CULVER CITY, Calif. -- With great power comes great responsibility, both for Spider-Man and the dapper director who orchestrates the superhero's big-screen adventures.
Much like Peter Parker was transformed from gangly teen into the web-slinging crime-fighter, Sam Raimi was catapulted from cult-filmmaker status to master of one of Hollywood's largest franchises.
Sam Raimi, the filmmaker behind 2002's blockbuster "Spider-Man" and the upcoming sequel "Spider-Man 2," compares adapting Stan Lee's Marvel Comics hero to being one of the oral storytellers of ancient times, entrusted with passing on the legends of Hercules or Achilles.
"With great power comes great responsibility is the theme of Stan Lee's comic book, and it is what I've tried to push through with these pictures. And I do feel that I have a responsibility to protect it," Raimi, 44, told The Associated Press.
"I look at `Spider-Man' as a great American myth. ... It's a great American myth that is almost wrapped in a flag and being handed to me, and I better not drop it. I better not sully it. I better retell it with as much honor and greatness as I can muster from my voice to do it justice before I hand it to the next storyteller."
When Raimi was picked by Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios to tell the story of "Spider-Man," he was a daring choice for Hollywood, where the really big jobs usually go to filmmakers whose movies have put wads of cash in studio vaults.
Raimi had never had a major hit. He had a zealous following among horror fans for his 1983 cult classic "The Evil Dead" and its two follow-ups, "Evil Dead II" and "Army of Darkness," along with 1990's "Darkman." Other filmmakers worshipped Raimi, whose frantic camera movements on "The Evil Dead" have influenced two decades of action pictures.
Respect and modest box-office success came Raimi's way for 1998's "A Simple Plan," starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda and Bill Paxton, and 2000's "The Gift," with Cate Blanchett and Keanu Reeves.
His big financial successes had come from television with "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess," which he and college chum and producing partner Robert Tapert brought to the small screen.
Raimi was as surprised as anyone when he got the "Spider-Man" gig over bigger-name directors. With that $400 million success behind him, it's hard now to imagine a "Spider-Man" movie without him.
"The man is at the top of his game. Why wouldn't we want him for our No. 1 franchise?" said Avi Arad, head of Marvel Studios and a producer on "Spider-Man 2."
As far as Arad is concerned, the job should be Raimi's for as long as he wants it.
When Raimi interviewed for the first "Spider-Man," "he left the room with no idea that he got the gig, but we knew it. Because there was something trustworthy," Arad said. "His love for `Spider-Man' was such that we felt we could hand him the baby and he could be incredibly responsible with it."
For his cast, Raimi is a classy, open-minded leader, dressing nattily on the set in suit and tie and seeking out actors' input.
"I can always say whatever I want," said Tobey Maguire, who returns as Spider-Man. "I could say, `You know, we're doing this scene in a week, and I'm looking at it and kind of having problems with it and here's what I think.' ... Or he'll say, `This scene's coming up and I think we need to make it better, we need to do something about it. I need you to take a look at it and tell me what you think.'"
Raimi grew up near Detroit and attended Michigan State University but dropped out to make movies, collaborating with Tapert and older brother Ivan Raimi.
The filmmaker maintains many early ties. He helped launch the career of the Coen brothers (Joel Coen was an assistant editor on "The Evil Dead"), and Raimi had a bit part in the Coens' "Miller's Crossing" and co-wrote "The Hudsucker Proxy" with them.
His younger brother, Ted Raimi, played the bumbling Joxer on "Xena" and "Hercules" and has small parts in many of the director's movies, including both "Spider-Man" flicks. "Evil Dead" star Bruce Campbell also pops up in the "Spider-Man" movies and was a recurring performer on "Xena" and "Hercules."
By necessity, Raimi never relied on commercial success for validation as a filmmaker.
"I spent 22 years making movies in Hollywood before I had a chance to make a hit like `Spider-Man.' So to survive, I had to convince myself that box-office success is not how I'm ever going to gauge my own success. I had to say the artistic success of the movie, how much the audience liked it, that's all that I care about, that's all that I'm going to judge my success by."
So "Spider-Man" has left him a bit flummoxed.
The top-grossing movie of 2002, "Spider-Man" shattered box-office records for best opening weekend ever with $114.8 million. Raimi went into "Spider-Man 2" knowing if its receipts did not live up to the first one, it might be considered a failure.
He tried to put the bottom line out of his mind.
"I just said, `I'm going to make the best picture I can,'" Raimi said. "I know they need it to make money, but I don't have a secret equation for that. I'm just going to put in what I love, and hopefully, because I'm a human being, other people will love it, too."
"Spider-Man 2" tests Peter Parker's commitment to the superhero profession. Peter's working two jobs, falling behind in college and perpetually exhausted swinging from building to building to catch bad guys.
His Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) faces foreclosure on her house. Peter's best pal, Harry Osborn (James Franco), is obsessed with revenge on Spider-Man, whom he blames for the death of his father, Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, in the first movie.
And Peter continues to pine for his dream girl, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), who's about to marry another man.
Along with Maguire, Dunst and other recurring cast members, Raimi is signed on to make "Spider-Man 3," due out in May 2007. Raimi is uncertain whether he will stick around to direct future "Spider-Man" movies if the franchise continues beyond that.
"As long as I'm interested in the character and have a real curiosity toward what happens to him, I know it's the right picture. And the moment I don't feel that, when I'm less interested in him, I don't want to touch it with a 10-foot flag pole, because I'd be the wrong guy. It would be a terrible failure," Raimi said.
"People wouldn't like it. I've got to be very, very interested to make a great picture, and I want to try to make a great picture out of `Spider-Man.' So I could only answer that question after the third one."
In his self-deprecating way, Raimi adds a final thought on his prospects for directing "Spider-Man 4."
"Or what might happen is, I make the third one, and I might say, `You know what, `I'm very interested in making the fourth one,' and the audience says, `We really wish you wouldn't.' That's the other way in which I might not be making the movie."