Watching the repeated attempts of Marvel to desperately realise the pantheon of their much-loved characters during the procession of squirm inducing TV movies during the mid-to-late 70’s is often like falling ass-backwards into an alternate universe. Take the pilot episode to the Spider-Man show for example; directed incredibly flatly by the magnificently monikered E.W Swackhamer, it invites you to watch what seems to be a “version” of the Peter Parker we all know and love but with a lot of the facts we all take for granted all mixed around for various, confusing reasons. Spider-Man and his civilian alter ego have quite possibly the strongest supporting cast of any superhero in comics, seemingly making him ideal for his adventures – both in and out of the spandex – to be serialized on a weekly TV show and yet the lions share of his social circle are suspiciously absent. No MJ, no Gwen Stacy or her police chief captain father, no Flash Thompson and certainly none of the extended rogue’s gallery that pound Spidey’s head into the New York pavement on a regular basis. Yet the show goes on regardless, whether it contains important stuff regarding the character or not. I certainly don’t expect to see Norman Osborn rocketing around on a Goblin Glider on a 1970’s television budget but the exclusion of any mention of Uncle Ben is seismic on it’s misunderstanding of what makes the character tick.
Anyway, New York is under siege by by an extortionist who hypnotizes up-standing members of society into pulling bank jobs and the police are baffled. Luckily, mild mannered university student Peter Parker (a mop haired Nicolas Hammond looking not a day under 32) gets on the business end of a bite from a radioactive spider when an experiment he’s working on goes wrong. This results not in him getting lymphoma, but increasing his strength and agility exponentially and the well meaning “teenager” knocks up a blue and red gimp suit and eventually sets out to sporadically save the day.
However, it seems that Spider-Man’s greatest adversary is budgetary restrictions as this Spider-Man doesn’t really web-swing much (unless he’s practicing from a tree or a couple of times when he swings to another building in a stunt that looks ludicrously dangerous) and scenes of Hammond practicing his wall crawling is him around on a floor mounted blue screen and then projecting his Aunt’s house on it. However, shots of an actual stuntman scampering up the sides of buildings (complete with nausea inducing POV shots that are so shaking it makes the Blair Witch Project look like it was shot with a steady-cam), despite hardly being dynamic are still legitimately impressive – if only because they look so fucking dangerous.
But still, after all these years I’ve never understood why they have Spider-Man move like a spider, as him darting around around on rooftops running in a permanent semi-crouch like he’s crapped his tights just is disappointing on so many levels. Also, does he really have to wall crawl so much with his butt in the air? Doing whatever a spider can apparently doesn’t come with a whole lot of dignity. There’s also that curious throwback that thanks to the 70’s kung-fu explosion caused by the assention of Bruce Lee, Spidey curiously only seems to get into fights with martial artists (here, 3 guys with kendo sticks) complete with Enter The Dragon sound effects.
But very now and then the film gets shit surprisingly right; watch Parker discover his spider-sense and his awkward wall crawling skills by leaping out of the way of a speeding car, posing for self taken photos to score a sweet $46 out of an oddly calm J. Jonah Jameson or having to ride in a garbage truck when he can’t pay for a taxi due to having no pockets in his tights – it’s almost enough to make you ignore the shrill, fussing hen that they’ve made of Aunt May.
Ultimately, despite the initial enjoyment of seeing Marvel’s crown jewel clumsily being plastered on screen, (and Hammond, despite looking a good 10 years too old, is actually an aggressively decent Parker) the film is actually pretty damn dull and (wall) crawls at an excruciatingly slow pace.
There blows the Spider-Maaaaan!!!!