Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "I am Spider-Man"

In the comments for "Run Pig Run," a commenter described this episode as "the 'One Little Thing' of Ultimate Spider-Man.

I would like to respectfully disagree.

"One Little Thing" was an idiot plot parade of characters making terrible decisions from the get-go... and I guess this episode kind of was, too. But the difference between "One Little Thing" and "I am Spider-Man" is at the core of each episode.

"One Little Thing" tried and failed to be a fun little romp with no real depth other than the repeated Aesop of "Lies grow out of control." "I am Spider-Man" is a character piece that takes a look at Flash Thompson, and the inherent irony to a bully who admires a selfless wall-crawler. And that's a great idea. There are plenty of story opportunities in that. And casting Flash in the role of Spider-Man for a play is pretty brilliant, because it has the potential to explore the idea of personas; Flash wears the mask of a bully to mask his own insecurities while wearing the literal mask of Spider-Man in an attempt to live up to his idol.

Here's the problem: Ultimate Spider-Man.  The constant joking makes it hard to build up any sort of tension, Mary Jane is put into a niche where she doesn't belong, and the plot relies on the characters making terrible decisions for the majority of the episode. Most of the conflict is, once again, derived by all the characters being jerks to Peter, who can do little but complain about how unfair everything is.

And the biggest missed opportunity here is the lack of jokes based on Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. Marvel could have taken the opportunity to poke fun at themselves and that whole rigamarole, but other than the idea of a Spider-Man musical… nothing. No jokes about extensive rewrites, or a quickly-inflating budget, or the original writer getting a bit too auteur with the script... Heck, they could have had Mary Jane invent a villain to take Trapster’s place in the big Frightful Four scene, leading to this line.
Peter: “Who the heck is ‘Swiss Miss’?”

Cue the laugh from everybody who wondered the same thing.
Though it’s likely the musical was a touchy subject, since Marvel was still probably losing money off of it while this episode was being produced. Still… missed opportunity.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Sure, he spends most of the episode whining, but at least he realizes how nuts the whole situation is.

Sam Alexander/Nova
If it weren't for him, things would have gone much differently. Peter wouldn't have had to chase after Flash to get his costume back, and could have defeated Trapster in costume, saving the show.


Why couldn't Peter have just used the fake Spider-Man costume in the meantime?  Just wait until the play was over, then take it back. No harm, no foul, and Peter could have defeated the Trapster at the museum, thus saving the show. It's not like Flash had anything dangerous, like Peter's webshooters, or S.H.I.E.L.D. communicator, or anything. Heck, Peter could have just made a new costume if it came down to it.

Sandwich Club
Once again, they're made out to be useless by having them be unable to tell that the real Spider-Man is fighting the real Trapster in front of them.

Flash Thompson 
Flash actually gets some depth in this episode, as well as a look at his heart of gold that will certainly come into play down the road. The fact that Flash actually gets some character development that will end up going somewhere is a neat change of pace for the show, and is much appreciated.

I wish we could have gotten to see Flash do some Shakespeare, though.

"Aw man, poor Yorick. He was my bro, dude."
Mary Jane Watson
Mary Jane, Mary Jane, Mary Jane.

The writers feel a need to use you and an apparent disdain for you.

As I've said before, Man of Action decided that Mary Jane wasn't going to be Peter's girlfriend, so they made her into an aspiring reporter. It's a choice that bugs me, but it's not inherently a bad choice. It allows the writers the opportunity to explore her personality beyond being a love interest. Except... they haven't.

Instead, they changed her personality by turning her into a Lois Lane wannabe. And worse than that, they changed her personality only to end up wasting the character.

Absolutely nothing. Huh!
As I said in my Review of “Beetle Mania,” that episode was the last time she would ever try to get a job at the Daily Bugle. Which makes a bit of sense, since you can only write so many stories about her sabotaging her own efforts to join the Daily Bugle to maintain the status quo. It seems to me that making her a playwright was their attempt to flesh her out a bit more. Except that she never engages in creative writing again after this episode.

And since her next major appearance will also be her last one, this is basically the beginning of the end for Mary Jane as a recurring character.

Principal Coulson
Coulson has become a moron.

And he was doing so well with being badass last episode….
So even putting the Spider-Man play aside, he says that Peter shouldn’t play Spider-Man due to the risks to his secret identity… only to make Peter Flash’s understudy. Which you’d think would have the same risks….
And despite being the highest authority in this episode, he continually makes bad decisions like not evacuating the auditorium. He has lasers in his office and security measures set up along the hallways, but no evacuation plans? Apart from the evacuation we saw just last episode? And instead of calling the cops when the Trapster was apprehended, he made fun of Peter and told him to sing onstage instead of guarding the bad guy?

Nick Fury needs to fire Coulson after this. Maybe that’s why Principal Coulson only has cameos after the second season….

He remains the generic, gimmicky villain he started off as. Only now, he’s soliciting teenage girls.

It’s a form of “parent joke” that really bugs me. See, kids’ shows and movies will sometimes throw parents a bone by crafting jokes just for them. There are two ways of doing this.

Method 1: Craft a well-thought out and subtle joke that is aimed squarely at the older generation.
Example: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reprising their Shaun of the Dead roles on Phineas and Ferb.

No, really.
Method 2: Make a dirty joke and pray that the kids don’t get it.
Example: Shrek. Just… Shrek.

But that’s not always a bad thing….

JLU, you are the wind beneath my wings.
It’s just easy to do and runs the risk of making your show look juvenile.

Again, a missed opportunity. While Drake Bell’s voice is pretty good, the lyrics should have been better. They weren’t bad enough to be laughably bad, and they certainly weren’t as creative as they could have been. I’ve seen the songs they whip up every episode on Phineas and Ferb; there’s no excuse for phoning it in.

And wasn't there supposed to be a bit where "arachnid" was rhymed with "stay back, kid"? I was kind of looking forward to that.

The actual animation quality is the same as ever, apart from an oddly low-frame rate bit during the fight with Trapster (the part when Spidey says every time they fight, he wins). Though I have to give props to the idea of ending each act with a closing curtain. That's the kind of touch I wish more episodes had.

On the other hand, this episode has some animation touches on the opposite end of the spectrum, too.

First of all, the teaser to the episode is one big lie. It clearly depicts Peter unmasking during the fight with the Trapster, with no singing to be seen. But while that could be chalked up to creative editing, the teaser still outright lies to us by showing us people’s reactions to Peter’s unmasking.

Mary Jane was not onstage when Peter unmasked.
These nameless extras were not onstage when Peter unmasked either.
That’s just cheap. It’s one thing to use creative editing, but outright lying is another thing entirely.
And… ugh. Let’s discuss that moment.

Somebody had to outline that moment in the script. Then it was storyboarded. Then it was drawn up. Then it was animated. Then, hopefully, the animation went through quality control. Then somebody edited it into the finished product. And at some point, this episode was shown to the censors.
Did they really not catch the spider-grab? Or... did they add it in on purpose? Is this negligence or did they just feel like adding a bunch of dirty jokes to the script?

Final Thoughts
It’s not good in any way, shape, or form, but I appreciate what it was trying to do. But that can’t save this turd. But even so, I’m not sure if I’d call it the worst episode. It’s certainly the worst plot the show has given us so far, but the majority of the characters aren’t the terrible human beings they were in “Me Time.” And it certainly doesn’t suffer from the pacing problems/lack of plot that plagued “Awesome.”

So I’ll just say that this episode is somewhere down in the same depths of “Me Time” and “Awesome,” declare it not worth watching, and call it a day.

Next time, the best character in the show makes a comeback! See you then!


  1. Fittingly enough, someone really likes One Little Thing, so there's that. Maybe to you it's not OLT, but I still hate that episode. Because to me all bad stuff majorly outweighs any good.

    I had issues with this show since...well, since I saw that someone approved "I can make you ULTIMATE Spider-Man!" "How ultimate exactly is ultimate?" "That Ultimate." exchange and Fury shooting stupid magic bullet at Paste Pot Pete. But this episode just took all my complains and fed them steroids.

    All that you said, people being jerks, people being morons, stupid and gross jokes (that I had to hear twice!), all just to see Flash get a bit of development? It's not like this is exactly new take on Flash and I never really cared about any version of this character. Sure, it build for his appearances in next season, but that's not encouraging at all.

    To put it simply, I found this episode to be unbearably obnoxious, and that's saying something for this show. At least in Avengers I could relate to Avengers that were getting more and more fed up with Sam's nonsense.

    And yeah, your "subtle brilliance" does make things a bit better, but the difference between reactions to Peter and Flash are so extreme that the jock must be sweating charisma like a secret love child of Steve Rogers and female clone of Steve Rogers. Combining with the fact that USM has no idea what's subtlety (Wow, my teammates stood up to me. Wow, Coulson is cool. 4TH WALL BREAK TO MAKE SURE KIDS GET IT!) makes me think that this is just another case of writers putting Peter's misery as higher priority then consistent writing.
    - Faceless Enigma

    1. Yeah, don't give the show too much credit on the "subtle brilliance" I mentioned. It's probably a bug, not a feature.

      And feel free to disagree with me, especially with something like Ultimate Spider-Man. The show has so many different aspects to dislike (lame jokes, unlikable characters, lazy animation) that everybody's going to have a different most-hated episode. The biggest problem with Ultimate Spider-Man IS Ultimate Spider-Man.

      In fact, I credit this show with helping me develop a more detail-oriented recapping style. I've been going over my earlier USM Recaps and Reviews, and I noticed that they jsut kept getting longer and longer as I kept on finding more and more different things to analyze.