It's taken a long time for Marvel's web-spinning superhero to reach the big screen, and the film's tortuous history is a tangled web in itself.
With all the behind-the-scenes wrangles, it's a minor miracle that Sam Raimi's comic book caper is such a stylish, exciting, and ingenious thrill-ride.
Its trump card is the inspired casting of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, the high school geek who acquires amazing powers after being bitten by a genetically mutated spider.
Where other actors might have been dwarfed by the cartoonish spectacle, Maguire brings a touching pathos to his diffident hero which roots the outlandish fantasy in human emotions and failings.
Kirsten Dunst is also fabulous as Mary Jane, the beautiful neighbour whom Peter secretly adores. Oddly, their halting romance proves far more engaging than the explosive action scenes, which find Maguire's suited-and-booted Spider-Man nimbly swinging through Manhattan's concrete canyons doing rather unimaginative battle with Willem Dafoe's cackling Green Goblin.
Dafoe is the movie's weak point. Trapped behind an immobile mask and sporting a risible emerald costume, his two-dimensional villain is no match for Maguire's soulful subtlety. But that's a small cavil in a summer blockbuster that, just for once, lives up to the spin.