Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "Halloween Night at the Museum"

At the time of this writing, "Halloween Night at the Museum" is the worst-ranked episode of Ultimate Spider-Man on IMDb, ranking at 6.1 stars out of 10. (Second place is a three-way tie between "Sinister Six," "House Arrest," and "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" at 6.9.) Now, I think this particular episode's score should be taken with a grain of salt. You can't really deny that a lot of people are just going to be upset that this show is crossing over with a live-action kidcom. Heck, I was one of those people who spewed hate at the idea since hearing about it.

But as I've said before, I give everything a fair chance here at the NewtCave. And by Odin's beard, was that ever put to the test.

For this initial Review, I'm going to ignore the fact that this is a crossover. I'm going to treat it the same as any other episode of the show. I'm going to ask myself how this episode fares in a standalone context, independent of any soul-crushing, white bread, unfunny Disney sitcoms.

For the purposes of this first Review, this is just a random group of multi-ethnic kids.
Plot
I think the line between homage and shameless ripoff has been, well, maybe not completely crossed, but the writers can probably see the line from here. Not only is this episode a rip-off of Night at the Museum, they actually called this episode "Halloween Night at the Museum." I mean, how do you get any more blatant?

But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and not just assume that they were blatantly channeling Night at the Museum without doing anything new with the idea. Perhaps this episode's similarity was just a coincidence, and the title came later. It's happened to me a few times. One time at Dungeons and Dragons, I came up with a Nazi fish character for the sole (no pun intended) purpose of making a very lame "whitefish supremacist" pun. As I was informed by my fellows, Seth MacFarlane had pretty much already done the bit on American Dad, a show I've never seen. Alongside the rest of Seth MacFarlane's body of work, but that's neither here nor there.

But perhaps the writers started off fully intending to write a Night at the Museum-style episode which ended up outright ripping off the idea of a magical artifact bringing exhibits and an evil entity to life, rather than parodying it or using it as a starting point. I'm guilty of a couple middle-school assignments that may have gone a bit past "homage" in a similar vein. I'd start off with intent to work an homage into a short story assignment or whatever with the intent to rework it a few times until it's a nice, subtle reference. Sometimes I'd include a line of dialogue from something else with the plan to take it in a different direction as I kept writing. Unfortunately, I'm a procrastinator. So my intended "homages" would sometimes end up straddling that ripoff line, especially when working with partners who have no qualms about blatant swipes and would slip them in without my noticing. My partner once insisted we use the name The Salmon of Doubt for our cooperative short story assignment, despite him never having read any Douglas Adams... or contributing much else to that particular assignment, but I digress.

And I think that's what happened here. I think this episode started off as a jab at Night at the Museum before taking a left turn directly into uninspired ripoff because they refused to do anything new with the formula. Possibly because they outlined a general idea for a Night at the Museum parody... and then ran out of time to do anything new with the idea. Or perhaps they were just lazy. Or maybe they had writer's block.

Maybe that's not the exact sequence of events, but this is definitely a bit more than an homage and not exactly a pastiche. Sure, the characters are different, but look at the events.

Thanks to a magical artifact, a museum's exhibits have come to life after-hours. (The presence of an evil villain hints more at Night at the Museum 2's plot, though.) Hijinks ensue. Both the film and the episode have a dinosaur skeleton that comes to life, cavemen hijinks, and Night at the Museum 2 and this episode both have evil villains who want the magical MacGuffin for their own nefarious purposes.

Although, to be completely fair, this episode does one thing that can be seen as successfully parodying Night at the Museum; the guard doesn't save the day (or night, as it were), but instead turns into a villain for the kids to fight.

Characters
Spider-Man
This is not Spider-Man's story. Most of the character growth and character focus gets put on Jessie and the kids. Despite the fact that they've never appeared before and never will again, this is their story. I'll get to that at the end.

Morgan le Fay
Sure, the choice of character was cliche, but the performance was actually kind of enjoyable. Sure, she seemed more like a villain from Wizards of Waverly Place, but it was at least a memorable performance, which is more than I can say for Morgan's appearance in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Her cheerful exuberance was actually a little endearing, if a little annoying at times. But she was still kind of a weak threat, overall. Which is why we also had...

Jack O'Lantern
He was freakin' awesome. And all he was there for was to give the team someone to fight in the second act besides living exhibits. Why couldn't he be Morgan's minion throughout the episode? Some brawn to go with her magic? Opportunity: missed.

Jessie and the Kids
As for their story, it's honestly not terrible.

"Wait, what?"
No, I'm being serious. First of all, Jessie and the kids all have competent voice actors. The set-up might be swiped from a movie, but the characters aren't terribly written or acted. Jessie says it herself. "Not all heroes are super." That's a good lesson, especially for a show that puts a lot of emphasis on superheroes and super spies.

Unfortunately, the civilians might be a bit too quick to adjust to the madness. And I'd also say that there are just too many kids. None of them get a chance to really shine but Jessie, and that's to the detriment of the episode. I mean, why did those kids even get that armor? Zuri had working Doc Ock arms that never became important!

At the time of this episode's airing, it was without a doubt the worst episode... of Season 3. But that's mostly because Season 3 is actually a lot better than the first two seasons.

On the one hand, it's very disappointing to not have some kind of team-up, like with Blade last year, but this wasn't what I'd actually call "bad." Don't get me wrong, this episode was in no way what I'd call "good," but not necessarily "bad." It wasn't good enough to enjoy, but it also wasn't bad enough to enjoy. Well, let me put it this way....
  • "Blade and the Howling Commandos": Enjoyably good.
  • "Spidah-Man": Enjoyably bad.
  • "Halloween Night at the Museum": S'okay.
If you view this episode as a standalone episode, independent of any crossover material, it's not entirely terrible. It's not necessarily good, but it's not actively awful. I've seen much worse from this show. Yeah, it's not the best episode, but even if this ends up being the worst episode of Season 3, then Season 3 will absolutely rock compared to the earlier seasons. But if you look at this episode as a crossover... well, that deserves its own whole Review.

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