Judge David Johnson reminds us that Spider Man was surfing the web before any of us.
Spider-man + iced latte = ?
Part two of our three-part series looking at the newly animated webslinger and his wall-crawling exploits as catalogued on Music Television.
Facts of the Case
Another disc, and another three episodes of MTV's new-look, visually appealing, though surprisingly stale vision of Spider-man. The series centers on Peter Parker AKA Spider-man (both voiced by Neil Patrick Harris), Mary Jane (Lisa Loeb) and Harry Osborn (Ian Ziering). The three chums are in college and sucking down Starbucks. Mary Jane and Harry both carry a relative amount of baggage—enduring CGI-defying breasts and complaining about Spider-man, respectively—Peter Parker wins the crown for "Most Crap to Deal With."
As a powerful crime-fighter, Parker must reconcile his identity of superhero with his identity of regular college jerk, all the while dealing with the flames of romance with Mary Jane, putting up with Harry's whining, eluding bullets fired at him by the trigger-happy NYPD, trading blows with a smorgasbord of freakish supervillains, and generally trying to make a name for himself as the good guy.
On this disc, following the subtitled theme, Spider-man tangles with some villains who are real, shall we say, HIGH-VOLTAGE!!!!
Poor Max. He's a dork that nobody really likes (save for our protagonists who manage to merely tolerate his presence), but is nonetheless desperate for acceptance. He sees a potential avenue to popularity in rushing a fraternity on campus.
Unbeknownst to him, the mean frat boy jackasses are hazing him something fierce, for their own amusement. Max suffers through the ridicule, the torment, and the shame, but when the pranking takes a turn for the deadly, the socially retarded nerd-boy transforms into the zip-zappity shockingly refreshing Electro, a being made of pure electricity.
When Electro/Max takes out his charged fury on his classmates, Spider-man must step into stop him, while also offering some helpful positive (or negative? Depends on Electro's charge I suppose) advice.
"When Sparks Fly"
Electro returns—after being previously "grounded" by Spider-man—and he's "currently" making trouble. He's "conducting" himself rather poorly, driven by his sudden "attraction" to Sally, a girl-he-can't-have; he's got a "terminal" case of the love bug.
Spider-man, unable to stay "static," swings back into action to stymie Electro's forceful attempts to "spark" some interest in Sally. Furious, Electro uses Spider-man as an "outlet" of his rage, and the two clash once more.
Spider-man encounters a lithe, acrobatic thief named Talon on the rooftops one night, and the two trade "I'm-cooler-than-you" barbs and the occasional haymaker.
This girl's spunky and keeps pace with Spidey throughout, leaping and flying, aided by her nifty little cat-burglar gadgets. The two eventually part…but not for long. Peter Parker is stunned to discover that his best friend Harry is dating a new girl and—yeah, you guessed it—it's Talon.
He must now juggle Harry and his crush, with the knowledge that this girl is bad news. Taking it upon himself to try and talk some sense into Talon, the two meet again in a rooftop clash, where Spider-man learns the hard way that talk is cheap.
Here we go. Another bout of web-surfing with America's darling arachnid-icon. A classic Spidey-favorite pops up in this collection in the form of Electro and plenty of stylistic web-swinging and banter abound. However, I fear the same problems I bitched about before are also here—and to some effect, to a greater degree.
Again, the creators of this series are to be commended for some really snazzy animation. In every episode we are treated to a new nugget of visual coolness, with Spider-man's movements and skyscraper antics beautifully rendered in this computer-driven approach.
Points for a real looker, but underneath the eye candy is a soft, chewy, bland center.
My big gripe is still the blasé feel of the whole thing. I don't really get into this superhero—as told by this animation—as I do, for example, with the original Batman: The Animated Series. Maybe it's atmosphere, heck maybe it's the characters, but most of all I think it has to do with the writing. Frankly, the writing throughout is listless, and Spider-man is not nearly as witty as he should be or thinks he is.
While Peter Parker and Mary Jane are relatively good, Harry Osborn has quickly become a whiny little puke. It feels as if in every episode he has to take just a second to piss and moan about how evil Spider-man is and how he's nothing but a murderer, even though he quite often witnesses the webslinger engage in heroic acts and save puppies and children.
Three episodes on this disc, two of which deal with Electro.
"The Party" told a story of the social outcast looking for attention, then, set off by a vicious prank, utilizes terrible powers to get revenge. Hmmm, where have I heard this plot before? Anyway, the real meat and potatoes of the episode is Electro himself, who takes time showing up. When he does—well, it's kind of a mixed bag. Personally, I didn't dig the character design. He kind of looked like Iceman with a bad hair day. A nice little "It's always the quiet ones" moral wraps this uneven episode up.
"When Sparks Fly" brings back Electro as a beast infatuated with a beauty. Hmmm, where have I heard this plot before? Spidey takes the fight to him once more and precedes the ass whoopin' with a plea to help Electro. Too much talkin' and not enough shockin'.
Finally, my least favorite—Keeping Secrets. A shame really, as it has the most promise of the three and some killer nighttime rooftop scenes between Spider-man and Talon. Yet, it quickly degenerates into a boring soap opera yarn of secret identities and Harry griping about his bad luck with girls. The "Dr. Phil" approach Spider-man uses on Talon, to talk her out of crime, is laughably corny. A bummer, considering there is some really nice action toward the end when the NYPD gets involved and start using attack helicopters.
Like its co-releases, Spider-man: The New Animated Series—High Voltage Villains has a great visual presentation and mediocre audio. A tight, widescreen transfer boasts the colors and crisp detail of the animation, but the 5.1 mix sadly under-performs.
Style: Yea. Substance: Nay.
Down the water spout with you!
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