Nowadays, the Raimi Spider-Man films are treated as such: "Nothing like the comics!" "Cheesy!" "Emo!" "Tobey was a whiny crybaby!" As an avid Spider-Man reader, I didn't understand where all this was coming from. A new movie came out so all the old ones suck? Over time, I began to doubt and attribute my love of these to mere nostalgia.
Then I rewatched the first one.
Tobey Maguire plays an awesome Peter Parker. He's awkward, nervous and not comfortable in his own skin. People say he never got out of that awkward nerd state but he does. He goes from following MJ mumbling to himself about what he would say to cracking jokes, smiling and being more relaxed around her. His powers give him some confidence, but he's not an entirely different person, which is as it should be. He also plays a good Spider-Man. A common gripe is him not joking every second, and yes in costume Peter can be a motor mouth, but people tend to forget there are plenty of fights where he isn't grinning and laughing all the time. More importantly, quality trumps quantity here. When this Spidey quips, it works. And he cries in situations that make sense for the story, like Ben's death. Is Spidey not allowed to be human?
Kirsten Dunst plays Mary Jane as a little less unattainable supermodel and a little more conventional beauty and down to Earth. She's the typical girl next door but her performance makes it clear she has more depth than she lets on. I also appreciate one of the better romances I've seen in films. Rather than liking Peter because he's reasonably attractive and a male, like most films today, she loves him because he's the only one in her life that supports her and likes her for herself. The audience watches the attraction grow through talking, instead of them just staring at each other.
The rest of the cast do a great job. May and Ben are perfect, J.K. Simmons IS Jameson, Willem Dafoe is appropriately scary as the Goblin and James Franco sells an emotionally confused Harry. The action is great, though the CGI shows some age, and the score is phenomenal.
I would encourage others to look past webshooters and Gwen Stacy. You'll find a great hero film, one of the better ones. It does the character justice. I would say it's better nowadays because it isn't following the gritty trend. It remembers that superheroes can be FUN while still being serious.