Judge David Johnson says that sparks fly when Spider-Man meets John Woo!
Spider-man + product placement = ?
The final entry in this epic examination of MTV's computer-generated Spider-man. The first two discs (The Mutant Menace and High-Voltage Villains) were underwhelming. Does The Ultimate Face-off redeem this bland treatment or does the wall-crawler get flushed for a third time?
Facts of the Case
Two down, one to go. This disc, like its predecessors, includes three episodes from the re-animated chronicles of Spider-man. Pumped up with a techno soundtrack and some spiffy computer-driven animation, the webslinger has gotten the millennium treatment.
The starting three—Peter Parker (Neil Patrick Harris), Mary Jane (Lisa Loeb), and Harry Osborn (Ian Ziering)—kick it on campus at New York University, sip trendy coffee, and go so hog-wild with brand-name merchandise (Palm Pilots got much attention on one of the episodes) I think Spidey's inked an endorsement deal with every company out there.
Spider-man, having faced such antagonists as the Lizard and Electro, must now face a final batch of baddies that will give the webslinger even stiffer competition. As a result, the tone to these episodes is significantly different from the other two releases.
And this is a good thing.
Everyone comes to Spider-man's turf looking for trouble. Well, fear not, because he's going to bring the pain something fierce. Sable, the beautiful and deadly assassin, has seemingly targeted the mayor, and Spider-man interferes enough to add more silver hair to Sable's head.
But there might be more to Sable's actions than Spidey thought. He's about to find out that there are more dangerous things out there than a deadly, gun-wielding killer highly trained in the martial arts.
"Mind Games: Part 1"
The first of a mega two-parter (read: 44 minutes long) that finds Spider-man facing his most deadly adversaries yet—the Gaines twins. Hailing from some country formerly part of the Eastern bloc, this deadly duo has acquired a powerful gift of mind-control.
The two, captured and on their way to a maximum security holding facility, are en route through New York City. Unfortunately for the driver, and maybe a few hapless rodents crossing the street, the twins escape and gain control of the armored transport, driving like crazy.
Spider-man intervenes, but not before getting zapped with the old mind-probe. He manages to escape with his wits—or does he? Lots of twists accompany this episode, so I won't ruin them. Let's just say by the end, the webslinger is pissed and out for blood.
"Mind Games: Part 2"
Spidey is not through with the diabolical Gaines twins yet, and now a new super-criminal has been thrown into the mix: that bastard, Kraven the Hunter. In fact, it is Kraven who is the object of Spider-man's blood-hatred.
The two meet and tussle and Spidey nearly kills the scumbag—until he realizes that maybe his reality may not be as real as he thinks it's real…or something like that. Anyway, the episode ends with explosions, severe bodily harm administered to someone close to P.P., and a life-altering decision for Spider-man.
Now this is much better. These three episodes were far and away superior to the first six I watched. The action was cooler, the characters were more interesting, and that little punk Harry Osborn kept his mouth to a minimum.
The writers managed to get a little closer to the allure of the movie, and touch a bit upon some of the magic that made the theatrical incarnation so noteworthy.
For a while there, the series theme had been Peter Parker's quest to reconcile his super-hero identity with his normal life; in essence to be a regular college kid and lead a regular life while firing sticky substances from his wrists. That's all well and good, but the way it had been pulled off was far from meaty.
The "Ultimate Face-off" set gets the closest to what I have always felt to be the most compelling aspect of the character: Parker's reluctance to embrace his power because of the damage that can happen to his loved ones, a point well-presented in the movie.
Specifically, in the two-parter featuring the Gaines twins (one of who is voiced by Kathy Griffin, who, normally, I can't stand), when Spidey must face a gruesome fate for someone close to him, this theme shone through.
Basically, this set seemed edgier in a good way. It wasn't MTV edgy (thankfully) with Spider-man swinging from rooftop to rooftop drunk (though there was a very unsettling joke about a threesome.)
Compared to the other releases, this one sported episodes with bite. So, kudos for bringing some much-need KAPOW to what I had almost completely written off as a listless exercise in capitalizing on Marvel's little cash cow.
In the technical department, not much has changed. The sharp widescreen presentation is still colorful and vibrant, and really flaunts the cool animation. Again I was disappointed in the waste of a 5.1 Digital mix. It's all in the front, kiddos. No extras.
Good, but not great. Certainly the best of the three sets.
Okay, you're released, but don't revert back to that bad behavior of yours! Court (finally) adjourned.
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