Rewind

Marvel movies: The first live-action Spider-Man film is amazingly stupid

Spider-Man helped kick off the current era of superhero movie domination back in 2002 when Tobey Maguire put on Spidey’s suit to fight Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, but that wasn’t the first time someone thought it might be a good idea to make a Spider-Man movie. Back in 1977, Marvel and Columbia Pictures teamed up on a live-action Spidey adventure, but after watching it, I can’t say I’m surprised it took another three decades to make Peter Parker a legitimate movie star.

In my Dr. Strange (1978) review, I mentioned how many TV producers and writers in the ‘70s and ‘80s wanted to capitalize on the success of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV series by making other Marvel live-action TV shows. They would usually test the waters by releasing a Marvel made-for-TV movie that was meant to serve as the show’s “pilot.” In the case of Dr. Strange, it didn’t work out. But in 1977, writers decided to give the popular Marvel superhero, Spider-Man a whirl for a live-action show, and thus, we got The Amazing Spider-Man.

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Unlike Dr. Strange which didn’t make it past the pilot TV movie, The Amazing Spider-Man actually spawned a short-lived, two-season live-action show. It certainly wasn’t because Spider-Man’s movie was better than Dr. Strange’s, it just looks like the network banked on Spider-Man’s greater popularity as a comic book character to sustain a TV show.

When the movie opens, we meet Peter Parker as a grad student studying science. The movie never tells us what specific area he’s studying, but we know Peter loves himself a microscope, lab coat, and hanging out in labs, so that’s good enough!

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Huh. Peter looks a little too fashionable and conventionally good-looking to pass as a 70s science geek, but I’ll let that one slide.

Peter is also trying to put himself through school by working as a freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle, but editor J. Jonah Jameson won’t buy his photos because, well, his photos are crap.

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It’s at this point that I’m wondering where we are in the Spider-Man timeline. Does Peter already have his spider powers or are we going to have to watch his entire origin story play out yet again for the 653rd time?

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I finally get my answer around the 11-minute mark of the movie. Peter and his lab buddy are playing around with something science-related (it’s not important to the story to know what they’re doing) when a lone spider creeps into the experiment unnoticed.

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Yep, guess we’ve got to plow through that pesky origin story yet again.

You know the drill, Peter gets bit and starts acting all spider-y.

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In a surprising move, it actually doesn’t take Peter long to become Spider-Man. There’s no Uncle Ben in this movie, so we don’t get the whole “With great power comes great responsibility” speech. And we don’t see the death of Ben Parker, which usually serves as the catalyst to Peter becoming a hero in the first place.

Instead, Peter gets his powers and basically says “Woohoo! I’m gonna go fight bad guys now!” Alrighty, then.

I should be relieved that we’re not seeing the same old origin story again, but this all just feels very rushed. We don’t really get to see Peter’s thoughts about his new powers. Peter just immediately accepts everything without question or concern. He even makes his Spider-Man costume in just one day. And he nails it on the first try!

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Just look how proud Petey is of himself!

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Mother of God, that face will haunt my nightmares tonight.

Okay, so Peter has his spider powers and he’s fought off some minor league criminals (and his photography skilly have suddenly improved!), now we need a Big Bad. We need that grand, sinister villain who’s really going to test and challenge Spider-Man as a newly minted superhero. So, who is it going to be? The Green Goblin? The Lizard? Dr. Octopus?

No! It’s this guy!

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Who the hell is this guy?

This isn’t a villain you’re going to recognize because he’s just made-up for the movie. This is Byron, a self-help guru who mind controls his innocent, law-abiding followers into committing heinous crimes for him. Oh God, this really is the ‘70s, isn’t it?

Seriously, what is with these ‘70s-era Marvel movies and their villains? There are a plethora of adversaries from the comics that the writers could have put up against their heroes. It was the same thing in Dr. Strange and the Reb Brown Captain America movies; classic heroes squaring off against the most painfully low-rent villains instead of their iconic comic book enemies. It’s incredibly lame and does nothing to make you feel invested in the fight. In this case, if it really was too expensive to get a superpowered villain, they could have at least used the Kingpin as a potential adversary if they wanted a regular dude who’s still a badass.

Vincent D'Onofrio as Kingpin in Netflix's 'Daredevil'Marvel

Getting back to our horribly inadequate villain of the movie, Byron hypnotizes his followers during their meetings with a series of flashing strobe lights and microwaves.

I really don’t understand how anyone could be mesmerized by that. That whole sequence looks more likely to induce a grand mal seizure than unquestioning compliance. Byron is very lucky that he doesn’t have any epileptics among his followers.

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Byron programs his victims to respond to his commands (which is usually to rob a bank at gunpoint or commit suicide) whenever they hear a noise that sounds like a sick duck. I don’t care what anyone says, that is exactly what that noise sounds like.

Spider-Man is ultimately able to turn the tables on Byron by tapping into the microwaves to release the hypnotized victims. Then our hero is able to turn Byron’s brainwashing equipment on him and hypnotizes the bad guy into turning himself over to the police. Again, this is very much a cheap ‘70s villain.

I can respect that the movie didn’t just play out the whole origin story that takes up the movie and sacrifices the action — except that Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man is very hollow. And this movie did lead to two seasons of a live-action TV show and two more TV movies, which is more than the other ‘70s Marvel shows. But again, I still believe this was a result of Spider-Man’s popularity than the quality of the show/movies. This movie certainly isn’t very good, but you can get some chuckles over the cheap effects and that laughable-looking spider suit.

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Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten heroes we love.

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