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It's an edgy show. Just a pity it's a blunt edge.
on 13 April 2011
This version of Spider-Man doesn't make any major departures from the status quo. Peter Parker's Spidey, he's friends with MJ Watson and Harry Osborne, he's a student at ESU and he has a job working as a photographer for the Daily Bugle Newspaper. In fact, it works essentially as a successor to the first film, following on with events such as Peter and Harry living together, and Harry's father being dead by the hands of Spider-Man, at least according to Harry.
Probably the thing that sets this version most apart from all the others is that it's pretty edgy. People die and get hurt, and there are real guns rather than lasers (that was the sound of a million TAS fans sighing with relief) and people will occasionally take bullet wounds and even get their... well, I'll leave it to you to discover what they get.
And it's definitely on par with Batman TAS in this respect. Anyone who enjoys complaining about excessive censoring of animation ostensibly aimed at children should get a kick out of this.
Another big plus in its favour is that this is a pure Spider-Man show, with no annoying extra characters from the expanded Marvel Universe showing up, though some are referenced, such as the X-Men. So if you're looking for a show *about* Spider-Man, this one definitely meets that criterion.
Another thing really going for it is the visual style. Computer animated with something close to a cell style, it looks sharp and everything stands out. There's also a lot of nice shadowing as a result, giving the characters the feeling that they are in a real environment. The computer animation gives way to some amazingly fluid animations too, and this becomes very apparent towards the end of the series, with some very visually impressive fights.
But this is where the positives end. It has three major problems going for it: writing, voice acting, villains.
The writing is simply terrible. It approaches competency at times, but definitely not in the Spider-Man side of things. Seeing him make lame fat jokes about the Kingpin (the Ultimate version seen in Daredevil), or unleashing all manner of cheesy one-liners at other villains is just, well, embarassing. Spider-Man is supposed to be witty, and the closest they get to that in this show is telling Electro he's grounded, which obviously has been done a *few* times before. Things aren't much better on the Parker side, but there are occasions where you can crack a smile without feeling guilty.
The voice acting is also pretty terrible, in particular from Parker himself. The guy just lacks the enthusiasm needed to play Spidey, and he has no comedic timing at all. He does (for the first time ever, as far as I'm aware) alter his voice a bit when Spider-Man, either to sound more heroic or as a disguise I don't know, but it makes him sound goofy.
My biggest problem with the voice acting, though, is that all of the characters - even those who are not American - are voiced by Americans (or English, in one weird case). Hearing Silver Sable, a woman the show describes as Eastern European, speaking with an American accent and talking like an American is just really hard to swallow, but the biggest crime is casting Michael Dorn as Kraven, where he gives us his Worf schtick. Pro tip for producers: Russians are not people with American accents who don't use contractions.
And what on Earth have they done to J Jonah Jameson? His voice in this show is really hollow and he lacks the anger and frustration that makes the mellow Peter such a fantastic foil for him. This is unquestionably the worst depiction of the character I've seen, both in writing and in voice artistry.
And it seems like the producers knew that too, because the character rarely appears. The anti-Spider-Man torch has been passed to a beat cop (with a voice more suitable for JJJ) who really loathes Spidey. Casting the guy who plays the cop as JJJ and featuring him regularly would've made far more sense. It feels like a change just for the sake of change, and it definitely doesn't work out.
But what really ruins this show for me is that most of the villains aren't actually supervillains, and because they can't interfere with the continuity of the films they missed a whole bunch of important villains like Green Goblin (1 and 2), Venom, Doctor Octopus and others. In fact, the only certifiable supervillains in the show are Electro (presented as a wonderfully tragic, sympathetic, albeit a bit too crazy, character) and The Lizard, but they ruin him.
Firstly, Connors is not even likable at all in this version, and as a character Spider-Man is supposed to defeat without hurting, that just doesn't even work. It doesn't matter what Spidey does because we don't care about Connors. He's also presented as being *very* lizardly, but is also seen speaking coherent English and holding a conversation in his Lizard form, which is just stupid.
The rest of the villains are mostly just regular people, mostly original characters, *sometimes* with some special suit to help them. Not only are these characters boring and uninteresting, mostly lacking any real personality, their lack of superness means it just doesn't ring true when Spider-Man punches them in the face and they fly across a room and are unharmed. If they were supervillains, sure, but they're regular people and that would probably kill them. It's not a matter of *realism*, just *believability*, and suspension of disbelief comes to a halt when presented with something so obviously stupid. Plus, they're no challenge for Spider-Man because they have no super powers! At least in other shows there is the sense of dramatic conflict, but here it is too by the numbers.
Another problem related to this is that Spider-Man doesn't really actually beat a lot of them. Several of the enemies seem to just leave or disappear without any kind of resolution, and many episodes feel like they simply stop rather than end. I don't expect each episode to follow a strict formula, but their writers really need to learn how the three act structure works, because most episodes only have two.
And all of this is compounded by the fact that there's no real continuity at all, with most characters appearing out of nowhere and only lasting one episode. The only real ongoing event is the love triangle between MJ, Peter and a new girl created for this series, but that whole thing is done in such an immature and unbelievable way, and if they were in *school*, fine, but these people are adults and again it doesn't ring true.
But I don't want to seem overly negative. This is a decent show that is worth watching, and for the price, and considering the vast suite of extras, it's a very cheap way to waste a day. Really, though, the flaws mean this is most recommendable to children rather than adults (which may seem like an obvious statement, but both the 90s TAS and the more recent Spectacular Spider-Man both catered to adults well), but at the same time the strong level of violence makes it hard to recommend to younger viewers.
If you're a die-hard fan, sure, go for it, but whether you're buying for a child or for or as an adult, there are better depictions of Spider-Man out there that you would do well to check out first.