THEY WON'T SAY HOW much it is going to cost, how hi-tech the production will be, or if the boy gets the girl in the end. But much is expected of Spider-Man, Hollywood's latest cinematic ode to comic book heroes, especially given that the production will bring together menace (Willem Dafoe), wholesome heroism (Tobey Maguire), a pretty girl (Kirsten Dunst) and direction by one of the best in the business, Sam Raimi. Filming began last week of Spider-Man, one of Marvel Comics' most illustrious crime-fighters, for a widespread release scheduled for May next year. Raimi has just come from the Cate Blanchett movie The Gift. Maguire, playing Spider-Man (Spidey to his friends), is still getting rave reviews for his turn in Wonder Boys, in which he starred with Michael Douglas. And the fresh-faced Dunst, who plays Spider-Man's love interest Mary Jane Watson, is turning into quite the Hollywood 'It' girl following roles in The Virgin Suicides and cheerleading movie Bring It On. Despite all the hype, however, the Sony Pictures production is going to be a story about 'a misunderstood hero, an outcast, one of us', says Raimi. In the comic series the hero, photojournalist Peter Parker, is bitten as a boy by a radioactive spider, which confers upon him powers of agility, strength and stamina and pushes him to decide to adopt his alter-ego (and body-hugging spider-suit). 'Parker is this acne-ridden, poor kid from Brooklyn, who is both blessed and cursed with these powers,' Raimi says. In one of the film's opening scenes, Maguire, upon realising that he has superhuman skills, joins a wrestling match to try to win some money. Maguire says that he trained for five months in order to transform his usually wispy frame into a credible crime-fighter. 'I feel like a superhero in general in my life,' he quips, adding that he plans to do many of the stunts himself. 'I am enjoying the physicality of the role. I will wear the classic red and blue suit, but one that is updated for the millennium.' His arch-nemesis will be played by Dafoe, as one Norman Osborne who turns into the Green Goblin. And also highly anticipated is the appearance of James Franco - an up-and-coming actor who has just played James Dean in a TNT movie and is also starring opposite Robert De Niro in City By The Sea - as Dafoe's son. Raimi says this will be a PG13 rated movie, a 'family film appealing to an intelligent audience but which, at its heart, will have fun, exuberance and adventure'. Not that it was easy getting here. One producer called the run-up to filming 'a bloody history, with bankruptcy, lawsuits, a long and sad story. But now, it's in the right place, and the right hands'. Raimi says that in his quest to be prepared for production, he sat down to watch every comic-book movie ever made. 'But I got halfway through Superman, and watched X-Men, and that was it,' he says.