September 13, 2003

Spider-Man: A Review

It's time for this site to pay tribute to part of its namesake and do the honorable: review the latest Spider-Man animated series, the one showing on MTV. These episodes have been airing since July, but due to lack of cable back home, I haven't been able to watch them until I got to grad school. My sister was the first to clue me in on its existence, and now that I've seen three episodes I feel I can accurately detail the general vibe of this new series.

My first impressions of the new Spider-Man series were mixed. First off, it's MTV - how good could it actually be? Secondly, I was unsure if I could buy Doogie (Neil Patrick Harris) as the voice of Peter Parker. Ian Ziering as Harry Osborn didn't immediately thrill me either. Finally, the show is completely computer animated, and I've seen a lot of crap in that department. Viewing was definitely needed to gain an objective opinion. We'll break this down into sections that I feel are important.

Animation

OK, this won't make or break a series for me, but with something like Spider-Man, it's important. I love seeing the acrobatics as Spidey uses his reflexes and agility during battle, as well as funky moves while web-swinging. This is understandably hard to bring out to its full potential in regular hand-drawn animation - this series does what I've always wanted to see. Fast, action-filled battles are wonderful, and it's nice not to see the same damn web-swinging scenes reused episode after episode as was the case in the previous Fox series. The fight scenes aren't quite up to the "don't blink or you'll miss it!" standard, but it comes close.

Finally, while the series is indeed computer-animated, it still retains a comic-like look which is a big plus in my view. In fact, when looking at stills from the episodes, you could easily mistake them for a panel from the comic. The occasional slow-motion action during fights is a nice touch - sure, a little Matrix-esque, but it works. It's easy to make this kind of animation look awkward if not correctly done, but it's not really a problem here.

Personality

This is a big deal to me. There are a few things that make Spidey who he is. The first are his constant wisecracks during battle. The quips in the comics are always legitimately funny, and the main purpose is to give his adversaries the impression that he's keeping his cool even if, in actuality, he's in deep shit and knows it. This is one of the areas where the movie was lacking, in my opinion. Not only were there few jokes, the ones that WERE there were quite bad ("It's you who's out, Gobby - out of your mind!"). Thankfully this series does a better job with keeping true to the comic-Spidey form than the previous animated runs. Of course, Peter's constant struggles with the consequences of playing the part of Spider-Man are ever-present, as they should be.

Censorship

It's a good thing that this series in on MTV - rather, on cable at all - than regular broadcast television. Why? It means that the episodes don't have to pander to little children that might watch. One of the most annoying things about the Fox animated series from the 90's was that battles were so predictably and overly cheesy. No guns were allowed, and instead all criminals and police officers used "stun blasters". The fights seemed like a bad Star Wars scene. Characters could never bleed, they weren't allowed to be cut in any fashion. If there was a fight, the only contact during combat would only be made by blunt objects, and even then usually to the body (heaven forbid someone would punch someone else in the face). If anyone ever fell from a great height, they'd always either land in a body of water, or have their fall broken by conveniently placed (and apparently padded) trees. Long story short, it was made for the kiddies.

This is obviously not the case in the MTV series. In the first episode I viewed, a gunman was attacked by someone with a sword. The gun this man was holding dropped the ground, with his index finger still in the trigger loop. Sweet. I'm not asking for pointless gore, fun as it is, but a touch of reality makes the episodes go a long way. It's far more satisfying to see Spidey jumping and dodging gunfire than shiny blue laser blasts. In general, the episodes are a bit darker and edgier than their Saturday morning counterparts, which is refreshing.

Conclusion

I get to see Spidey using his super-powered reflexes in an fluidly animated series that's the closest thing I've ever seen to the comics themselves. I'm happy. I also find it amusing that Ed Asner (who did the voice of J. Jonah Jameson in the 1990's series) returns to do the voice of a recurring character in the form of Officer Barr.

Do I recommend this show to non-Spidey fans? That's a stupid question to ask. Watch a few episodes and see if it's your kind of stuff. I will say this, however: this series has a far better chance of impressing a first-time viewer than any of the prior ones.

You can be sure I'll be recording all these episodes in DivX because, just like the short-lived Spider-Man Unlimited series, I have no idea how long it'll stay on the air. Feel free to tap into my FTP server if you want to download one or two, for those who have accounts. Erm, once I get my Linux box back up, that is.

Posted by Gene at September 13, 2003 05:17 PM