Tobey Maguire packs a perfect Peter Parker as the friendly neighbourhood geek who is transformed into a web-slinging crimefighter after being bitten by a genetically altered spider. Completely aware that with great power comes great responsibility, director Sam Raimi does Stan Lee's comic-book hero true justice with a yarn which is both visually stunning and emotionally engrossing. Willem Dafoe provides Spidey's first nemesis as the maniacal Green Goblin while Kirsten Dunst puckers up a treat as girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson.
"You're not Superman, you know," chides Peter Parker's doting Aunt May (Rosemary Harris).
And no, she's quite right. He's not the clean-cut superhero who battles Earth's adversaries while wearing his underpants on the outside.
No, this dorkish-looking individual, with the mousy hair and unassuming demeanour, is Spider-Man, scourge of New York's lowlife and upholder of truth and justice the American Way.
Sam Raimi is the latest director to try to lift a comic book superhero off the page and onto the big screen - and he's by far the most successful.
Tim Burton came pretty close in the first Batman movie, but his beautifully realised vision of a gloomily menacing Gotham City was let down by lacklustre plotting.
Raimi makes no such mistakes. Although the special effects are first-rate they never overwhelm the plot, which skilfully avoids Hollywood cliché and boasts some splendidly sharp dialogue.
Maguire is perfectly cast as Spidey, maintaining the geekish aspect of Parker's character when he's not soaring through the canyons of Manhattan as his super-powered alter-ego.
And Dunst continues her graceful procession as an actress not frightened to take risks - check out Crazy/Beautiful - while lending the love interest role here a touching vulnerability.
Spider-Man's origins are neatly sketched in. The young Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider and suddenly discovers undreamed-of agility and strength - and the neat trick of firing a web from a gland in his wrist.
Impressive though his abilities are, they are tempered by his beloved Uncle Ben's advice - "With great power there must also come great responsibility."
Living up to this high ideal, he launches into battle with the fiendish Green Goblin (Dafoe), the megalomaniac industrialist father of his pal, Harry (Franco).
The evil Goblin - the hellish result of a medical experiment gone wrong - seeks to launch an unprecedented orgy of crime... and there is only one insect who can stop him.
Away from the main plot strand there are a host of incidental pleasures, especially JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, the money obsessed editor of the Daily Bugle.
But it is Raimi's steely grip on the narrative that pulls everything in the right direction, mixing the sfx, characterisation and plot into an irresistibly heady brew.
A movie that will make arachnophiliacs of us all.