Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Recap: Ultimate Spider-Man "Freaky"

Welcome to the next stop on our journey down the Road to Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. In this installment, Hulk does not show up. You might be a bit confused by this, but I'll explain it in the Review. Let's begin!

It might not be a Friday, but we can still get freaky. ...not like that.
We open up with a shot of panicked New Yorkers running and screaming as Spider-Man arrives on the scene.

Spider-Man: "My name's Spider-Man."

Seriously, writers. I'ma be serious for a second.

We know. Okay? We know that the protagonist of Ultimate Spider-Man is, in fact, Spider-Man. You don't need to remind us every other episode. This opening is pretty much the definition of talking down to your audience, and it irritates me every time I hear it. And the rest of Spidey's opening monologue is standard "Everyone hates me/My life sucks" monologuing. But we cut to the chase soon enough as Mesmero, the master of minds, finishes up his robbery of the diamond exchange, thanks in no small part to the police officers and civilians he has under his mental control. Mesmero is also inexplicably green, which I'm counting as a solid reason to recap this during Hulk month.

Mesmero soon notices Spider-Man and sends some hypnotized civilians to literally "rip him limb from limb." They all tackle Spider-Man, who manages to escape onto the top of a nearby bus. Suddenly, Wolverine drops down onto the bus from... somewhere. Spider-Man gives a quick rundown of his adamantium skeleton and claws, but Wolverine cuts the explanation down to size by yelling right in Spider-Man's face.

Wolverine: "What did you do to these people?!"

I know that this is supposed to be the "Oh no, Wolverine's going to attack Spider-Man" moment, but I'm a little distracted by Wolverine's voice. It's Steven Blum doing the voice, just like pretty much every other version of the character, but his frantic, angry shouting... long story short, he sounds like he's doing a Batman impression.

Though that's not unheard of.
As the civilians riot for their lord and master, Wolverine demands that Spider-Man stop controlling their minds on the count of three. Spider-Man, in flagrant disregard of the Marvel tradition of hero-on-hero fights, stays his fists and quickly explains to Wolverine that he's here to stop the bad guy too.

Our heroes get shaken off of the bus by the hypnotized crowd, and their different approaches to the situation become quite clear. Spider-Man jumps onto a streetlight to assess the situation while Wolverine starts hitting people. And when he gets a dumpster thrown on him, the claws come out to play. Spider-Man jumps down and reminds him that he can't kill innocent civilians. After all, this is a Disney show. Besides, it's not their fault they're mind-controlled. They quickly try to figure out why these bystanders have suddenly gone all riot-happy, and Wolverine's enhanced senses tell him that it's not some form of chemical drugging or anything.

After Spidey cracks the obvious joke about Wolverine not being able to smell himself, Wolverine incapacitates a load of bystanders with the spray from a nearby fire hydrant. This knocks them down and snaps them out of it, and they all resume normal New York day-to-day operations. This being the Marvel Universe, this means that they all start yelling at Spider-Man.

Bystander: "Jameson was right!"

I would so pay for a political prisoner-style t-shirt that says “Jameson Was Right.”

While Spidey gets verbally abused by the New York crowds, Wolverine sniffs out a familiar scent: Mesmero. So, wait. If Wolverine's tangled with Mesmero before, then why did he assume Spidey was behind the brainwashing? Why was he confused about what caused the crowd to go nuts? I like that they had the detail of Wolverine being familiar with Mesmero, a classic X-Men villain, but it makes this sequence make less sense.

Anyway, Mesmero notices Wolverine and re-hypnotizes some civilians to attack him. Luckily, this gives Spidey a chance to use a thwip to trip the villain. Wolverine, having shaken off or killed the hypnotized innocents, grabs Mesmero. Spider-Man tries to get some information on Mesmero about, if anyone hired him, etc. But Wolverine knows that this was all just for profit. He's also more of a pragmatist and threatens the green meanie with his claws until he gives in and unhypnotizes his minions.

Pattern recognition. It can save your life.
Now that the day is saved, Nick Fury jetpacks in to organize the cleanup effort. And if you guessed that Spider-Man introduces him to the audience once again, you'd be right. Haven't the writers realized that they've introduced us to these characters over and over?
Spider-Man: "Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. That's the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Li... I know! Established!"

Huh. I guess they have.

As agents take Mesmero away, Fury congratulates Spider-Man for doing a darn good job. Compared to his unsanctioned takedown of Trapster in the premiere, this had little property damage and fewer civilian casualties. Fury also takes this time to catch up a bit with Wolverine, who's chugging from a can. Now, Ultimate Spider-Man airs on a Disney channel, so they aren't going to show him drinking beer. The can he's drinking from has an apple on the side. I'd criticize the fact that he's apparently drinking apple juice, but I guess it's implied that he's drinking apple-flavored soda. And I can't fault him for that because Manzanita Sol is delicious.

No joke here; I love this stuff.
Nick Fury: "Staying out of trouble?"
Wolverine: "Trying to."

Yeah, well, you had as much luck with that as you'll have with trying to stay out of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.

Spidey is aghast that Fury can have such a casual conversation with a hairy little animal who was perfectly willing to slice up civilian casualties a second ago, which actually does seem pretty hypocritical of Fury, now that I think about it. Wolverine simply tells Spider-Man that sometimes you have to stoop down to the villains' level, which leave him at a loss for words for what I believe is the first time in the series.

Nick Fury: "Huh. You got him speechless. Do you know how long I've waited for this moment?"

Just as long as I have.

Wolverine: "You got something you wanna say to me, punk?"

This is it. What will Spider-Man do? Will he call Nick Fury out on his flip-flopping stance on collateral damage? Will he tell Wolverine that with great power, there must also come great responsibility? Will he lay down an ultimatum to Fury that he'll never work with such an amoral partner on any S.H.I.E.L.D. missions?

Spider-Man: "Only that you are absolutely the most disgusting person I've ever met."

Because when given the choice between maturely sticking to the moral high ground and being a horse's rear end, guess which one Spider-Man tends to pick in this show?

Spider-Man: "He was gonna kill people. With his smell."

Or he'll take the third option and stick to the moral high ground while being a horse's rear end.

"What do you, the viewers at home, think?"
Wolverine calls him a troll and leaves. Spidey, obviously noting hypocrasy of such a taunt coming from the character Rob Liefeld "based" a Youngblood member named Troll on, Spidey thwips Wolverine in the back of the head, causing him to lunge at the kid in a feral rage. Said feral rage is stopped by Nick Fury. More specifically, his gun in Wolverine's face. But that doesn't mean Spider-Man gets off scot-free.

Nick Fury: "Isn't it a school night?"

Spider-Man prepares to leave, but not before expressing his deepest wishes to never see Wolverine again. Naturally, this gives Mesmero a little idea and his eyes start swirling.... The next day, mild-mannered high schooler Peter Parker is putting his books in his locker before his next class as his friend acquaintance token black guy Luke Cage asks him about his algebra homework. Specifically, he wants to copy Peter's answers. And so does Sam. And possibly Danny, despite how out-of-character that would be. But Ava tells them that Peter would never do such a thing.

Ava: "Because he's the only one out of any of you that has any integrity."

Well, I'd disagree in the case of Danny "future king of K'un L'un" Rand, but it's still nice of you to stick up for Peter, Ava.

Ava: "And after spending all day and night training to be the 'Ultimate' Spider-Man, there's no way it's any good."

I take back what I just said.

So basically, we have one of Peter Parker's teammates and alleged "friends" insulting him for doing the job he was drafted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to do. Not only that, but it's a good time to note something about this version of Peter Parker. He's an idiot. And I don't simply mean that he makes bad decisions, but this Peter Parker is continually shown to have no common sense and be average at best when it comes to schoolwork. (Just wait until he plagiarizes someone else's work for his Science Fair project in a few episodes.) How did this kid ever make his own webshooters? I'd barely trust him to play with Legos.

But from a writer's standpoint, there's a very simple reason for this: Character dynamics. Danny's the chill one, Sam's the hothead, Luke's the big guy, so Ava has to be the smart one to complete all the standard characterizations. In order to accomplish this, Peter's IQ has to be kicked down a notch or two to make her smarts more noticeable, even this means abandoning a defining trait of the title character.

Anyway, Peter gives them a verbal smackdown about responsibility.

Luke: "He's right. We should do our own homework."

Like a true after-school special. And in classic cram-in-a-lesson fashion, this plot point is never brought up again.

After Peter manages to avoid having to give Flash his lunch money, he heads to his English class, where a monotone teacher reads some Shakespeare.

Teacher: "This ruffian hath botch'd up, that thou thereby mayst smile at this...."

Hey, Twelfth Night. A classic tale of love, disguise, and Shakespeare's apparent fetish for women dressing up as men. (See also: The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, and others.) Of course, this is meant to be a thematic parallel. For you see, Peter starts falling asleep while listening to this tale of deception and hidden identity and wakes up in a seedy hotel room as a small, hairy Canadian. Named Wolverine.

Yes, it seems that Ultimate Spider-Man has chosen to adapt a story from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics that even the original writer, Brian Michael Bendis, has apologized for. The original story was an editorial mandate that ended up officially given the name "Jump the Shark." I'm not even making that up. Interestingly enough, the original writer is the one adapting it for the screen. Because if you're going to do a bad story, you need to make sure it's done well, I guess.

Of course, this leaves me with a classic reviewers' conundrum. What name do I refer to each of these body-swapped characters by? For simplicity, I'm going to call Peter-in-Wolverine "Peter" and Wolverine-in-Peter "Wolverine."

Anyway, the horrified Peter fumbles around with his new size and strength (not to mention the claws) while back at Midtown High, Flash Thompson prepares a spitball in revenge for not getting Peter's lunch money earlier. Because Flash is apparently under the impression that he lives in Riverdale.  This wakes Wolverine (in Peter's body) up, and he confusedly goes into the Wolverine stance while trying to figure out why he is where he is. And I have to give the animators credit, they've managed to capture exactly how ridiculous the Wolverine pose is when you're wearing a shirt and you don't have claws.

Even for Huge Ackman.
Wolverine lurches out into the hallway and runs until he finds Mary Jane putting her contacts in. He grabs her mirror, looks at his new face, and expresses his displeasure with not looking like the result of congress betwixt woman and honey badger by smashing the mirror to pieces. Mary Jane confronts him over this, but Wolverine simply growls. But because he's growling in the voice of Drake Bell, MJ and the nearby Harry Osborn simply find this absolutely hilarious.

The cell phone in Wolverine's pocket starts ringing, and Wolverine answers it. Peter, on the other line, has his worst fears confirmed.

Peter: "We switched entire bodies?!"

Would you have preferred switching individual body parts, then?
But Wolverine still doesn't know exactly what's going on, so Peter explains that the pasty, white, hairless, scrawny, teenage body Wolverine has suddenly found himself in belongs to Spider-Man.  And to make matters worse, Sabretooth picks that moment to burst into the room.

Peter (voiceover): "This is, uh, somebody Wolverine probably knows."

He manages to kick away Sabretooth and asks Wolverine who this other furball is.

Wolverine: "He's a bad, bad mutant."

Shut yo' mouth.

There's an actually impressive moving angle as Sabretooth chases Peter across the room, and Peter ends up accidentally stabbing himself while trying to explain the whole bodyswap thing to Sabretooth.

This happens. It's a running gag. I'll be glossing over it.
But Sabretooth don't care, he just likes killing. Whether it be Wolverine or some imposter, he wants to see some blood.

Wolverine, still on the phone, gets ready to come and help, but Peter tells him to stay in school, which doubles as a solid life choice, kids. The more you know.

Peter jumps out the window, fruitlessly telling the disconnected phone to go find Coulson, and quickly finds out that Wolverine's stubby body is incapable of wall-crawling or web-slinging. He manages to get away anyway, grabbing onto the side of the bus and stabbing himself again. The knee, this time.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Sandwich Club meets up with Wolverine, and they don't know what's wrong.

Ava: "Peter, you're acting like a world-class jerk today."

He's taking a page out of your book, Ava.

Actually, this is the first time they've seen him since the bodyswap. So, really, she's saying that Peter was acting like a jerk earlier this morning when he refused to share answers. In flagrant disregard of what she actually said then.

MJ walks up to ask if "Peter" is feeling alright, and it seems as though Wolverine has finally found a reason to stay put.

Wolverine: "Baby, I do like me a redhead."

As such, the centuries-old man starts putting the moves on the teenage jailbait. 8 AM on Disney XD, everybody! How sad is it that the only "romantic" interaction between Peter Parker and his canonical girlfriend/wife happens when someone else's mind is in his body?

MJ is understandably put off by Wolverine's display, and Wolverine is left to wonder why a kid with such powers would willingly go to high school. But enough of that, a strange tingling heralds Flash's arrival, and Wolverine flips him into a locker and beats him up instead of forking over his lunch money.  Wolverine leaves the school and runs into Peter. The two put their heads together and deduce that the brain-altering villain from the previous day must be behind the altering of their brains.  But no time for that, Sabretooth's back. And he's had time to think about Peter's mindswapping claim. He figures that if he kills the high-schooler, then he kills Wolverine.

Fighting ensues, and Peter yells at Wolverine for using spider-powers in public.

Wolverine: "Kid, I got bigger fish to fry than you and your teeny-bopper soap opera."

I think those were my exact words when this show gave us a crossover with Jessie.

But of course, this choice of words just means that we get a cutaway parody of the One Life to Live intro starring the Sandwich Club. And Doctor Doom as "Brett," which I'll admit was funny.

As Sabretooth comes back, Peter issues an ultimatum to Wolverine regarding the Spider-Man outfit.

Peter: "Put it on or I will shave you!"

Wouldn't that really be more of a punishment to yourself?

Also, Deadpool cameo.
After more fighting and threats of waxing, Wolverine goes and complies by heading to a nearby rooftop to suit up.

Wolverine: "When I find Mesmero, I am going to... Why am I talking to myself? I'm talking as much as the kid talks. Now I'm talking about talking."

I'm glad that Wolverine finds Spider-Man's monologues as annoying as I often do.

Meanwhile, Peter's getting in on it, too.

Peter: "I'm the best there is at what I do! ...And I have no idea why I just said that."

Once again, fighting ensues. Wolverine throws Peter a webshooter, and the fight starts going much better. A little teamwork manages to bring down Sabretooth, and the two heroes later end up at the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, where Mesmero laughs hysterically at their predicament.

Of course, a few threats later, and everything's back to normal. Spidey webs up Mesmero's mouth as he promises revenge in a sequel episode, and our two heroes part ways amicably, with a bit more understanding as Wolverine casually steals a jet from the helicarrier.

After one final joke about how Wolverine used up all of Spider-Man's web fluid, the episode ends. Review time!

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