and sounds perfect as the cantankerously brisk J. Jonah Jameson.

This being a Sam Raimi film, we expect a rich seam of wit in addition to the eye-popping action (of which there is, it almost goes without saying, plenty). Spider-Man does not disappoint with regard to humour. Take, for example, the scene in which Peter attempts to master his web-slinging technique whilst trying out a variety of lame catch phrases. Or how about Aunt May's line, when she tells Peter that he is trying to do too much: "You're not Superman!" We also hear a busker singing a few lines from the familiar theme song to the 1960s' animated Spider-Man TV series!

With Danny Elfman providing the incidental music to this film, comparisons with his score to Tim Burton's Batman are inevitable. However, once you get past the opening credits, the music frees itself of any association with the Caped Crusader and is surprisingly unobtrusive throughout much of the movie.

This is the biggest comic-based movie event since the aforementioned Batman - bigger even than the X-Men movies. Now released at a bargain £5.99, there is no excuse for not swinging by your local video store and buying a copy. To tempt you even more, there is also a 25 minute bonus feature included on the tape.

Richard McGinlay

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