SPIDER-MAN (1977) Retro Review: With Great Power Comes a Disappointing Movie

With the domestic premiere of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR on May 6, technically there will be evenings screenings on May 5, I found it to be perfect timing to review SPIDER-MAN (1977), starring the first live action appearance of your friendly neighborhood super hero.

Though this may come as a surprise to some, Tobey Maguire was not the first on-screen appearance of Spider-Man. In fact, in 1977, CBS began development on their own live action version of Spidey. After 15 years of the web-head in Marvel’s spotlight, Stan Lee and the heads of CBS saw an opportunity to further this character’s audience outside of the comic book world. 

At that point, they decided to make SPIDER-MAN (1977), a live action feature film dedicated to bringing this character to life. Serving as a pilot for an eventual television show CBS would create, this film introduced the world to Peter Parker. 

Now, I will say, if you’re expecting to see SPIDER-MAN (2002) or SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), two fantastic super hero films of the past 20 years, then you are going to be disappointed. This film, instead, left me with a feeling that can only be compared to that of SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007); slightly entertained, but disappointed. 

Let me run you through this film’s premise. It starts off with exactly what everyone dreads in a super hero movie: the good ol' origin story. All while this is happening the audience learns that there is a man, Edward Byron, with the ability to control minds who is threatening to make people commit suicide unless a ransom is paid. Peter Parker, while trying to come to terms with his new superpowers, must stop this madman before he can end any innocent lives. 

Trust me, I wasn’t expecting the plot to be this dark either. 

Though the plot sounds straightforward, there are several decisions made by the production team that went against the character that Marvel had spent so much time perfectly crafting. For starters, I could never get over the fact that Nicholas Hammond, who plays Peter Parker / Spider-Man looks nothing like a young college student, but instead looks like a 30-year-old body builder. When you might expect to see Peter Parker as a relatable character that anyone can see themselves as, you instead spend the entire movie wondering how a radioactive spider could give you the muscles of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Additionally, when I started to watch this movie, I was expecting to see Mary Jane Watson, or at least Gwen Stacy, but instead, they replace the famous females in Peter's life with an original character named Judy. As the film continues to try and convince the audience there is even a spark in between these two characters, all I could do was think of how furious Mary Jane would be at Peter for cheating on her. 

Along with the absence of Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy is the absence of just about every other Spider-Man character that isn’t Peter, with J. Jonah Jameson and Aunt May being the notable exceptions. Even with the inclusion of these two other characters, they seem to just be thrown in for the sack of adding their name to the cast. Aunt May can only be seen for a split second and Jameson is just about as opposite from his comic book version as possible. He never yells, and strangest of all, compliments Peter regularly and constantly explains that he likes Peter. Yes, you read that right. A nice J. Jonah Jameson. 

Apart from the nonsensical character choices are the strange decisions made for Spider-Man’s combat. His web-shooters were one of the most disappointing aspects of his character. Instead of shooting out any sort of convincing looking web, each time he uses them, it looks as though Peter is just throwing the fake spider web that you can buy for a dollar at any party store during Halloween. 

His main opponent is the madman, Byron, with the ability to control minds, most of his combat, for some reasons, is spent against three ninjas who are being controlled by Byron. At one point during the movie, Spider-Man defeats the ninjas and they run away, only to return moments later with a secret weapon. What is the secret weapon you may ask? 

Flamethrowers. Spider-Man defeats three ninjas, and their last resort is to use flamethrowers against him. 

As Marvel and CBS are using this film to try to set up a live action universe for this beloved character, it seems as though they decided to leave out almost every aspect of Spider-Man that makes him relatable and loveable. Spider-Man is a character that shows innocence, but also bravery and heart. This movie, though attempting to grasp that character in a new, never before seen light, doesn’t quite reach who Spider-Man is. 

Luckily, with CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR releasing and based on the earliest reviews, audiences seeking to find the perfect on-screen Peter Parker and Spider-Man have finally found what they’ve been looking for in actor Tom Holland.

Written by William Stanton, Retro Movie Reviewer -- Click here to read William's posts

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