Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is a movie that wants to be a comic book. It's implicit in its dialogue, in its framing - even in the choice of lighting and colour. Comic fans could take the theme and name it: Spider-man - Year One. This the origin story writ large, in its twin themes of the birth of hero and of nemesis. And at the same time it's a rethinking of a familiar story, and of familiar characters. We march from set piece to set piece, from secret origin, to first battle, to first failure, to learning... The arc is familiar, and comfortable.
Sure, there are retcons. But that's to be expected when we move from the printed page to the big screen. The rules are different, we have to see everything, not imagine the events between the frames of a standard nine-panel grid. It's a testament to Raimi's film-making skills that we can suspend our fanboy disbelief, and just accept even the largest distortion of the Spider-man mythos. It's all right, we tell ourselves, this is film, and this works.
But at the end of the day, can we walk away from the film and learn anything? Sure, we know that "great power means great responsibility", but what more is there than that simple platitude? Very little. Cartoon violence and comic dialogues amid the Hong Kong action movie set pieces do little to engage the audience beyond the simple, visceral response. For a deeper analysis of what makes a superhero we must go to M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, and leave Spider-man on the shelf next to the rest of Raimi's light tele-dramas like Xena...
Still, we had fun.