As the third and final Spider-Man 70’s movie swung around, I guess the producers figured a change of scenery was in order. So off we go to Hong Kong (eventually) as Peter Parker and his arachnid-themed alter ego gets tangled up in a plot to assassinate the Chinese Minister Of Industrial Development who has fled to America after being accused of getting up to no good during World War II. Of course this being a feature made up of grafting two episodes of the TV series together, Peter doesn’t get to China until the second half but when he gets there… oh boy, do the filmmakers make the most of it. Thought The Man With The Golden Gun was a clumsy attempt to show off the wonders China has to offer? Well buckle up as The Dragon’s Challenge amply pads out it’s run time as for long stretches of the story we actually watch our leads wandering aimlessly around Hong Kong and taking in the sights like it’s all suddenly become a travelogue interspersed with occasional scenes of Spider-Man punching martial artists in the face.
For a movie cut out of a TV show based on a comic based on a man who dresses in a webbed onesie and fights crime, the plot is confusingly heavy and heavily confusing with a needlessly dense story slowing the first half of the film to a weak limp so it’s actually a massive release when the vastly amusing action finally kicks in.
Thrill as a man with the proportionate strength and speed of a spider struggles to subdue a normal criminal in hand to hand combat! Awe as he barely avoids getting run over by a subway train that legitimately looks too close for comfort! Laugh your tits off as he hops into a junk boat and engages in the worlds slowest water chase in movie history!
It all eventually becomes somewhat of an unintended running joke as the film leaves Spider-Man hysterically under powered in order to clumsily inject a random sense of drama into proceedings – watch as Peter’s spider sense is able thugs creeping down a hall but isn’t hood enough to help him avoid getting shot by tranquilizer darts: twice!
It’s a tad disappointing as the previous movie Spider-Man Strikes Back had moderately better sequences but is still immensely chucklesome to watch Spider-Man punch a guy so hard to knock him out only for the guy’s shades to stay on. In fact these little goofs are everywhere and make the experience of getting through the molasses-like plot a little easier. “You’ll look Chinese if you don’t show your face!” offers someone helpfully as the overwhelmingly caucasian Parker attempts to infiltrate a villians hideout in the middle of the Chinese counryside dressed as a peasant. Thanks for the tip, love.
Hammond and the gang don’t really have much to do apart from look concerned and take turns dishing out and absorbing vast amounts of boring exposition, which is odd considering there are decent subplots lurking in plain sight with Peter being continuously thought of as a coward by the Minister’s pretty daughter every time he runs off to pull on his iconic underoos AND a case of his secret identity being discovered which is brushed under the carpet quicker than a dust bunny.
On the plus side there is a refreshing attempt to restrict any Chinese stereotyping, I mean for 1970’s American television anyway. The Asian female lead obviously dresses in a cheongsam at one point (that is what they’re called, right?) and of course a large ratio of the native cast know Kung Fu but aside from that, the Chinese culture is shown pretty respectfully.
The Dragon’s Challenge was the last official time someone pulled on the webbed tights until Tobey Maguire in 2002 and while all three of the orginal movies are long winded and fairly dopey, they actually play as kind of quaint as only someone being winched up a sheer wall in a skin tight gimp suit while 70’s disco music twangs in the background can.
If only the budget could’ve bitten by a radioactive wallet…