Directed by Sam Raimi starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris.

While many were linked during the epic struggle to get the web spinner on screen, if ever there was a director perfect for 'Spider-Man' it was Sam Raimi. Through his films like the 'Evil Dead' trilogy and 'Darkman' and his creation of TV series like 'Xena: Warrior Princess' and 'Young Hercules', Raimi has shown himself to be someone perfectly comfortable in the twin realms of the oddball and over the top. But as his 1999 return to cinema 'A Simple Plan' showed, he is also someone whose talent for drama has grown with age and if anything 'Spider-Man' sums up Raimi's journey through filmmaking to date.

In some of the most inspired comic book casting since Hugh Jackman donned claws and porkchop sideburns to play Wolverine in 'X-Men', Tobey Maguire is mumsy-haircut perfect as teen geek Peter Parker. Living with elderly guardians Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Robertson and Harris), Parker is the bookworm who weighs about 100lbs wet and can't get a look never mind a date with girl next door Mary Jane (Dunst).

But little does Parker realise that a science class field trip will, in true comics style, change his life forever. A bite from a genetically altered spider leaves him staggering home, only to wake the next morning to discover pecs, six pack, the ability to climb walls and shoot webs from his wrists. School that day proves more than a little eventful, but as Parker comes to realise the extent of his transformation, he must also face up to the tragically prophetic words of Uncle Ben that "with great power comes great responsibility".

Even with the likes of Raimi, Maguire, Dunst and Defoe attached, 'Spider Man' still could have been a disaster, a burnt on the surface but cold on the inside turkey which only served as an extended ad for the latest line in toys, toothbrushes and flypaper. Thankfully it's not, Raimi has built a proper, grown-up story around the character of Peter Parker and while the film has its flaws, it will have any 12-year-old trying to perfect that trick of hoisting themselves up between walls using their legs.

Raimi's greatest asset is that he arrives at 'Spider-Man' not as some jobbing director or blockbuster wannabe, but a serious comic fan who has a history with both the characters and plot and an understanding of what Spidey devotees want onscreen. Add to that a leading man who has excelled, in a very short career, at playing the outsider ('The Ice Storm', 'Wonder Boys') and everything seems set for a five-star spin 'em up. And for the first 45-minutes it is, chronicling the thrills and trauma linked to Parker's metamorphosis, Raimi finds that perfect balance between drama, humour and comic book values.

The problem with the remainder of the film is that it never really lives up to the first half with Dunst underscripted and the novelty of seeing someone swing around New York wearing off after the second sortie. Those drawbacks could have been countered if they'd given Dafoe a little more to fool around with as Spider-Man's schizophrenic nemesis Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin. Instead his character just comes across as hammy - Dafoe proved with his Oscar-nominated turn in 'Shadow of the Vampire' he can do funny and terrifying at the same time and you just wish that his latest character had a little of that film in him.

What keeps you watching throughout is not the action sequences but Maguire's out of costume struggle with what he has become (recalling themes explored by Raimi in 'Darkman'). His scenes with Dunst could fit perfectly into some growing pains movie and you'll come away thinking that a few less set pieces and a few more pages of dialogue would have elevated the film to the top of the superhero pile. To Raimi's eternal credit, he leaves you not with a 'get the girl, kill the baddie' finale but an extremely downbeat ending which paves the way for a very interesting follow-up and as Raimi proved with the 'Evil Dead' series, he's great at doing sequels.

'Spider-Man' isn't as enjoyable as the 'Blade' movies, 'X-Men' or 'Attack of the Clones', but it will still leave you, and the legion of webheads out there, excited about the sequel. And you'd like to think that Raimi would've been more than happy with that outcome the first day he arrived on set.

Harry Guerin