Sony // 2009 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // March 17th, 2009
Fighting crime. Spinning webs.
Debuting on Kids' WB in the spring of 2008, The Spectacular Spider-Man is the umpteenth iteration of our friendly neighborhood web slinger's television adventures. There have been at least a half-dozen other animated series, beginning with 1967's Spider-Man, as well as a late '70s live-action primetime series, and the "Spidey Super Stories" segments on PBS's educational children's program The Electric Company. Spider-Man has been around the TV block quite a few times over the last four decades, but that doesn't mean this new show is a redundant rehash. Kid-friendly yet action-packed, The Spectacular Spider is the cleverest and most enjoyable animated Spidey series yet.
The show borrows willy-nilly from the comic book as well as Sam Raimi's film franchise while creating a continuity all its own. The results are satisfying. The series is set in a modernized version of the early years of the comic book. Peter Parker is a high schooler in the out-crowd (though not as much of a wallflower as Stan Lee's original creation), picked on by jock Flash Thompson. Parker's circle of friends includes the even nerdier Harry Osborn (a rich kid with daddy issues), and bespectacled science geek/girl next door Gwen Stacy. Mary Jane Watson is the hot new girl in school, who takes a liking to Peter and treats Flash's in-crowd with utter contempt. Harry's old man, Norman, is head of OsCorp, a multi-billion-dollar corporation that becomes the source (both directly and indirectly) for much of the show's supervillainry. It's a clever mix of old and new that sticks to the basic flow of the comic's original continuity but takes liberties in the name of both modernization and condensing the narrative flow for episodic television.
Episodes offer self-contained showdowns with supervillains while also fitting into an over-arching drama that touches on Parker's relationships with his friends, his Aunt May, and the employees at The Daily Bugle (including a blustering J. Jonah Jameson obviously modeled after J.K. Simmons version in the feature film trilogy). The Spectacular Spider-Man's producers do a fine job of tying together episodes in ways that make the series' world textured and complex (for instance, mob lackey Flint Marko is introduced as a background extra an episode before he is transformed into the Sandman; and Otto Octavius is a recurring secondary character throughout the episodes on this Volume Two disc, though he doesn't become Dr. Octopus until Volume Three).
More important than the show's satisfying narrative complexities, though, is the way it nails the tone of the comic book. Sam Raimi's feature film trilogy never managed to reproduce the smart alecky charm with which Spidey throws down against his opponents (probably because Tobey Maguire is better at playing dour than sarcastic). The Spectacular Spider-Man's version of the web slinger has attitude in spades. Spider-Man is a confident (occasionally too-confident) hero who never stops trash talking his opponents. His jibes are genuinely funny, too. This playful, fun-loving version of Spider-Man is perfectly in keeping with the show's slightly cooler version of Peter Parker.
Season One of The Spectacular Spider-Man is constructed of a series of not quite self-contained three-episode story arcs. The first DVD release, Attack of the Lizard, was about young Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. The conflict centered on his and Gwen Stacy's internships with Dr. Connors/the Lizard. Volume Two's episode's find Peter more comfortable in his role as Spider-Man, but also facing a variety of personal and professional challenges. The three episodes included in Volume Two are:
* "Market Forces"
Peter Parker makes some professional headway when he's paid for some photos by Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. The money comes in handy when Peter discovers that Aunt May is falling behind on her bills. Spider-man takes on a new villain named Shocker. Industrialist Norman Osborn makes a deal with the devil in the form of Big Man, a crime lord who wants OsCorp to develop supervillains to destroy Spider-Man.
Peter Parker decides to try out for the high school football team along with his best friend Harry Osborn. Dr. Otto Octavius, a scientist on Norman Osborn's payroll, uses an experimental technique to transform low-level hood Flint Marko into the Sandman. Impressed by his athletic skills, Mary Jane Watson wants to go to the Formal with Peter but figures he's more interested in Bugle employee Betty Brant.
* "The Invisible Hand"
Hunted by Big Man's latest villain Rhino, Spider-Man decides to track down the crime lord and resolve their problems face to face. Peter Parker is humiliated after bragging to Flash Thompson that he's taking 20-year-old Betty Brant to the Formal only to have her cancel the date because of Aunt May's intervention.
The Spectacular Spider-Man impresses on DVD. The widescreen presentation provides a spacious canvas for the show's fluidly animated action sequences. The angular, simplified character designs have limited detail but plenty of color, which comes across well in this fine transfer. There is no combing, macro-blocking, or other digital artifacts. The episodes look, well, spectacular. A Dolby 5.1 audio mix is comfortably spacious with decent dynamic range. The full soundstage is put to good use, though directional panning is non-existent. It's a fairly quiet mix for an action series, but is otherwise clean, crisp, and precisely mixed.
There are no extras.
The Spectacular Spider-Man is a colorful, well animated, clever, and family friendly show. The only downside of this Volume Two release is that 15 clams is steep for three episodes of the show. Fans may be better served by holding out for a complete series box.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated