Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man (PlayStation 2)


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 16 April 2002
Developer: Treyarch
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube, PC, and Xbox

The Background:
There was a time when it seemed like every single cinema release had to be accompanied by a videogame adaptation; big-budget movies, especially, were often released alongside a hastily created videogame tie-in that often failed to properly capture the spirit of the film they were based on. As the flagship character of Marvel Comics, Spider-Man has a long and varied history with videogame adaptations across a variety of platforms so it was perhaps no surprise that Sam Raimi’s 2002 live-action $825 million blockbuster would be accompanied by a videogame tie-in. To be fair, Spider-Man benefitted from that fact that it was developed by Treyarch, who had previously had success with the character; indeed, much of Spider-Man’s combat and level progression was based on Treyarch’s previous Spider-Man game. This was reflected in the game’s reception as Spider-Man became the fifteen highest-selling videogame of 2002 and enjoyed high scores across all platforms. While some reviews criticised the game’s claustrophobic indoor sections and short length, it was generally regarded as the best Spider-Man videogame at the time of release. I remember buying the game for the GameCube after seeing the movie, having been won over by the game’s trailer and the film itself, but being underwhelmed by it after playing it to completion so I’m curious to see how it holds up today after the success of Spider-Man’s subsequent videogames.

The Plot:
After being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid, high school senior Peter Parker finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider, and, when his beloved Uncle Ben is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter. After failing to capture and study this “Spider-Man”, who overcomes a variety of costumed menaces and robots, Doctor Norman Osborn transforms himself into the web-slinger’s most dangerous threat yet: the maniacal Green Goblin!

Gameplay:
Spider-Man is a third-person action game with a primary focus on beat-‘em-up action but which also includes a fair amount of web-slinging and a little bit of awkward stealth and extremely simplistic puzzle solving. As you might expect, players assume command of Peter Parker; the game begins right after Uncle Ben has been shot and at the very beginning of his crimefighting career as Spider-Man, and players are given a number of standard options when it comes to combat: X lets you jump and you can press it again in mid-air for a double jump, while Square throws a punch and Circle unleashes a kick. You can mix and match these button inputs to execute quick combo attacks (which you can review from the pause menu), and pressing either button near certain objects will allow you to pick up and throw them at your enemies. Of course, it’s not all about beating up random thugs across the city; at any time, you can press R2 and Spider-Man will start slinging webs (yes, they just attach to nothing, get over it) and won’t stop until you press X or slam into a wall. You can hold down R2 to speed up your web-slinging, though this does limit your turning ability, and you can press R1 to quickly zip upwards or straight ahead on a web zip-line; you can also press L1 to lock onto enemies, which is super useful when you’re swinging around and asked to attack enemies in mid-air.

Spidey can use his webs to attack his enemies but, unlike in the film, is limited by web fluid.

Spider-Man will automatically save himself with his webs if you fall while traversing the city rooftops and will automatically climb walls when close to them, though you can press the left analogue stick to enter a crawling state and the camera does tend to get very jerky and annoying when you’re clambering around on walls and ceilings as your perspective can get turned around pretty easily. If you’ve played the fantastic Spider-Man (Neversoft, 2000), you’ll be immediately familiar not only with Spider-Man’s combat and web-slinging but also with his web-based attacks. Pressing Triangle sees Spidey shoot out a quick web, but holding it allows him to web enemies up; if you press up, down, left, or right on the left analogue stick (or directional pad, if that’s your preference), Spider-Man will send out a high-impact ball of webbing, yank his foe towards him, wrap his hands in webbing to increase his punching power, or create a web dome to shield himself and send enemies flying with a press of X. You can also switch to different control styles that see you utilise the other face buttons for these commands, but you’ll find that these web attacks consume your web fluid (represented as a blue bar under your life meter), which is very strange considering Spidey had organic webbing in the film. Spider-Man can also dodge incoming attacks by using the left stick in conjunction with X to hop out of danger, though I found this to be awkward at best and unreliable at worst, and you can even press in the right analogue stick to look around and set your target for a zip-line.

Web-slinging sections see you using the compass to chase villains, rescue civilians, and disarm bombs.

All of these controls and gameplay mechanics can be reviewed in an optional tutorial mode, where the legendary Bruce Campbell snarkily talks you through all of Spider-Man’s abilities, and you’ll find question mark hints occasionally dotted around levels to help you out as and when. Like the 2000 game, Spider-Man is basically divided into two distinct gameplay styles: one sees you out in the city, swinging about the place, and the other sees you confined inside buildings. When out in the city, you’ll need to make use of a compass to navigate towards your next objective or keep track of your current target; you need to use this in conjunction with a Height Meter that shows your position compared to that of your objective, which can be a very clunky system as it’s not always clear where you need to go. Basically, just follow the compass direction until it flashes white, and then try to orientate yourself up or down to get to where you need to go, but invariably your compass will be absent when inside buildings. When web-slinging around the city, you’ll be tasked with hunting down thugs and putting a beating on them until you find information on where you need to go, racing after a target as they fly away from you, hunting down bombs or taking out robotic drones (often against a tight time limit), rescuing civilians from harm, and using your webs to secure water towers, bridges, and other objects to stop them from hurting civilians. When trying to keep track of a specific target, you really need to make use of the lock-on feature or else it’s very easy to lose sight of them and thus fail the mission; I also found that spamming Triangle was the fastest way to actually attack enemies in mid-air, but of course this will drain your web fluid. Luckily, the pick-ups that refill your health and web fluid will respawn so you can swing back over and grab them if you need to, but this will cost you time and probably see you fail your objective. Checkpoints in Spider-Man are few and far between; you can only save your progress after completing a level and, if you die or fail your mission, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of the level, which can lead to you repeating frustrating sections again and again.

Spidey must crawl and fight around claustrophobic interiors using a clunky stealth mechanic.

When confined to the interior of buildings, the game introduces a clunky stealth element; when Spider-Man is in certain shadows, the face on his heads-up display will turn dark blue and he’ll be hidden from enemies. This is essential to safely sneaking past cameras and enemies in many levels; though you won’t fail the mission if you’re spotted, an alarm will be raised and mechanical Super Soldiers will relentlessly chase after you, forcing you to quickly zip away and find a shadowy area to wait out the alarm. One of the most common tasks when in these claustrophobic areas will be heading through or acquiring keys to unlock doors; these doors can be difficult to identify as the areas are so bland and boring, and the enemies holding the key tend to be a little tougher than the usual mooks. Other times, you’ll need to use X to activate consoles, sometimes in a certain order, acquire codes from active PCs, web-zip past steam vents or through laser trip wires, and zipping up into vents to awkwardly crawl around and progress further. These levels also have much more focus on grounded beat-‘em-up combat, but the game quickly emphasises that discretion is the better part of valour and you’ll be tasked with deactivating security walls and laser traps in order to progress a little safer. The game comes with a number of different difficulty modes that obviously make enemies tougher and increase the game’s challenge; completing the game on higher difficulties also allows you to unlock additional content, which can be further unlocked by acquiring points for your combat, stealth, and level-completion strategies.

Graphics and Sound:
Obviously, Spider-Man is a videogame tie-in that came out on the PlayStation 2, so you can’t expect super high-quality in-game or cutscene graphics. However, Spider-Man is reasonably impressive and I can see why people would have considered it the best Spider-Man videogame at the time; New York City is rendered as a large map and even subject to rain and lightning storms and rendered in both day and night-time depending on the level you’re playing. However, it’s not a sprawling open world with numerous side quests or non-playable characters to interact with; although you can see traffic moving down below, you can’t go down to street level and the city is basically completely lifeless save for thugs, bosses, and a few civilians in need of rescue.

Environments can be quite bland and lifeless but some shine through weather and lighting effects.

The interiors are where the game really fails to impress, however; you’ll explore such dynamic and exciting areas as…a bland warehouse, the sewers and subway tunnels, and the high-tech Oscorp building. This latter is easily the most visually impressive and interesting of all of the game’s environments, inside or out; while it is a bit confusing as every area looks grey and bland, it’s given some variety with some blinking lights, laser traps, and different rooms containing consoles and power generators. Another interesting area is a bank, though you’re only really in here for one boss battle, and you’ll even be treated to a very mediocre interpretation of the balloon parade from the film, which includes a single inflatable panda bear and a sequence where you crash down through skylights while battling the Green Goblin, and of course conclude the game in a showdown on the Queensboro Bridge.

Cinematics are quite blurry and the awkward in-game cutscenes are quite laughable.

While the game’s thugs and enemies aren’t much to shout about, being largely generic and unimpressive, Spider-Man is rendered quite well despite every character model appearing as a stiff mannequin. Spidey does little hops and flips when climbing over ledges, assumes comic-accurate poses when left idle, and even busts out fancy animations when web-slinging that closely emulate the film. The game uses both pre-rendered and in-game graphics for its cutscenes, with the pre-rendered ones obviously being the more impressive of the two; the in-game models don’t even move their mouths and the voice acting is more miss rather than hit. Tobey Maguire, especially, sounds more wooden and awkward than ever, especially when trying to deliver quips as Spider-Man, and the game is sadly completely lacking Danny Elfman’s awesome and iconic score. The music that does play during levels is generally suitable enough, if a bit generic, but it does clumsily and noticeably loop, which just screams of low production values, and of course you’ll be faced with the long load times symptomatic of that era of videogaming.

Enemies and Bosses:
Spider-Man is faced with a number of nameless, faceless, disposable goons as he swings around the city and tries to use his powers responsibly; at first, he’s tasked with tracking down Uncle Ben’s killer, who here is interpreted as part of the Skulls gang, so you’ll be beating up unscrupulous street thugs in the early going. Some of these have pistols to defend themselves with, and they’ll also put up a block to defend themselves against your attacks. These thugs get a reskin as guards working for Oscorp who must largely be avoided and webbed up to stop them from raising the alarm and bringing in the Super Soldier robots. Wile Osborn’s miniature Spider Slayers are annoying robotic enemies who zip around on claw-like lines and try to roast you alive, these Super Soldiers are a massive pain in the ass. They relentlessly hunt you down, blasting at you with explosive bolts that are near-impossible to avoid, and the levels can be so restrictive that you’re better off just restarting the level rather than trying to desperately find shadows to hide from them.

After tracking down his uncle’s killer, Spidey must avoid the Shocker’s blasts in the city sewers.

Spider-Man’s first mission is to hunt down Uncle Ben’s killer; after beating up a bunch of his fellow gang members, Spidey finally tracks him down and faces off with him, only to be blasted full-force in the face over and over by the murderer’s shotgun! The killer sets a precedent for the game’s boss battles in that he, like all of the other bosses, is spry and tough enough to shrug off, dodge, and no-sell all of your web attacks except for the web-hands, so you’re best bet is to zip up to the ceiling and stay out of his sight, blasting at him with your impact webbing or dropping down to deliver a beatdown when he’s suitably confused. After a quick side quest where you swing around towards red balloons to take snapshots of Spidey for the Daily Bugle, you’ll need to rescue security guards being threatened by Herman Schultz/The Shocker. Once they’re safe, you’ll pursue him into the sewers and subway tunnels, where he’ll send blasts of concussive sound at you that you’ll need to dodge using your web-zip; this isn’t too much of a challenge to overcome and, afterwards, you’ll get to face him in combat. The Shocker launches projectiles of sound at you and can protect himself with a devastating whirlwind of damaging soundwaves, but was actually easier for me to pummel into submission than Uncle Ben’s killer.

After making short work of the Vulture, you must defend and then subdue the maniacal Scorpion.

Spider-Man’s next test comes when Adrian Toomes/The Vulture robs a bank; Spider-Man first chases after the Vulture by progressing vertically up a tower that catches fire and sees you slipping through holes and under stairs to zip your way upwards, then you need to chase after him as he flies away through the city and puts citizens at risk. Finally, the two face off in the skies around the Chrysler Building as rain and lighting fill the arena; Spidey must fire webbing at the Vulture while avoiding his charges and attacks in order to force him to land so he can put a beating on him, making him the easiest boss of the game by far. Afterwards, Spidey crosses paths with MacDonald “Mac” Gargan/The Scorpion, who just randomly appears out of nowhere; at first, you’ll need to protect him from Oscorp’s miniature spider-bots but then he turns against you and forces you to fight him. This is quite a tough fight even on Easy mode as the Scorpion leaps and scrambles all over the place, blasting at you with his tail, and grappling with you whenever you get close to him. It’s best to keep your distance and fire off impact webbing from afar, and then dodge his attacks so you can hit a few combos on him and put him down. Fittingly, the Green Goblin is the game’s most recurring villain and, though you won’t encounter him face-to-face until you’re halfway through the game, he more than makes up for it in his appearances; the first time you face him, you need to avoid his glider attacks and missiles and rescue Mary Jane Watson from the aforementioned panda balloon before battling him head-on.

As annoying as Oscorp’s mech is, the Green Goblins persistence and aggression is even worse!

Whilst on his glider, the Green Goblin is basically a tougher version of the Vulture as he flies around tossing pumpkin bombs and firing bullets and missiles at you, forcing you to fire off your webbing or striking at him when he comes close. Afterwards, you’ll have to chase after him and web up parts of the environment that he damages, before forcing him through a skylight for some ground combat. These fights are easily the toughest of the game as the Green Goblin bombards you with pumpkin bombs, blinds you with flashbangs, and can easily choke the life out of you and snatch you out of the air. Your best bet is to stick near the respawning health power-up, dodge his combos and hit some of your own, and blast him with impact webbing whenever you can. Afterwards, you’ll be forced to swing across the city against a time limit disarming his bombs, which is an annoying mission thanks to the janky compass and drones flying around the city, then destroy fifty of his Razor Bats before taking a detour through Oscorp and battling a giant mech. Before you can attack this directly, you’ll need to desperately swing around the enclosed arena destroying shield generators and being pummelled by missile turrets, constantly spawning drones, and avoiding the mech’s gigantic laser. Thankfully, there’s plenty of pick-ups in the area and the mech goes down pretty easily with a few web shots once the shield is lowered. Afterwards, you’ll have to chase after the Green Goblin as he flies off with Mary Jane and tosses explosive traps in your way, before finally facing off with him on the Queensboro Bridge. After getting Mary Jane to safety, you then need to repeat the same tactics as in the first couple of fights against him but now in the same battle; swing around firing webs at him to ground him and then dodge his melee attacks to land a few combos, but watch out for his big bomb blast attack. By this point, you should know how to dodge and go grab a pick-up when needed, and I know I found finishing the Green Goblin off actually easier than the first fist fight with him. After you end him, Mary Jane awkwardly gives Spider-Man a big ol’ snog on top of his mask while they stand over the lifeless body of Peter’s best friend.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike in pretty much every modern videogame, Spider-Man is not blessed with regenerating health; as a result, you’ll need to pick up red and red-and-blue Spider Icons to restore half or all of your health. Also, like in the 2000 game, Spider-Man can run out of web fluid so you’ll need to grab blue and blue-and-silver Spider Icons to refill this bar. As mentioned, I find this an odd inclusion as Spider-Man had unlimited organic webbing in the movie but I guess it makes sense to keep him from being too overpowered. Luckily, these restorative pick-ups respawn after a while so if you find yourself struggling against a particular boss, you can usually backtrack or swing back around to collect a pick-up and keep yourself from losing a life. If you search around your environments, you’ll also find gold Spider Icons that will unlock additional combos to add to your repertoire, but that’s about it in terms of power-ups; you don’t earn experience points and can’t upgrade any of Spider-Man’s abilities or pick up temporary power-ups, meaning you basically end the game exactly as you started it but with maybe a few additional combos.

Additional Features:
If you visit the game’s ‘Gallery’, you’ll be able to view movies and artwork for the game, and you’ll be able to revisit any level you’ve cleared from the main menu as you progress. As mentioned, you’ll receive points every time you clear a level; these are awarded for your combat variety, stealth, and the amount of damage you take. Once you hit a certain number of points, you’ll automatically unlock some additional content from daft stuff like big hands and feet and exaggerated ragdoll physics to skins for Spider-Man, such as his wrestler outfit and acclaimed artist Alex Ross’s rejected design for the movie suit. You can also unlock a Peter Parker skin and enter cheat codes to play as guys like the Shocker and other enemies, though they all play the same as Spider-Man and don’t change the story in any way.

There are a number of cheats and unlockables, including a fully playable Green Goblin!

However, if you beat the game on the “Hero” difficulty, you’ll unlock the ability to play as Harry Osborn under the guise of the Green Goblin! This eliminates the pre-rendered cutscenes and alters the plot somewhat as this story picks up after the conclusion of the game and sees Harry take up his father’s mantle to research his death, and gives you access to an entirely new set of abilities. The Green Goblin can’t web-sling or climb walls but, with a press of R2, you’ll hop onto his glider and can rocket around the place at will; you can fire bullets, missiles, and bombs while on the glider, but your weapons will overheat in time so you’ll need to wait for them to cool down. On the ground, the Green Goblin’s melee attacks are the same as Spider-Man’s but, in place of webs, you have access to pumpkin bombs and Razor Bats and can race around on rocket boots like a madman to send enemies flying! Honestly, this was an incredible addition to the game and is a great way to encourage a second playthrough that adds an extra layer of challenge to the game as the Green Goblin can’t hide in the shadows, but can jump on his glider to blast enemies with missiles even when inside the most claustrophobic environments!

The Summary:
I remember being so hyped for Spider-Man’s first big-screen adventure, and so won over by the trailer for the videogame that ran before the film, that I went out and bought this for the GameCube that same week (if not that same day). I also remember finishing it pretty quickly, and this second playthrough was no different; as is the case with almost every videogame tie-in to a movie, Spider-Man isn’t an especially long game; levels aren’t built to allow exploration and are incredibly linear, so all you’ll have to worry about is trying to cope with how bland and similar the areas can look in each level. There’s also not a huge amount really asked of you; maybe you need to activate a console here and there, or input a code to open a door, or rescue a civilian, but these instances are few and far between and the game soon falls back into a routine of either web-slinging or clunky stealth sections. “Clunky” is the best way to describe this game; Spider-Man controls like he thinks he should be using tank controls, the camera and mechanics make web-slinging and wall-crawling very cumbersome at times, and your combos and dodging abilities are severely limited, making everything quite basic and monotonous. This may explain the game’s short length, as it’s over before it can become truly mind-numbing, but some levels are more frustrating than others; the stealth system is poorly implemented and it’s disappointing to see Spider-Man restricted to claustrophobic interiors rather than free to swing around the city. Basically, the game is a reskin of the 2000 Spider-Man title but stripped back in terms of bonuses, unlockables, and variety; there’s some fun to be had here, mostly in how cheesy the dialogue and cutscenes are, but you’re not really missing much if you skip this one for one of the many other Spider-Man games available even on the PlayStation 2.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played the videogame tie-in to Spider-Man? Which console did you buy it for and were you impressed with it back in the day? What did you think to the web-slinging and combat mechanics? Which of the enemies added to the game was your favourite and would you have liked to see the likes of the Vulture and the Scorpion in Raimi’s films? What did you think to the game’s stealth gameplay and the unlockables on offer? Which Spider-Man videogame or movie adaptation is your favourite? Sign up to leave a reply below or drop a comment on my social media to share your thoughts on Spider-Man.

Talking Movies [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man


Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first b bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 3 May 2002
Director:
Sam Raimi
Distributor:
Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget:
$139 million
Stars:
Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson

The Plot:
Academically-gifted but socially inept high school senior Peter Parker (Maguire) suddenly finds himself endowed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider after being bitten by a genetically-enhanced arachnid. After his beloved Uncle Ben (Robertson) is killed due to his irresponsibility, Peter puts his spider powers to good use as a masked crimefighter but soon finds himself tested when scientist and industrialist Doctor Norman Osborn (Dafoe) is driven to insanity after subjecting himself to a strength-enhancing formula and becoming the maniacal Green Goblin.

The Background:
After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee collaborated with artist Steve Ditko to create Spider-Man, whose debut issue became one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time and whose subsequent popularity has seen him become the flagship character of Marvel Comics. Although Spider-Man enjoyed some success in animated adaptations and even had a live-action series back in the seventies, the story of his big-screen debut is a long and complicated one fraught with legal issues. Development of a Spider-Man movie can be traced back to the early 1980s, when producer Roger Corman tried to get a film off the ground with Orion Pictures. After that fell through, Tobe Hooper came close to directing a more horror-themed take on the character before the Cannon Group began financing a new script and initially brought in Joseph Zito to direct. Cannon’s financial difficulties saw the project fall apart and producer Menahem Golan took the film rights with him to 20th Century Film Corporation, where he divided the distribution, home video, and theatrical rights up and hired James Cameron to write and direct a new Spider-Man adaptation. Cameron was the one who introduced the idea of Spider-Man having organic webbing, which was just about the only element retained from his script as the film rights became mired in lawsuits and Marvel’s legal troubles.

After decades of legal issues, lawsuits, and strife, Spider-Man finally made his big-screen debut.

Eventually, Marvel recovered and sold the Spider-Man film rights to Sony Pictures Entertainment for $7 million; the studio turned down David Fincher’s pitch in favour of Sam Raimi, who was a life-long fan of the character. Many young, fresh-faced stars were considered for or interested in the lead role before Raimi cast Tobey Magiure, who underwent a physical transformation for the role. Raimi, whose background was more in traditional and practical effects, was convinced by visual effects supervisor John Dykstra to bring Spider-Man’s superhuman feats to life using CGI but still used practical stunts wherever possible. Finally, after decades in aborted attempts and a hasty edit following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Spider-Man released to overwhelmingly positive reviews that praised the cast and visuals while also criticising the Green Goblin’s suit. The film’s worldwide gross of just under $830 million meant that it was a phenomenal box office success; Spider-Man was accompanied by action figures, comic book tie-ins, and a videogame adaptation and also kick-started one of the most successful and beloved comic book trilogies in all of cinema.

The Review:
The hype for Spider-Man was absolutely palpable back in the day; the film came out around about the same sort of time that my friends and I were old enough to travel to the next town over easily enough ad see films and the trailers and marketing were absolutely everywhere. I remember being so excited for the film just based on the brief snippets in the music video for the film’s excellent hit single, “Hero”, and I bought the videogame adaptation for the GameCube the same day that I saw the film based entirely on its trailer and how good the film was. I grew up reading Spider-Man comics from the seventies and eighties and watching the nineties cartoon, and up until this point the only live-action Spider-Man I’d been exposed to was the Nicholas Hammond version from the seventies which, while ambitious, was obviously limited by the budget and restrictions of the time. This was a big deal; a big-budget, special effects laden superhero film during the days when the industry wasn’t awash with blockbuster comic book releases and I remember being absolutely ready for it at the time.

Nerdy outcast Peter Parker finds his life changed forever by an errant spider bite.

Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, a nerdy high school senior who is unpopular with pretty much everyone in his school. A regular target of bully and brutish jock Eugene “Flash” Thompson (Joe Manganiello), Peter is subjected to cruel pranks and harassment on a daily basis despite being something of a scientific prodigy. Since his parents died when he was young, Peter has been raised by his doting, loving, and supportive Aunt May (Harris) and Uncle Ben, who provide for him as best they can on their shoe-string budget. He also enjoys the friendship of Harry Osborn (Franco), a spoiled rich kid who is struggling to succeed academically and to live up to the expectations and standards set by his influential father, Norman Osborn. Crucially, though, Peter pines for his neighbour, the gorgeous and popular Mary Jane Watson/M. J. (Dunst), one of the few people to actually show some kind of decency towards him despite hanging off Flash’s arm. Peter’s life changes forever during a routine science trip to a genetics laboratory; fascinated by the institute’s work in gene-splicing the various abilities of different spiders into a “super-spider”, Peter is concerned only with snapping a few photos for the school paper and awkwardly trying to find the courage to speak to M. J. Consequently, he doesn’t notice an errant super-spider biting him until it’s too late and, upon returning home, he crashes out and is subjected to vivid dreams as his body undergoes a startling physical transformation.

Peter initially uses his newfound powers for personal gain, with dire consequences.

When he awakens, Peter is better than ever: his eyesight has improved, his body is muscular and defined and his reflexes are so attuned that time seems to slow when he perceives danger. Most obviously, he can now eject sticky webbing from his wrists and adhere to surfaces just like a spider and Peter is overjoyed at the revelation that he has gained the proportionate arachnid’s abilities. So caught up in his newfound superhuman powers is Peter that he forgets all about his chores at home and easily bests Flash in a fight; concerned about Peter’s welfare, Uncle Ben tries to reach out to his young nephew, understanding that he is going through “changes” that will come to define his adult life, but Peter spitefully rejects Ben’s advice and heads off to try and earn some money at a wrestling event. Wishing to buy a car to impress Mary Jane, Peter crafts a bright, colourful outfit for himself and takes on Bonesaw McGraw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage) inside a steal cage, easily toppling the muscle-bound braggart. However, when the wrestling promoter (Larry Joshua) stiffs him on the pay cheque, Peter willingly allows a thief (Michael Papajohn) to escape with the promoter’s money. This decision comes back to haunt him, though, when he leaves the arena and finds his beloved uncle dying in the street from a gunshot wound. Driven to a mindless rage at seeing his father-figure die, Peter puts aside his apprehension and uses his webs to swing across the city in pursuit of the culprit, only to find it’s the same thief he let escape earlier!

Spider-Man makes an impact upon his debut, riling up Jameson and captivating Mary Jane.

Heartbroken at having indirectly caused his uncle’s death by not using his great powers responsibly, Peter crafts a new costume for himself and vows to honour his uncle’s memory by fighting crime as Spider-Man. Although he quickly gains a reputation as a mysterious masked saviour, Spider-Man’s presence and motives are questioned by the pugnacious J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), the editor of the Daily Bugle, who does everything in his power to tarnish Spider-Man’s name by branding him as a vigilante menace. This works in Peter’s favour, however, as he is able to sell Jameson exclusive and improbable pictures of Spider-Man in order to pay his way through college. However, his obsessive dedication to helping others as Spider-Man begins to put a strain on his personal life; Peter is fired from his job for being late and completely misses that Harry is now dating Mary Jane. On the plus side, this means Peter gets to interact with M. J. a bit more; since Harry is constantly trying to impress his father, he isn’t as attuned to her feelings and his solution to any problem is to spend money. As M. J. comes from an abusive home life, she wants more than frivolities; she needs to be seen as more than just a piece of eye candy for a change to have her voice and dreams heard. Although she is amazing by Spider-Man and fascinated by his mystery and abilities, Peter makes an equal impression by actually being there for her, listening to her, and offering advice, which soon comes to cause a bit of friction between him and Harry.

Osborn, obsessed with maintaining his funding, transforms himself into a supervillain.

Amidst all of this personal drama there’s Harry’s father, Norman. An affluent and well-respected scientist and businessman, Norman is absolutely dedicated to both his research and his company, to the point where he often neglects his son and appears to be somewhat ashamed of him for not aspiring to be more. Norman takes an immediate liking to Peter and the two bond over their shared love of science; Norman even offers Peter the respect he’s never shown to Harry when Peter graciously turns down a potential job offer and soon comes to be a surrogate father-figure in the troubled teen’s life. However, Norman is under an immense amount of pressure from his Board of Trustees; his experiments and research into producing a performance-enhancing drug and a weapons-capable glider have failed to impress and, desperate to ensure OsCorp continues to receive military funding, Norman test his drug on himself. The result is a violent and painful physical transformation that also causes his mind to snap, birthing the maniacal and uninhibited personality of the Green Goblin. Succumbing to his darker impulses, Norman avenges himself against the Board as the Green Goblin and comes into conflict with Spider-Man; unlike the petty thugs and criminals he’s fought before, Spider-Man finds the Green Goblin to be just as tough and durable as he but with the added benefit of all kinds of dangerous toys and weapons in his suit and glider. The Green Goblin admires the strength of Spider-Man’s heart and conviction and initially tries to tempt him into an alliance rather than causing death and destruction in needless conflict. Since this goes against his strict moral code, Spider-Man of course rejects this offer but their antagonism only escalates when Norman (who becomes increasingly unstable the more he gives in to the Goblin’s influence) pieces together that Peter and Spider-Man are one and the same. Armed with this knowledge, the Green Goblin targets Peter’s nearest in dearest, putting Aunt May in the hospital and luring him to the Queensboro Bridge (and a final confrontation) by taking Mary Jane as a hostage.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right away, I need to take some time to talk about Danny Elfman’s score. Initially, I wasn’t that big a fan of it; in typical Elfman fashion, it’s very dark and moody, which didn’t seem to immediately fit for a Spider-Man theme but it quickly grew on me and has since become synonymous with the character. It’s a little scary, a little ominous, but then it builds to this rousing crescendo that perfectly encapsulates the freedom, power, and fortitude of Spider-Man. It builds a sense of mystery and intrigue over the opening title sequence and is peppered throughout the film at key emotional moments but really comes to the forefront for the iconic final swing of the film, which was what sold the composition as a legitimate Spider-Man theme for me even if I hear a little too much Batman (Burton, 1989) and Darkman (Raimi, 1990) in it at times. Before I get into some of the film’s standout moments, I want to take some time to address some negatives. First of all, Maguire’s Spider-Man isn’t too great with the quips. One of the best things about Spider-Man is that he’s constantly babbling witticisms, insults, and nonsense while web-slinging and beating up bad guys. Even when being assaulted by the Sinister Six, he still has a daft comment to make and it’s one of his most enduring characteristics. Here, Peter does quip when under the mask but Maguire’s deliver is very stilted and uncomfortable (“It’s you who’s out, Gobby! Out of your mind!” stands out as a particularly low point) and, as much as I enjoy Tobey’s performance, he seems a little bit lost at times. Though he’s a great Peter and perfectly captures that nerdy, seventies characterisation of the character, it definitely took him a while to grow into the Spider-Man role and I think he just needed a little bit more direction and tutoring on how to work under the mask.

A coming-of-age story about teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and at a crossroads in their lives.

Similarly, I’m not a massive fan of Kirsten Dunst; she’s not so bad here but there just doesn’t seem to be that much chemistry between her and Maguire. She’s pretty enough and conveys a lot of layers to M. J.’s personality but she definitely improved in the sequels, though I can’t help but notice that she’s a bit of a slut (like, she’s dating Harry but flirts with Peter and then snogs Spider-Man?) Finally, some of the special effects obviously haven’t aged too well but I don’t begrudge the film for that as it basically set the standard and laid the foundation for all Spider-Man films to follow. There are also a lot of interesting and relatable themes at work in Spider-Man; crucially, the film is obviously about power and responsibility. Peter was so powerless for much of his life that he easily gets carried away by his superhuman abilities; at first, when he hits Flash, this isn’t a conscious decision on his part but he chooses to spend his day exploring his newfound abilities and to selfishly use them to try and earn money and impress a girl. While many bemoaned the addition of organic webbing to Peter’s repertoire, I always thought it was an inspired change; it made (and still makes) total sense to me that Peter would inherit that ability from the spider bite and it’s not like we don’t get that he’s a science nerd so I always thought (and still do) that this alteration was for the better and should’ve become the status quo. Plus, it plays into another theme of the movie: puberty. Spider-Man is a coming-of-age story for all three of its young characters but especially for Peter; they’re each at a crossroads, on the cusp of becoming adults, and trying to find their place in the world outside of high school but only Peter has the added pressure of actually, explicitly, becoming something else. Considering all of the pressure and confusion raging within him, it’s no wonder that he blows up in front of his uncle or that he selflessly and completely devotes himself to saving lives as Spider-Man after his tragic death.

Willem Dafoe steals the show as the Green Goblin by effortlessly switching personas on the fly.

Conversely, there are a number of amazing performances in the film; Cliff Robertson is superb as the kindly and benevolent Uncle Ben, conveying a stern, but fair, fatherly warmth and it’s utterly heart-breaking to see Peter go off at him in an adolescent rage and to then have to watch him die. Rosemary Harris is similarly loveable as Aunt May; far from the fragile, ignorant, annoying burden she is in the comics, Aunt May is a supportive, wise, and loving while still being a concern for Peter since she’s the only family he has left. Additionally, James Franco more than makes up for Maguire’s stumbles; there’s not a huge amount for him to do in this film and yet he manages to convey all of these complex and conflicting emotions and facets of Harry’s character. Harry craves Norman’s attention and affection but feels inadequate against his father, and Peter; even “stealing” M. J. from him doesn’t bring him the satisfaction he desires since, by then, Norman’s sanity is fraying and his obsession has shifted towards Spider-Man. The absolute highlight of the film’s supporting characters is, of course, J. K. Simmons as Jameson; I remember having such a smile on my  face when I first saw him and, even now, he so perfectly embodies the loud, obnoxious, demanding editor. Though essentially a tyrant who uses his paper to spread his own agenda, even Jameson is shown to have a moral code when he lies to the Green Goblin to protect Peter in a surprisingly impactful moment. If Simmons was having fun in his small role then Dafoe appears to be having the time of his life! Easily the most charismatic and memorable part of the film, Dafoe expertly walks the fine line between over the top and dead serious, switching on a dime between his two personalities and absolutely chewing up the scenery every time he’s on screen. The Green Goblin is fearsome, vindictive, and deadly, incinerating the Board members (some of whom were his close friends) and endangering lives without a second’s hesitation all to satisfy himself and, later, to lure out Spider-Man.

While many dislike the Goblin’s suit, I found the costumes and visuals to be impressive and fitting.

Unlike Maguire, Dafoe also knows exactly how to use the Goblin’s restrictive suit to his strengths, altering his voice and exaggerating his movements at every opportunity, and the scene where he talks to himself in the mirror (and to his mask) are all the proof you need that Dafoe made for one of the best supervillains in the genre. I mentioned before that some of the special effects haven’t held up too well and, while that is true (Spider-Man can look a little plastic-y at times, for example), the majority of them hold up extremely well thanks, largely, to Raimi incorporating a lot of traditional, practical effects; the Goblin’s suit and glider, for example, are usually always practical, as is the Spider-Man suit. While I’m not a massive fan of the raised webbing and the mask is a little too stiff, the Spidey suit looks absolutely incredible and is a fantastic recreation of the comic book artwork. I was never really too bothered by the Green Goblin’s restrictive, military suit; he wasn’t really a villain I had encountered all that much so I didn’t really care that he’d been visually altered. Now…yeah, I can see why people would be disappointed (especially considering Raimi dabbled in more faithful designs) but I find the helmet and its permanent, vicious smile to be quite unsettling and there’s something very off-putting about barely being able to see a masked killer’s eyes through a gruesome visage. Plus, the fights between Spider-Man and Green Goblin more than make up for this and I enjoy how they escalate throughout the film from a mid-air scuffle to the Goblin threatening Aunt May and their climatic (and vicious) battle.

Peter is devastated to unmask his foe and find his mentor, whose death only adds to his guilt.

Having pieced together Spider-Man’s true identity, the Green Goblin terrorises Aunt May and kidnaps M. J. (since “everyone” knows that Peter has been in love with her since he was a kid) to goad Spider-Man into a confrontation. Earlier, the Green Goblin offered Spider-Man the choice to join him, something Peter adamantly refused; angered by the insult, the Green Goblin forces him to make another choice: between M. J.’s life and the lives of a trolley car full of little kids. Like any good superhero, Spider-Man finds a way to save both, though at great physical strain on his part. Thanks to a gaggle of prideful New Yorkers, he’s able to lower M. J. and the kids to safety but is violently dragged into a brutal fist fight with the Green Goblin. Assaulted by the Goblin’s superior technology, Spider-Man is bloodied, beaten, and battered, his reflexes and strength effectively neutered by the Goblin’s unrelenting assault. Spider-Man’s vicious counterattack is halted by the revelation that it’s Norman under the helmet; pleading with Peter to spare him, Norman tries to manipulate and prey upon Peter’s good heart in one last cruel effort to kill his foe. Of course, Spidey’s reflexes kick in and Norman ends up skewered on his own glider; with his last breath, he begs Peter to keep the truth from Harry, a decision that weighs even heavier upon Peter when Harry swears on his father’s grave to make Spider-Man pay for killing him. Additionally, the entire escapade has taught Peter that his powers and responsibilities as Spider-Man mean that those closest to him will always be at risk, so he selflessly chooses to walk away from Mary Jane after she suddenly professes her love for him in order to continue putting others first as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

The Summary:
There’s something very pure, innocent, and wholesome about Spider-Man; since superhero films didn’t dominate the box office at the time, it was incredibly refreshing to see big-budget, serious adaptations being made of beloved comic book characters. Alongside Blade (Norrington, 1998) and X-Men (Singer, 2000), Spider-Man laid the foundations of the unstoppable juggernaut that we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and changed the way audiences (and Hollywood) thought about superhero films. Fundamentally, though, Spider-Man works as a love letter to the classic sixties and seventies Spider-Man stories; like Superman (Donner, 1978), the film can be cheesy and a little campy at times but that’s all part of the charm and direction Raimi is clearly shooting for. It’s not some gritty reimagining or part of a wider, colourful world of superheroes; it’s a very focused, carefree and yet poignant action/adventure film that exists within its own bubble, one that’s very close to our world but also a little brighter and maybe a little more fanciful and exaggerated but in all the right ways and it totally works for this version of the character. Spider-Man set the standard for how superhero films were made going forward; every subsequent adaptation had an origin story, a bit of a romantic sub-plot, and a villain who was in some way connected to the hero and it took a while for the genre to shake off those trappings but, here, they’re all fresh, new, and entirely fitting thanks to its timeless themes of power, responsibility, and maturity. Furthermore, it set the standard for all future Spider-Man movies; without Spider-Man, we wouldn’t have Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland, and without Raimi filmmakers wouldn’t have the visual language for how to convey Spider-Man’s costume, powers, and moral integrity. The technology, performances, villains, and scope of the character has changed, improved, and been expanded upon over time, even in Raimi’s sequels, but it all started here with this entertaining and whimsical roll of the dice that hits far more than it misses and still holds up incredibly well to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Spider-Man? How excited were you for the film back in the day and where does it rank for you against the many other Spider-Man movies? What did you think to Raimi’s approach to the character? Were you a fan of Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter and the Spider-Suit, and were you excited to see him return to the role? What did you think to the Green Goblin’s suit and Willem Dafoe’s performance? Do you think the film still holds up or do you prefer other filmic interpretations of the character? Whatever your opinion on Spider-Man, sign up to leave a comment or drop me a line on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Back Issues [Spidey Month]: The Amazing Spider-Man #14


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Story Title: “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin”
Published: 9 April 1964 (cover-dated July 1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
In 1962, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee followed up on his success with the Fantastic Four with Spider-Man; his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles and Spider-Man’s popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comics. Easily one of Spider-Man’s most devious and iconic enemies is the Green Goblin; although a number of people have assumed this elf-like guise, the most famous face behind the mask is Norman Osborn, industrialist and father to Peter’s best friend. Stan Lee’s initial pitch was very different from what the Green Goblin turned out to be, and he continued to clash with artist Steve Ditko over the character’s true identity. Although his identity was initially a mystery, the Green Goblin would go on to be a central figure in many of Spider-Man’s most prominent storylines and a recurring figure in Spidey’s life both in and outside of comics.

The Review:
According to the issue’s first splash page, the Green Goblin came about after a concentrated effort by the Marvel writing staff to deliver “the greatest 12¢ worth [they] can” and wastes no time in introducing readers to “a really different villain” by opening with the shadowy wrongdoer hard at work in his high-tech basement laboratory. There, the mysterious Green Goblin puts the finishing touches to his “flying broomstick”, a rocket-powered flying device that completes his fearsome, colourful costume. With his look complete, the Green Goblin meets with the Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan, and Ox), a trio of the city’s most notorious gangsters, and coerces them into working for him to defeat Spider-Man (who previously got the Enforcers arrested some time prior to this story) by intimidating them with sparks shot from his fingers. Strangely, the Green Goblin’s plan involves offering struggling filmmaker B. J. Cosmos the chance of a lifetime: a sure-fire action movie with the Green Goblin and the real Spider-Man as the stars!

The mysterious Green Goblin offers Spider-Man the chance to make bank on a Hollywood movie.

We then catch up with Peter Parker, who’s in a far better position, socially at least, than usual; not only did he get a 100% score in his last exam, but his intelligence earns him the admiration of Liz Allen, who not only coos over him but actually stands up to Eugene “Flash” Thompson when the football star continues to mock Peter for his lack of physical acumen. Peter’s surprise at seeing Liz leap to his defence and joy at seeing Flash taken down a peg or two is cut short when he hears news of the Green Goblin flying around the skies of Manhattan, so he quickly dashes off to confront the garishly garbed goblin as Spider-Man. Rather than getting into a fist fight, however, the Green Goblin tells Spidey about the movie opportunity and, despite his better judgement, the web-head goes to check it out and finds that the filmmaker is willing to pay him $50,000 to star in a movie that pits him against the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. Despite the fact that the last time he cashed in on his spider powers, Peter learned a harsh lesson about using his abilities responsibly, Spider-Man actually agrees and signs a contract since the cash would allow him to provide for his beloved Aunt May. Although receptionist Betty Brant isn’t best pleased at her man socialising with Hollywood starlets, and Aunt May worries about him making a big trip out to California, Peter is not only given license to get out on his trip but even assigned to cover the movie shoot by editor J. Jonah Jameson, thus promising even more profit from the gig.

Spider-Man is easily duped by the Green Goblin and attacked by the Enforcers.

Upon arrival, Spider-Man is amazed at B. J.’s make-up effects and doesn’t suspect that anything’s amiss (so much for his much-lauded spider-sense…), but quickly learns that he’s blundered into a trap when the Enforcers attack him during a “rehearsal”. Spider-Man’s agility and spider-sense help him to largely avoid the trio’s attacks, but he’s several disorientated when the Green Goblin tosses stun grenades at him and deftly avoids his web shooters thanks to his…*sigh*….rocket-powered broomstick. This gives the Enforcers the opportunity they need to dog-pile him, pummelling him mercilessly and leading to a common sequence where Peter musters all of his spider strength to throw them off and then whips up a “man-made dust storm” to temporarily blind his foes. The story then jumps back over the New York to find Aunt May already writing a letter to her nephew, Liz again standing up for Peter to Flash, and Betty continuing to suspect that Peter’s cheating on her over in Hollywood; I guess the point of this is to show that the never-ending drama in Peter’s life continues to churn over even when he’s not around, but the leaps in logic these characters make never fails to astound!

Of course the Hulk randomly shows up! I mean, why not?!

Thankfully, the story quickly returns to Spider-Man’s plight; the web-slinger takes cover in a nearby cave to catch his breath and ends up being trapped inside by, and with, the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. One by one, Spider-Man picks off the Enforcers; he nabs Montana, webs up Fancy Dan, and knocks out Ox with a single punch to the jaw, but the Green Goblin is not so easily ensnared thanks to burning away Spidey’s web net with his broomstick. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, who else should randomly appear in the cave but Doctor Bruce Banner’s enraged alter ego, the Incredible Hulk! Naturally, the Hulk attacks Spider-Man on sight and goes on a rampage, much to the Green Goblin’s glee. When Spider-Man’s attempts to reason with the Green Goliath fall on deaf ears, he’s forced to rely on his agility to avoid the Hulk’s attacks, stunned to see the beast tear through his webbing, and succeeds only in almost breaking his hand when he wallops the Hulk in the face! Realising that he can’t reason with or out-fight the Hulk, Spider-Man puts his health (and life) at risk by tricking the Hulk into smashing the boulder and freeing them from their confinement.

Spider-Man must settle for having survived as he’s left out of pocket and clueless to the Goblin’s identity.

Now back out in the open and able to swing again, Spider-Man turns his attention back to the Green Goblin; however, he’s too weak to properly overpower the Goblin’s broomstick and ends up falling to the water below. When he spots the Hulk heading back into the cave, Spider-Man is duty-bound to rescue the Enforcers before the Green Goliath can find and hurt them, and flees the scene to confront B. J. over his business associates. B. J. is aghast that the army would arrest his stars, but quickly hits on the genius idea of trying to sign the Hulk to an exclusive contract as a replacement antagonist. When Spidey arrives to talk about his fee, the web-slinger is left out of pocket due to the film being cancelled and given just enough money to cover his trip back to New York. Rather than be concerned about the Hulk being free out in the desert or question his willingness to sell his abilities out for fame and fortune, Peter returns to the city and ponders where and when the mysterious Green Goblin will strike next. Speaking of Spidey’s fiendish new foe, the story ends with the Green Goblin returning to his lair and lamenting his failure to destroy the web-spinner and position himself as the new head of a worldwide criminal syndicate. Still, the experience (and the unexpected appearance of the Hulk) teaches the Green Goblin the valuable lesson that one can never think of everything, but he consoles himself in his anonymity and resolves to strike even harder in his next criminal escapade.

The Summary:
Um…okay, so…Marvel claim, right from the first page of the story, that the Green Goblin will be this big, impressive, unbelievable new foe for Spider-Man and the fiend’s big debut plot is to trick Spider-Man into signing on the a film so the Green Goblin and his unimpressive goons can try and beat him up. I mean, as far as villainous plots go, it’s hardly tossing your girlfriend off a bridge or murdering countless innocents! While the Green Goblin would eventually live up to his hype and become arguably Spider-Man’s most dangerous villain ever, you’d never know it from this first issue; and you can’t even say that Marvel didn’t know how to debut new Spidey foes at the time as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus made a much more impressive debut that same year some months prior and he came across as a far more formidable foe.

Considering how important he would become, the Green Goblin makes an inauspicious debut.

Just about the only thing that the Green Goblin has going for him is the question of his true identity; when he’s not wearing his mask, his face is constantly obscured or in shadow and I can imagine this was incredibly intriguing at the time as it was uncommon for us readers to not know who Spidey’s villains were behind their colourful costumes. Rather than flying his iconic glider, the Green Goblin straddles a ridiculous rocket-power broomstick and tosses stun grenades instead of his trademark pumpkin bombs; he doesn’t seem to exhibit any superhuman powers, and yet is able to intimidate the Enforcers just by causing some sparkles to fly from his fingers (an ability that doesn’t show up again this issue and appears to have no actual function). The Green Goblin barely even fights with Spider-Man; instead, he sets the Enforcers against him, and these three are incredibly underwhelming characters. Sure, Ox is a brute and Montana has his trusty lasso and I guess Fancy Dan is supposed to be quite agile, but they’re never really portrayed as an actual threat even when they have the numbers advantage.

The Hulk completely overshadows the Green Goblin and only adds to the mess of the issue’s plot.

Then there’s the nonsensical inclusion of the Hulk! Now, I get it; Marvel loved to cram in random cameos from their other characters into stories at the time, and it’s incredibly possible that there’s more context for his appearance in his own comic, but all he really does is completely overshadow the Green Goblin and the main plot. Not only that, but Peter acts really out of character here; he signs up for a movie deal without hesitation despite his vow to use his powers responsibly rather than for personal gain and is not only easily duped by the Green Goblin but is spider-sense is unreliable, at best, at warning him of the obvious dangers around him. The action is pretty good, to be fair, but then it always is in Spider-Man comics; ultimately, this is a good showcase for Spidey as you get to see him hold his own against the Hulk, but the entire selling point of the story was the conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and we get so little of that that the Goblin may as well have not been in the story at all. This is the very definition of style over substance; the Green Goblin is mysterious and colourful but hardly makes a great first impression and the story is full of filler, nonsense, and overshadowed by the Hulk. This could have been a cool opportunity to have this strange, maniacal imp-like villain torment Spider-Man and constantly give Spidey the slip but, instead, we get this weird plot about him duping him with a movie deal, and then Spidey just checks out of there rather than trying to chase after him, resulting in an inauspicious first appearance for someone who would become one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on the Green Goblin’s inauspicious debut? Were you a fan of the villain at the time or did he win you over in a different story (and, if so, which one?) What did you think to Peter’s willingness to sign up for a movie deal and shirk his responsibilities? Who is your favourite Spider-Man villain and why? What did you think to the Hulk showing up in this story? Whatever your thoughts on the Green Goblin, sign up to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (Xbox 360)


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 7 September 2010
Developer: Beenox
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
Eager to capitalise on his success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee conceived of Peter Parker/Spider-Man alongside Steve Ditko and the troubled teenage superhero first appeared in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. A near-instant hit, Spider-Man quickly made the leap to cartoons, films, action figures, and a number of videogames as well as seeing numerous other incarnations in the pages of Marvel Comics. In 2010, developers Beenox brought together four distinct versions of Spider-Man, each with their own aesthetic design and playstyle, for Activision’s next Spider-Man game. The developers sought to have the bosses of the game be just as distinct, as well as including some first-person sequences to break up the action and employing the talents of many notable Spider-Man voice actors to pay homage to the character’s long history. Although the game received mostly positive reviews, in addition to some downloadable content (DLC), it was eventually de-listed after Activision lost the Spider-Man license.

The Plot:
During a fight between Spider-Man and Quentin Beck/Mysterio, the mythical Tablet of Order and Chaos is shattered into fragments, causing chaos throughout the multiverse and falling into the hands of some of Spidey’s most notorious foes. To retrieve the pieces of the Tablet, Cassandra Webb/Madame Web unites four versions of Spider-Man from across the multiverse: the classic “Amazing” Spider-Man, the grim and stoic Spider-Man Noir, Miguel O’Hara of the futuristic 2099, and the black-suited teenaged “Ultimate” Spider-Man.

Gameplay:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a linear, mission-based third-person action title that has players battle a number of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes as four distinctively different versions of Spider-Man, each with their own unique appearance, levels, and personality. While some Spider-Men have slightly different abilities, combat styles, and gameplay, there are many fundamental gameplay mechanics which the four Spider-Men share: they all jump with A (and tapping A again in mid-air will perform a double jump), can land a fast strike with X and a strong attack with Y (and holding down either button performs a charge attack and an air launcher, respectively), and web or grab objects and enemies with B and you can mix and match these attack commands to string together a few basic combos. Naturally, you can web-sling by holding the Right Trigger; release the trigger and hold it again to perform successive web-slings or tap RT to perform a super handy web-zip to quickly dash to perches and platforms. Tapping the Right Bumper sees you fire off a quick web shot (which I found to be largely useless), you can press up on the directional pad to enable the spider-sense (which acts almost exactly like the “Detective Mode” from the Batman: Arkham videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) and allows you to see through walls and obstacles to highlight enemies and collectibles), and you can also hold the Left Trigger to enter an “Evasive Stance” that lets you dodge and roll away from enemy attacks.

While the Amazing Spider-Man takes the direct approach, his Noir counterpart sticks to the shadows.

Each Spider-Man has a few different options available to them that make their gameplay a little different; the Amazing variant is a pretty standard Spider-Man with no additional abilities whose gameplay consists of a mixture of combat, web-slinging, and wall-crawling with some very light puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. His Noir counterpart may not have any additional abilities but he plays considerably different from his mulitversal allies; for one thing, Spider-Man Noir’s world is rendered entirely in the moody black-and-white of the 1930s and, for another, he’s far more reliant on stealth. Again, like the Batman: Arkham games, Spider-Man Noir has to stick to the shadows and avoid spotlights and being spotted by gangsters, who will fill him full of lead if they spot him and briefly hunt him down unless you flee to the shadows. This means you have to stay up high, out of the way, and in the darkness, sneaking up on enemies or taking them down from a variety of positions with the B button. Spider-Man Noir does also get to engage enemies in direct combat but only in specifically designed sections; most of your time will be spent webbing up gangsters from the shadows, which is pretty fun but nowhere near as challenging or varied as in the Batman: Arkham games as Spider-Man Noir doesn’t have any gadgets or options to distract or toy with his prey.

Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 have special abilities that are unique to them.

Both Spider-Man 2099 and Ultimate Spider-Man make use of the Left Bumper; since he’s wearing the bestial black suit, Ultimate Spider-Man can build up a “Rage” meter by attacking enemies and, when it’s full, pressing LB sees him fly into a rage and attack enemies faster and with more powerful tendril attacks. In this regard, Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be more geared towards combat but, in practise, I found his gameplay mostly the same to his Amazing counterpart but with the added bonus of a useful attack buff. Spider-Man 2099 can utilise LB to activate his “Accelerated Vision”, which briefly slows down time and allows him to better dodge and react to incoming attacks and obstacles, and this meter will automatically refills over time. Spider-Man 2099 also has to endure a number of freefall sections that see you holding A to dive faster towards a target and use B to grab them and X to punch them all while avoiding debris and other obstacles.

Annoying first-person segments and rescue missions mix up the gameplay.

Other than that, the four Spider-Men share the remaining gameplay mechanics: this means you’ll be mashing B on certain walls and objects to rip them down or toss them at enemies and bosses, rescuing and protecting civilians and scientists by fending off enemies, swinging over to them, picking them up with B, and carrying them to a safety point; and taking part in some awkward first-person punching sequences. These appear during the majority of the game’s boss battles and see you using the two analogue sticks to punch or dodge, which is an interesting mechanic to add in but ultimately seems like something that could have been restricted to just the Amazing Spider-Man to help him stand out from the others. Other challenges include web-slinging away from danger (sometimes towards the camera, which can be very disorientating), web-zipping to enemies perched above, destroying certain objects, or activating or deactivating generators. Each level generally repeats these sections at least three times; if you have to rescue three civilians in the early part of a level, you can bet that you’ll be rescuing five a little later on, for example.

The game’s not especially difficult but can be long and tedious at times.

When not in combat or an action situation, each Spider-Man’s health will slowly regenerate, though you can also replenish it with Gold Spider Emblems scattered throughout each level. Occasionally, you’ll find water, acid, or electrified pits that will cause an instant respawn; other times, if you fall or fail a web-sling, you can recover with RT to save yourself. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has three difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, and Hard), though the game isn’t massively difficult on Normal. Hard mode obviously results in more durable and aggressive enemies, and mixes up their placement and how many hits will defeat a boss, but there are many checkpoints and respawn points sprinkled through the game’s levels, which can get quite long and tedious as you progress. Additionally, like many Spider-Man videogames, mechanics such as wall-crawling and web-slinging can get a bit janky in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions thanks to the controls bugging out when on walls and ceilings and the camera proving unreliable and jerky at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension’s levels are entirely linear; there’s no free roaming or overworld to be found here, which is fine as that can be a little daunting, and instead you’ll explore a variety of levels that can be both large and intimidating and narrow and claustrophobic. When in wider, more open areas, your options for exploration are largely limited by walls (both visible and invisible) and gameplay objectives that constantly push you forwards. Still, there are at least a wide variety of locations on offer; you’ll scale Osborn Tower in the city, a disused desert mine, a ruin-filled jungle, and a hydroelectric dam amongst others. Primarily, the game leans towards a vibrant, quasi-cel-shaded style, especially for the Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Men, though not to the extent where it looks like ugly 2D characters monstrously rendered in 3D as in other games.

The game is full of visual variety in its levels, graphics, and characters.

Where the game really shines, though, are in the Noir and 2099 levels; the Noir levels are rendered entirely in monochrome, with sporadic use of colour only appearing when using the spider-sense. The heavy shadows and stark contrast of white on black immediately makes these sections stand out not just from the rest of the game but also its closest competitors, the Batman: Arkham titles, and reminds more of MadWorld (PlatinumGames, 2009) and Frank Miller’s Sin City comics and films (ibid, 1991 to 2002; ibid and Rodriguez, 2005; 2014). Similarly, the 2099 levels are an explosion of futuristic neon and technology; indeed, I found the 2009 levels to be a bit of a sensory overload and a bit difficult to digest, making it tricky to know where I was supposed to go since every level was so bustling with lights, metal, and colours. Still, it’s a great way to make each Spider-Man’s locations even more visually distinct from each other, though there was maybe a missed opportunity to mix things up a bit later in the game to have, say, Spider-Man Noir in the 2099 world.

The graphics hold up really well but it’s the voice work that really makes the game shine.

While the game’s music isn’t much more than the standard superhero fare of rousing horns and tunes, the voice acting is absolutely top notch! Each Spider-Man is voiced by a notable and popular Spidey voice actor from his many cartoons, which saw not only Dan Gilvezan’s return to the character after a twenty-five year absence but also the return of Christopher Daniel Bares, who voiced the Spider-Man I grew up with in the nineties cartoon. Neil Patrick Harris is easily the best of the four, though; he always makes for a fun and fitting Spider-Man and his delivery really sells the character’s many quips and witticisms. Stan Lee narrates the start and end of each chapter and Nolan North even reprises his role as Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool, who steals the show in his oil rig-turned-reality show by constantly berating and taunting Ultimate Spider-Man and breaking the fourth wall at every opportunity. The in-game graphics are brilliant; levels and enemies are as visually distinct as the four Spider-Man and the game runs very fast and smooth (when the camera isn’t freaking out on you). The cutscenes are equally impressive, if a bit inconsistent as they’re comprised of the in-game graphics, higher quality cinematics, and partially animated sequences, but they tell the story well enough and are always fun to watch.

Enemies and Bosses:
There are a number of goons to pit your spider-powers against in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but, for the most part, once you’ve faced the first wave of enemies in the first level, you’ll encounter the same troupes again and again but in new skins. You’ll find regular enemies who come at you with their fists and melee weapons (baseball bats and swords and such), gun-toting enemies who either chip away at your health or blast you full of holes when playing as Spider-Man Noir, shield-carrying enemies who you must zip towards and hop over with A to attack from behind, and larger enemies who will put up a block that you need to break with your air launcher attack. Other enemies include smaller versions or duplicates of the level’s main foe that can generally be taken out in one or two hits but swarm all over you, larger enemies that toss out grenades or seeking rockets, and all manner of zombies and genetically-engineered monstrosities. One aspect I really enjoyed was that enemies can actually attack and harm each other, which is incredibly helpful when swarmed by foes, and you can also throw objects such as barrels and flaming debris at enemies to help whittle them (or, at least, their health) down.

The Amazing Spider-Man battles Kraven, the Sandman, and the Juggernaut for the Tablet pieces.

Each level is structured around locating, pursuing, and/or confronting one of Spider-Man’s villains and retrieving a piece of the Tablet from them; thus, each level concludes in a boss battle but you’ll actually battle each boss a number of times throughout each level. The first boss the Amazing Spider-Man comes up against is Sergei Kravinoff/Kraven the Hunter, who leads you on a merry jaunt through the jungle, shoots at you through his sniper rifle, and initially battles you inside of a caged arena. Here, you’ll need to dodge and evade his jumping strikes and counterattack in response, web-zip to the convenient columns to avoid the floor spikes, and finish him off with some first-person punching. In the second battle, he’s much stronger and faster thanks to the Tablet fragment but the strategy remains the same; take advantage of the spawning columns to avoid his attacks and strike as and when you can but don’t linger in one area for too long or he’ll knock your ass down. Later, you’ll have to pursue Flint Marko/The Sandman through an abandoned mine, using your web pull to drench his raging sand tornado and battle his gigantic form within the mine itself. Here, you must trick him into slamming his fists into water carts to muddy them up and make them vulnerable, then toss barrels at his face to defeat him. Afterwards, he draws you within his chaotic sandstorm and his personality begins to unravel; you must web-zip around the floating debris avoiding his giant fists and tossing water barrels at his face so you can deal some real damage and put him down once and for all. Finally, you’ll battle and purse Cain Marko/The Juggernaut in a construction site, through the city, and in the wreckage of Osborn Tower; initially, you simply have to avoid his charge attack to cause him to ram into specific towers and beat on him when he’s lodged in the ground, but his later empowered form sees him add a whole bunch of annoying ground pounds and smashes to his repertoire. Still, as long as you dodge away and stay away from his powerful grapple moves, it’s not too difficult to avoid his attacks and projectiles and put a big beating on him when prompted.  

Spider-Man Noir’s bosses can be a bit tricky, confusing, and mundane, respectively.

In the train yard, Spider-Man Noir follows Joseph Lorenzini/Hammerhead and it’s in the first fight against him that you might hit a considerable difficulty wall; Hammerhead uses a huge Gatling gun to keep you at bay whenever his lights (or the spotlights in the arena) spot even the slightest part of you. After taking cover behind walls, you must wait for Hammerhead to rotate away and run around behind him, staying wide and in the shadows, and press B when prompted to put a beating on him but the game doesn’t make this very clear and Hammerhead spots you way too easily. In the second fight, you have to avoid his machine gun fire and toss barrels at him to force him to blow up a piece of machinery with his rocket launcher, then zip up to the higher platform as he fires wildly into the fog to do big damage with a takedown, and then avoid his head-on charge to finish him off. Later, Spider-Man Noir pursues Adrian Toomes/The Vulture through the grimy streets and confronts him in a large warehouse; the Vulture is another annoying and confusing boss as he darts around slicing at you and tossing knives and you’re encouraged to use the spotlights to blind him and deal big damage but it’s unnecessarily random and difficult to get him into position to actually utilise this mechanic. When powered by the Tablet fragment, the Vulture’s claws and bite need to be avoided in first-person and then you go through the previous battle again but this time he also tosses Molotov cocktails at you (which you can cause him to drop to damage him instead). Finally, Spider-Man Noir tracks Norman Osborn/The Goblin to a warped fairground and has a number of first-person encounters with him before finally facing him inside the circus tent. The Goblin isn’t really all that, though; simply web towards him and jump over him to attack the glowing weak spot on his back, then zip up to higher ground when the lights go out to hit a takedown, before fending off his goons (or causing the Goblin to attack them himself) and avoiding the swipes from his column and pummel him when he’s stuck in the ground.

Ultimate Spider-Man’s bosses were probably the most fun and varied for me.

Ultimate Spider-Man’s first foe is Max Dillon/Electro, who he battles and pursues through a hydroelectric power plant to a huge dam; the first fight is quite annoying as Electro blasts at you with a huge laser and protects himself with an electrical field but the second bout is initially quite confusing as Electro teleports across generators and shields himself from your attacks. Soon, he drops to the floor and sends electrical blasts your way, but these leave him exhausted and vulnerable to your attacks. After fending off his electrical minions and draining his health, he’ll use the Tablet fragment to grow to gigantic properties and become invulnerable, similar to the Sandman fight. To defeat this giant Electro, you need to use your webbing on his hands to cause him to damage the dam behind him while avoiding his laser beams. When the fight switches to the other side of the dam, you’ll need to survive against the enemies he spawns and avoid his fists on an increasingly-small platform until prompted to web his head so the breached dam can finish him. While on the oil rig, Spider-Man is forced to take part in Deadpool’s warped reality show; this inevitably leads to a showdown between them that sees Deadpool teleporting around, slicing at you with his swords, and shooting at you all while his devoted fanboys rush in to join the fight. When he’s standing with a B prompt above his head, don’t web-zip over to him or else he’ll just teleport away; instead, rush over and approach from the ground to best him. After outrunning a tidal wave, you’ll battle him inside a caged arena, where he uses the Tablet to duplicate himself and rains explosive punching bags between rounds. However, simply evade these, and his attacks, and target each of his duplicates in turn and he’ll soon go down, but the final battle against Carnage is particularly striking since the creature has ransacked the Triskelion and corrupted its inhabitants into bloodthirsty monsters! In the first fight against Carnage, it leaps about the remains and wreckage of Quinjets and Helicarriers swiping and skewering you with spikes, but is perfectly susceptible to your attacks and can be dealt big damage by web-zipping it into the conveniently-placed furnaces nearby. In the second phase, Carnage encases itself in a bulbous, tentacled shield that some mechs will destroy with flamethrowers; this leads to a first-person sequence and Carnage blasting spikes, maniacally hopping around the place, and it draining your health to replenish its own if it gets hold of you!

Spider-Man 2099’s bosses tend to be very samey, tedious, and chaotic.

Spider-Man 2099 first butts heads with the Hobgoblin during a freefall sequence that sees you pummelling him and smashing him through obstacles. When you hit the ground, Hobgoblin hovers out of reach and tosses pumpkin bombs at you that you must grab with your webs and throw back at him to down him for a beating. After being empowered by the Tablet, the Hobgoblin conjures gargoyles to distract you and adds a bombardment of bombs to his arsenal, but the strategy remains the same; he’s just faster and more aggressive and you have to finish him off with a mid-air, first-person pummelling. O’Hara’s second boss is Kron Stone/The Scorpion, who leaves explosive, acidic eggs and spawns smaller versions of himself; the Scorpion initially charges at you and tries to smash you with his tail, but if you evade these attacks he’s left vulnerable to a beating and you can easily toss his eggs at him when he takes the high ground to spit acid at you and use B to beat him down. When powered by the Tablet, things are mostly the same but there’s also a large pit in middle of the room that Scorpion pounces at you in and fills with acid; however, throwing eggs at him will cause him to take a dip and be left wide open for a beating. Finally, O’Hara has to fight through Doctor Serena Patel/Doctor Octopus’ elaborate facility, avoiding her mechanical arms in freefall and trashing her gigantic Mecharms before confronting her at the heart of the complex. Here, you need to web pull three generators to lower her shield while avoiding her lasers, then jump over her energy shockwaves to do damage on her. When she powers up, she scuttles around fully shielded and firing lasers across the ground, but you can easily trick her into offing her own minions and defeat her by tossing their explosive cores at her.

All four Spider-Man take it in turns to whittle down and defeat Mysterio in the finale.

Once all of the bosses are beaten, the levels cleared, and the Tablets recovered, all four Spider-Man are thrown into a dimension of pure chaos as Mysterio uses the completed Tablet to become a gigantic, all-powerful God. First, you have to web-zip across floating, fragment platforms as Spider-Man Noir; there are no enemies to fight but you must make sure to avoid the light or else Mysterio will fire projectiles your way, and then simply press B when prompted to web pull his head into a rock. Ultimate Spider-Man then has to fend off a whole bunch of illusionary goons and then destroy the floating orbs after they’ve conjured an illusionary version of a boss, which hurts Mysterio, before quickly web-zipping across the wreckage when Mysterio destroys your platform and then hitting another web pull. Spider-Man 2099 has the easiest time in this fight as you simply have to freefall past Mysterio’s projectiles and magic obstacles to grab and pummel him, but the Amazing Spider-Man has to endure a gruelling gauntlet against a whole bunch of monsters while avoiding Mysterio’s projectiles. Once the enemies are cleared away, you can use the web pull to send a rock flying at Mysterio and must then web-zip to another, smaller platform and repeat the process until he’s downed for one last smash of his helmet to defeat his aspirations for good.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the various levels in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, you may be disappointed to find that there aren’t any power-ups to find beyond the odd health-restoring Gold Spider Emblem. However, every level contains a number of challenges that make up the “Web of Destiny”; while most of these are unavoidable and story-based, many others are optional an easily missed unless you check the Web in each level. You may have to complete certain sections under a time limit, defeat certain enemies in certain ways, or perform certain moves a number of times in order to clear the challenges but the reward is some extra “Spider Essence”.

Collecting Spider Essence allows you to upgrade your abilities and unlock new costumes.

As you clear defeat enemies and bosses, clear levels, and complete these challenges, you’ll be awarded with Spider Essence, which essentially acts as a combination of currency and experience points and can be spent upgrading your health and regenerative capabilities, and unlocking new costumes and attacks, all of which make the game even easier and more chaotic as you plough through enemies with a longer health bar and additional strikes. You can also acquire additional Spider Essence by finding Silver Spider Tokens and Hidden Spiders in every level, which also count towards completing the Web of Destiny, so it pays to give each area a quick scan with your spider-sense for any collectibles.

Additional Features:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has forty-two Achievements on offer, with the vast majority of them popping as you play through the story and take down the game’s villains. There are also Achievements for completing the Web of Destiny, unlocking all the upgrades, and finding every Spider Token and Hidden Spider, which adds some replayability to the game. Other Achievements pop when you defeat up to five-hundred enemies, complete the game on each difficulty (which are stackable), maintain Ultimate Spider-Man’s Rage mode for a full minute, and perform a combo of up to two-hundred hits but there aren’t too many fun or quirky ones that ask you to go off the beaten track. Otherwise, that’s about it; you receive either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal and unlock character models and concept art after clearing levels and there were some additional costumes for those who pre-ordered the game back in the day but there’s not really anything else to come back to besides any Achievements you missed. It might have been nice to include a boss rush or a survival mode, or as mentioned earlier mix and match the Spider-Man in a free play mode, but the Web of Destiny will keep you pretty busy for a few hours, I’m sure.

The Summary:
I’ve wanted to play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for years; sadly, I missed out on it when it first released, and the game has become very expensive and hard to come by since then. Thankfully, I was able to snap it up and finally get to grips with it and it was actually a pretty good way to spend a few hours. It’s not especially long or difficult, at least not on Normal mode, and can probably be finished in a day if you play non-stop from morning the late evening but there’s a fair amount to come back to once you’re done. Fittingly, the four Spider-Men are the main highlight of the game; each one looks, sounds, and plays a little differently from the other and it’s fun to go nuts with Ultimate Spider-Man’s rage and then stealthily stalk gangster as Spider-Man Noir. Splitting the game into individual levels helps to keep things interesting and fun, but levels do tend to drag on and enemy and boss variety doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Most of the bosses boil down to winning one of those annoying first-person sequences, pursuing them through the level, battling their first form (usually with hit-and-run tactics, using their own attacks against them, or taking advantage of them getting stuck) and then fighting their Tablet form, which is either a giant version of the boss or a faster, more powerful version. A janky camera and awkward wall-crawling and web-slinging can make the game frustrating but these are recurring concerns in Spider-Man videogames and, overall, I found the game to be pretty fun and entertaining for the voice acting and visual variety alone.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you played Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions? If so, what did you think to it? Which of the four Spider-Men was your favourite? What did you think to the way the game handled the four Spider-Men and the different playstyles? Which level and boss battle was your favourite (or most frustrating)? Are you a fan of Spider-Man teaming up with his multiversal incarnations?? Which Spider-Man videogame is your favourite? Whatever you think, sign up and leave a comment or let me know on my social media and check in next Friday for more from Spider-Man Month.

Back Issues [Spider-Man Day]: The Amazing Spider-Man #1


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Story Title: “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon!”
Published: 1 March 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
By 1962, Marvel Comics had achieved incredible success with the Fantastic Four and, eager to follow up on this, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee sought to create a teenaged superhero for his younger readers to identify with. Inspired by a fly climbing up his office wall, Lee created Spider-Man (with the emphasis on the hyphen) and turned to artist Steve Ditko to finalise the character’s costume and accessories. Spider-Man’s debut almost didn’t happen, however, as Marvel publisher Martin Goodman disliked the concept and relegated the story to the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. However, Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time; Spider-Man’s subsequent popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and The Amazing Spider-Man has been in publication ever since.

The Review:
The issue begins with what has, in my experience, become a tried and true staple of all Spider-Man comics and that is the recap of Spider-Man’s origin. Some time after the death of Uncle Ben and bringing his murderer to justice as Spider-Man, Peter Parker recounts to himself (and the reader) the story of how he was bitten by a radioactive spider, took on a costumed persona to try and earn some money, and inadvertently caused his uncle’s death by not using his powers responsibly.

Maybe the other kids are right to mock Peter; he should have taken cash in hand!

Now, he and his beloved Aunt May are in a bit of a bind; they have no money to pay their bills and the landlord is literally on their doorstep demanding the rent! Although Peter offers to quit school to get a job, May insists that he continue his studies to become the scientist his uncle always dreamed he would be and, very briefly, Peter considers using his superhuman abilities to commit crimes to pay the bills. Quickly, though, he realises that his Aunt May would be devastated if he was ever caught and imprisoned and, instead, decides to fall back on show business. His duel commitments as Spider-Man and bookish nature continue to make Peter a laughing stock at school since all the hip kids of the sixties want to do is have fun and “jive” rather than study. Still, they would be amazed if they knew that Peter was really Spider-Man, who puts on a dazzling show at the town hall but, while he gets paid, he’s unable to actually get a hold of the money since he not only foolishly asks for a cheque but he asks that it’s made out to “Spider-Man”! I mean, come on, Pete; at least take cash in hand! At the same time, Spidey finds public opinion of him is immediately swayed thanks to the efforts of J. Jonah Jameson, writer and editor of the Daily Bugle, who not only writes a scathing editorial branding Spidey a “menace” but also goes all over New York City delivering lectures that paint Spidey as a bad influence and an outlaw compared to “real heroes” like his son, astronaut John Jameson, because he hides behind a mask.

Spider-Man runs rings around the Fantastic Four when they try to contain him.

Although many aren’t taken in by Jameson’s words, his efforts are enough to put an end to Spidey’s media appearances. Peter is similarly driven to frustration at his inability to get a part-time job and the fact that Aunt May has resorted to pawning her jewellery to make ends meet. The next day, Peter is on hand to witness John Jameson lose control of a space capsule shortly after launch after the guidance device malfunctions. While the guys in charge of the launch fail to think of a way to save the astronaut, Peter suits up as Spider-Man and, despite Jameson’s protests, hitches a ride on a plane to intervene. After webbing himself to the capsule, Spidey is able to manually engage the emergency chute and the capsule glides safely to the ground. However, despite his good deed, Peter is shocked and angered to find that Jameson has called for Spider-Man’s arrest following the incident and has even publicly blamed the wall-crawler for the entire thing as a means to fool the public into thinking him a hero. This time, public opinion is swayed massively in Jameson’s favour and a wanted notice is posted for Spidey’s capture; even worse, Aunt May also believes Spider-Man to be a dangerous criminal. Thankfully, in the next story, Peter hits upon the genius idea of trying to repair his reputation (and make some cash) by joining the much-loved Fantastic Four, thinking the team would jump at the chance to work with a super-powered teenager (why, especially when they have Johnny Storm/The Human Torch on the team already, is anybody’s guess). Since you apparently can’t just walk into the Baxter Building, Peter does the only natural thing and breaks in as Spider-Man; unsure of his intentions, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic activates the building’s self-defence measures and tries to hold him captive in a plexi-glass cage.

The Chameleon impersonates Spider-Man to steal military plans!

Contrary to the now-iconic front cover image, Spidey immediately breaks free of this trap and, as a result, gets into a tussle with the Fantastic Four. He tosses Benjamin Grimm/The Thing aside with ease, webs up Mr. Fantastic’s elastic arms, easily outmanoeuvres Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl’s pathetic efforts to ensnare him in a rope thanks to his spider-sense, and uses his fantastic agility to run rings around the Human Torch. Eventually, cooler heads prevail and the five are able to talk it out. However, when Spidey learns that the Fantastic Four are a non-profit organisation, and that they are in doubt about his reputation thanks to Jameson, he promptly leaves, disgruntled. Meanwhile, at a military installation across the city, Dmitri Smerdyakov/The Chameleon uses his incredibly life-like masks and disguises to steal documents from a restricted area to sell to Soviet Russia. After hearing of Spidey’s failed attempt to join the Fantastic Four, and his status as a public menace, the Chameleon not only deduces that Spidey must be desperate but also that he would make for a perfect fall guy for his plot to steal more missile defence plans. To that end, he uses his fancy technology to broadcast a message that only Spider-Man, with his heightened senses, would be able to hear (the Chameleon apparently being smart enough to work that out as well, conveniently) and, unable to pass up the chance to make some money, Peter (oddly referred to as “Peter Palmer” in one panel) heads to respond to the call.

Spidey apprehends the Chameleon but does little to repair his reputation.

At the same time, the Chameleon masquerades as Spidey and steals the plans using a specially-created web gun and fleeing in a helicopter right as the real Spidey arrives to be accosted by the cops. Realised he’s been played for a fool, and having spotted the helicopter’s escape, Spidey dramatically slingshots and parachutes his way across the city using his webs and then steals a motorboat to track the Chameleon to a Soviet submarine. Despite the Chameleon’s best efforts, Spider-Man is able to force him to the ground and convince the cops of his innocence. However, the Chameleon escapes custody using a smoke pellet and slipping into another face mask, that slippery devil! Despite being out of web fluid, Spider-Man is easily able to track the Chameleon down in the local vicinity using his spider-sense but, just as he nabs the crook, the cops accost Spidey, believing him to be the fake! Enraged and despondent, Spider-Man escapes into the night completely unaware that the cops did catch the Chameleon in the very next panel and thus proving that he was innocent all along.

The Summary:
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is a pretty decent comic, overall. Like all comic books published in the sixties, it suffers a little bit from the narrative style of the time but, unlike others I’ve reviewed from around this time, these are nowhere near as bad; characters aren’t constantly yabbering on in “hip” slang, for instance, and while Spidey and the Chameleon do constantly narrate their actions as they go, it’s not as intrusive as in other comics. As a result, I found this an enjoyable enough read but it’s not as good as it could be simply because it wastes quite a bit of time reminding readers of Spider-Man’s origin. Still, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 quickly establishes many of the character traits and recurring themes that would plague Peter throughout his career; mainly, money troubles, public opinion, Jameson’s endless crusade, and the frail nature of his Aunt May.

I’ve always found the Chameleon to be an underwhelming villain but he’s good enough here.

Peter Parker is a youth constantly on the short end of life; nothing ever seems to work out for him in either of his guises and he is constantly beaten down by society no matter what he does, and yet he perseveres. This aspiring quality is emphasised here; though Peter does get angry and dejected at his lot in life, he never gives in to the temptation towards crime and is steadfast in his decision to use his powers for good. One good thing that comes from this issue is the answer to the question of who Spidey’s first super-villain was and the answer, disappointingly, was the Chameleon. It might just be me but I’ve never been a fan of this character, or of stories of mistaken identity and fraud in my superhero comics, but thankfully that latter aspect is only a small part of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. If anything, more time could have been spent on the Chameleon framing Spidey for crimes; this would have made Jameson’s tirade against the web-slinger make a little bit more sense (he just comes across as an asshole and a blowhard here), to say nothing to turning the public (and the Fantastic Four) against him and adding to Peter’s woes.

The Fantastic Four dropped in for what amounted to a quick cameo amidst some classic Spidey action.

Also, I feel like the front cover is deliberately misleading; clearly designed to attract readers of the Fantastic Four, who were Marvel’s first big superhero success story, it kind of implies a greater conflict with the group that, in reality, is confined to just a few panels. This is good, on the one hand, as Spidey never needed their help in getting out of danger or anything but it does kind of set the foundation for a bad practice in Marvel (and all of comics for that matter) to use popular or established characters to sell their new releases (ironically, Spider-Man would come to be one of the most infamous examples of this). Still, the comic is full of relatable teenage woes and angst, colourful and larger-than-life characters, and set the standard for Spidey’s status quo going forward. There could maybe have been a little more action and web-slinging amidst all the angst but it’s still an enjoyable read and a must-have for any die-hard Spider-Man fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Spider-Man’s iconic debut solo outing? Were you a fan of the character at the time or were you introduced to him through some other means and, if so, what were they? How relatable did (or do you) find Spider-Man as a character? What is your favourite Spider-Man storyline, costume, or character and why? What did you think to the Chameleon being his first villain? Do you like the angle that the public is so easily turned against Spidey or do you think it doesn’t make much sense given how many superheroes run around New York? How are you celebrating Spider-Man Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for Spider-Man Month starting this Friday!

Talking Movies [Captain America Month]: Captain America: Civil War


First appearing in 1941, Marvel Comics’ star-spangled super soldier, Steve Rogers/Captain America, has become one of Marvel’s most recognisable and celebrated characters not just for his super patriotism but also for being a prominent member and leader of Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers. Having successfully made the jump to live-action, Cap is now a widely celebrated, mainstream superhero and, since American’s celebrated Independence Day this month, what better way to celebrate this than by spending every Tuesday in July paying tribute to the star-spangled man with a plan himself!


Released: 6 May 2016
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Brühl, and Chadwick Boseman

The Plot:
After saving the world from a near-extinction event, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) work alongside a new team of Avengers. However, Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) unpredictable powers damage their credibility and spell the end of the team unless they agree to fall under the jurisdiction of the world’s governments. This causes tensions between Steve and the other Avengers, particularly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), that are only further exacerbated when Helmut Zemo (Brühl) activates James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier’s (Stan) brainwashing and inspires a conflict within Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Background:
Considering that Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014) was such a massive hit and that, by 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had basically become an unstoppable franchise juggernaut, a third Captain America movie was never in question. The first film of Phase Three of the MCU was originally revealed under a very different title before it was revealed to be taking inspiration from the controversial storyline of the same name. Pitched as a psychological thriller, Captain America: Civil War quickly became the biggest solo Marvel movie when many returning characters and Avengers signed on to feature. The film saw not only the debut of a new team of Avengers and the introduction of T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman) but also the long-awaited inclusion of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU. The directors lobbied hard to include Spider-Man and, after much negotiating, Marvel were able to reach an agreement with Sony Pictures to recast and share the character. Though ostensibly Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War was incredibly successful; it made over $1.150 billion and was the highest-grossing film of 2016. Like its predecessor, the film was almost universally praised; while some criticised the film’s bloated cast and premise, many were impressed with the film’s action and intrigue and the dramatic way it fractured the Avengers to set the stage for the MCU’s biggest film yet.

The Review:
I honestly can’t say that I really had much of a reaction when I found out that the third Captain America movie wouldn’t be tackling the Serpent Society; I only really know the group from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010 to 2012) cartoon, where I found them to be annoying and over-used. However, I was a bit concerned when it was revealed that Marvel Studios would be adapting the “Civil War” (Millar, et al, 2006 to 2007) storyline as not only was I not a fan of how out of character everyone (especially Iron Man) acted in that story but the MCU Avengers had just ended Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015) on a high note and, like the downfall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), it seemed a bit too soon to be tearing these characters apart when they were still so new as a group.

Cap’s efforts to train a new Avengers team are disrupted when his loyalties are divided.

One thing I’ve always found odd about the “Civil War” storyline is the fact that Captain America, the living embodiment of America’s ideals, is the one fighting against the government and Stark, the arrogant industrialist who actively spits in the face of governmental boards, is the one pushing for registration and culpability. Yet, it sends a clear message when the bastion of truth and freedom finds something oppressive about the ruling body and Steve is a proud man who sees the world in old-fashioned shades of black and white and has learned enough about the modern world to become suspicious of those who wield too much political power and who just wants to do the right thing without compromise. The trailers and hype for the film excited me and I was keen to see a Marvel solo movie featuring so many additional costumed characters in supporting roles as I am a big fan of that in my superhero movies after years of them all living in isolated bubbles. Plus, even with the expanded cast, the film remains, at its core, a Captain America story and is completely focused on Cap’s divided loyalties between his Avengers team-mates and his old friend-turned-brainwashed assassin, Bucky. Cap begins the film as the field commander of the newly-formed team of Avengers we first saw at the end of Age of Ultron; as always, he is all business when on the job and determined to teach the younger members of the team, like Wanda Maximoff, how to best scope out potential targets and situations and build a rapport as a team.

Wanda’s unpredictable powers are the catalyst for the film’s events.

The catalyst for the eventual conflict within the Avengers is Wanda; unlike the other members of the Avengers, she’s still very young, inexperienced, and an outsider. Add to that the fact that her “Hex Powers” are both unpredictable and volatile and she is a bit of a powder keg, despite her generally calm and composed demeanour. Deep down, she just wants to help people and do the best she can so, when she instinctively uses her powers to hurl Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo) into the air to keep his suicide bomb from killing innocents, she is devastated when her throw goes awry and kills several Wakandan humanitarians. Although Steve tries to console her, rightfully pointing out that no-one, however (super)powerful can save everyone, she only really feels a connection with the Vision (Paul Bettany), another being born of an Infinity Stone to whom she has grown very close and who desires to not only explore his abilities and humanity but who also seeks to understand the nature of the Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead.

The Avengers are divided on the Sokovia Accords, which would see them conform or retire.

Cap’s team is also comprised of his friends, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Mackie) and Black Widow. Now much more comfortable in his role as a superhero, the Falcon has built a camaraderie with the other Avengers and is a vital member of the team thanks to his drone, Redwing, and his specialised flight suit, both of which allow him to provide unprecedented air support. Natasha, meanwhile, continues to be an absolute bad-ass in the field, striking with speed, precision, and power, while also sharing the responsibility of teaching Wanda how to conduct herself out in the field. They, and many of their team mates, live and train at a specialist compound, paid for by Stark’s not-inconsiderable funds. Stark, meanwhile, has semi-retired from the superhero life and is only brought back into the fold after the incident in Lagos which, especially after the devastating events in Sokovia in Age of Ultron, call into question the unchallenged actions of the Avengers. Thus, in a continuation of his growing sense of impending cosmic danger and his desire to protect the planet by any means necessary (and due to his guilt at being responsible for collateral damage caused by the Avengers’ actions), Stark is immediately onboard with the “Sokovia Accords”. Although Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross’s (William Hurt), now promoted to Secretary of State, acknowledges that the world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt, he stresses that they must register to answer to a democratic committee before acting so that they can be properly held accountable for their actions. The Sokovia Accords rattle each member of the team in different ways based on their previous experiences and relationships; James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Vision, for example, look at the numbers and the orders and, influenced by their relationship with Stark, believe that signing the Accords is the only logical action whereas Sam is adamant that it will only be a matter of time before the government screw them over.

Zemo plots to destroy the Avengers from the inside out and is focused only on his vengeance.

Steve, ever the soldier and pragmatist, argues against “[surrendering] their right to choose” and his conviction to take a stand against being controlled, even by the United States government, is galvanised after the death of his former flame, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who firmly believed in standing up for her beliefs. However, when it appears as though Bucky has attacked the ratification of the Accords and killed the peace-affirming Wakandan king, T’Chaka (John Kani), Steve makes it his mission to personally track down his former friend and bring him in before he can be arrested by the authorities. T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa, overwhelmed by grief and bloodlust, dons the ceremonial Vibranium suit of the Black Panther to hunt down and kill Bucky, causing tensions to bubble to boiling point. It is into this tumultuous storm of ideals, emotions, and conflicting beliefs that Zemo enters the fray. A survivor from Sokovia who relentlessly goes on a hunt torturing and murdering Hydra operatives to acquire “Mission report. December 16. 1991”, a document that proves the final spark to ignite the titular civil war within the Avengers. Zemo has acquired the Soviet’s book of codewords and is able, through his charm and false documents, to gain access to Bucky after he is arrested and activate him in order to acquire the information he seeks. Bucky, who has been living off the grid and on the run since the end of The Winter Soldier, continues to suffer from decades of cryogenic stasis, manipulation, brainwashing, and memory wiping, which have made him a confused and purely instinctual creature. Although Steve still remembers their time together as friends and the entirety of Bucky’s past, Bucky is haunted by fragmented memories of his time as an assassin and naturally paranoid, lashing out at friend and foe alike when they try to reach him.

Everyone, especially Black Panther, is after Bucky thanks to Zemo’s machinations.

While Wanda shoulders a lot of the guilt for what happened in Lagos, Steve feels he is also to blame as he was distracted by Rumlow’s mention of Bucky. Still, he is steadfast that what he, and the other Avengers, do cannot be regulated by a governing body, especially after how deeply entrenched Hydra was into S.H.I.E.L.D. This causes a clash of ideals and beliefs between and Stark; showing his partial growth as a character, Stark is now more than willing to compromise and work within the system to keep them in check and also to ensure that the team stays together but Steve is adamant that they shouldn’t have to answer to anyone lest they be stopped from intervening where they are most needed. While the Sokovia Accords themselves probably would have divided the Avengers enough to cause some kind of conflict, they potentially wouldn’t have come to blows if it wasn’t for Zemo’s manipulations and Bucky’s apparent culpability in T’Chaka’s death. When he comes to his senses, Bucky reveals that he was just one of many Winter Soldiers created by the soviets and that Zemo was responsible for the bombing at the ratification. Stark, however, remains oblivious to the deception that has taken place and takes it upon himself to lead his allies in apprehending Bucky, even if it means recruiting the young and relatively untested Spider-Man to help throw Cap off his game and fighting against his allies for the greater good. Steve, realising that he is now, once again, a fugitive, puts together a team of his own to defend Bucky and fight their way to uncovering and exposing Zemo’s plot. To this end, he recruits Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and, on Sam’s suggestion, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to help him out, and such is the strength of Captain America’s conviction and fortitude that he is able to convince ex-cons like Scott, retired heroes like Clint (both of whom have familial responsibilities), and Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) to put themselves and their careers at risk to help his cause.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Being as it’s basically an Avengers movie in disguise, Captain America: Civil War is a natural escalation of The Winter Soldier in every way. As a result, it’s bigger and far more intricate and bombastic than the previous Captain America movies but, arguably, maybe not the definitive ending to a trilogy of standalone movies in the same way as, say, Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) tried to be. However, there is a very good reason for this and that is that, at this point, MCU movies were much more about focusing on a singular hero but also expanding their shared world exponentially in the lead-up to their biggest movies ever. Despite its heavy subject matter and action-packed events, the film also has time for absolute tone-perfect comedy; Bucky and Sam’s reaction to Steve’s admittedly awkward kiss with Sharon, Scott’s gushing over meeting Captain America and the other Avengers, and Spider-Man’s incessant quips and references during the big airport fight all brilliantly break the tension and add some pitch-perfect levity to the film.

Tom Holland made an immediate and exhilarating impression as the all-new Spider-Man.

Of course, one of the main selling points of the film is the climatic fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man and the introduction of Spider-Man to the MCU. As much as I loved Andrew Garfield in the role and still think it would’ve been a lot simpler and easier to simply fold him and the Amazing Spider-Man films (Webb, 2012 to 2014) into the MCU, casting a younger actor as an inexperienced version of the character was a great way to introduce Spider-Man with a clean slate and Tom Holland played the role to perfection. Although enthusiastic about getting a shot to team up with heavy-weights like Iron Man and the Vision and eager to impress both Stark and the Avengers, Spider-Man is in way over his head; still he holds his own and delivers both quips for days and some of the best web-slinging in just one big fight scene even after (at the time) nearly fifteen years of Spider-Man movies. Though young and operating in a homemade suit that allows him to use his powers responsibly, Peter is still portrayed as something of a child prodigy as he manufactures his own webbing and web shooters and, despite not mentioning his beloved Uncle Ben by name, has the same strict moral code as any other iteration of the character, making for perhaps the most well-rounded portrayal even after many decades of Spider-Man adaptations.

The fight between the two teams soon escalates when Rhodey is critically injured.

The clash between Team Cap and Team Iron Man isn’t just about Spider-Man, though, or even Steve and Stark; instead, it’s a reluctant fight between close friends and allies, many of whom use known weaknesses against their team mates in order to gain a bit more ground. While you might think that a guy like Hawkeye is no match for the Vision, his various trick arrows do a decent job of disrupting the synthezoid and burying Iron Man beneath a pile of cars. Similarly, Cap is technically physically outmatched and reluctant to fight against a teenager like Spider-Man but is able to best him using his shield and distracting him with falling debris. Another star of the conflict is Ant-Man who, in addition to enlarging vehicles with Pym Particles, makes an entertaining and amusing debut as Giant-Man, and we even get to see Hawkeye and Black Widow go at it, albeit with an acknowledged reluctance. Even Stark doesn’t actually want to fight; he brings his team to the airport to convince Cap to stand down out of respect for their friendship and for the sake of the team, and specifically orders them to subdue their former allies rather than grievously harm them. However, despite this, and as entertaining as this clash between the two groups of Avengers is, things end up becoming much too real when an errant shot from the Vision ends up crippling Rhodey from the waist down, which only adds further fuel to Stark’s fire.

Cap is forced to defend Bucky from Stark in the finale as the Avengers implode from within.

Both Steve and Stark make compelling arguments for and against signing the Sokovia Accords but, as is to be expected of the storyline and these larger than life characters, take their argument to the extreme. In the source material, this led to Stark hunting down and imprisoning his fellow heroes in the ultimate act of uncompromising betrayal, becoming something of a tyrant in the process. Here, he doesn’t go quite that far until he has absolutely no other choice; despite his grating personality, it’s clear that Stark sees Steve and the others as trusted friends and allies and like Natasha, is more than willing to compromise to keep the team together, in check, and to advocate for amendments to the Accords later down the line. However, both Steve and Stark are pushed too far when the others continuously refuses to see things from their perspective and to compromise their integrity or conscience. After the climatic airport fight, however, and the truth of Zemo’s manipulations is revealed, Stark swallows his pride and heads to Siberia to investigate the other Winter Soldiers. Unfortunately, his conflict with Steve and Bucky is reignited when it is revealed that Bucky was brainwashed into killing Howard and Maria Stark (John Slattery and Hope Davis, respectively) to acquire super soldier serum for the Soviets. Stark’s introduction to the film, and a major sub-plot of his previous appearances, dealt with his unresolved issues with his father and, upon learning that both of his parents were taken from him, he flies into a mindless rage and attacks the two in a fantastically realised and emotional fight scene. Though torn between his friendship with Stark and his loyalty to Bucky, Steve ultimately has no choice but to choose to defend his old friend in order to get him the help he needs and, in the process, Zemo’s master plan succeeds as the Avengers are torn apart and Cap gives up his shield to go on the run with Bucky.

It’s a bittersweet ending as the Avengers are left divided and scattered thanks to Zemo’s efforts.

This finale is the perfect culmination of a film that is packed full of fantastic action sequences and fight scenes; expanding upon the brutal, gritty action of The Winter Soldier, Civil War continues to deliver some hard-hitting action from the likes of Cap and Black Widow, especially. Their fight against Rumlow is a great way to open the film and, following an equally engaging conflict of ideologies and beliefs, the action only escalates as Steve desperately tries to reach Bucky and bring him in independently only to end up fighting against the German police in a cramped stairwell and racing across the rooftops and streets of Berlin. Black Panther joins the battle for this latter sequence in a brilliant introduction to the character that only scratches the surface of his physical capabilities. Unlike other MCU villains who, by this point, showed glimmers of complex personalities and had somewhat multi-faceted personalities but were often just dark mirrors of the titular heroes, Zemo is quite the layered villain. Unlike his comic book counterpart (who, visually, he wouldn’t come to resemble for some time), Zemo isn’t some crazed fascist dictator or maniacal supervillain. Instead, he’s a former Sokovian soldier haunted by the loss of his family in Sokovia due to the Avengers’ actions and who wants to bring them down from the inside out in order to ensure that they never again threaten the safety of innocents. Simultaneously, Zemo has no love for Hydra either and wishes to see both costumed heroes and villains made a thing of the past; he also views his crusade to be a suicide mission as, once he sees Iron Man driven to the point of murderous rage, he considers his mission complete and prepares to kill himself. He is stopped, however, by Black Panther who, having witnessed the Avengers tear themselves apart over grief and rage, chooses to spare his father’s killer and see him brought to true justice. The damage, however, is done; even though the film ends with Cap going to rescue his friends from imprisonment on the Raft and offering an olive branch to Stark, the Avengers are effectively disbanded and wouldn’t come together again until the greatest threat imaginable came knocking.

The Summary:
As brilliant as the last two Captain America films were, Captain America: Civil War was a massive escalation for the character. In many ways, you could make the argument that Marvel Studios could have had the third Cap film focus solely on his hunt for Bucky and made a third Avengers movie for the “Civil War” storyline, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing its different characters and themes. None of the extra Avengers or the wider conflict between them overshadow Cap’s story or the continuation of his character arc and story with Bucky and, if anything, all of the different conflicts and personalities help to bolster this narrative. At its core, Civil War is a film about secrets, truths, and complex ideologies; both Steve and Stark have valid points for and against superhero registration and Bucky is a tortured soul responsible for an untold number of tragedies and atrocities and yet he wasn’t in full control of himself and was forced into perpetrating those acts and that, as much as their friendship, motivates Steve to protect him to see that he gets help rather than be unjustly imprisoned or killed. Black Panther vows to kill Bucky to avenge his father but chooses to spare Zemo when he learns the truth, showing a fundamental moral compass that helps to define him in his brief screen time. Stark is also driven to avenge his parents when he learns that the Winter Soldier killed them and the result is the complete fracturing of any trust between him and Steve, disassembling the Avengers and, similar to the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier, fundamentally changing the nature of the MCU to ensure the stakes are as dire as possible for when Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes calling. As under-rated a gem as Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) is and as impressively thrilling as The Winter Soldier is, Civil War edges both out in terms of sheer spectacle and showed that even a solo MCU film could have Avengers-level implications for Marvel’s shared universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Captain America: Civil War? What did you think to the conflict between Steve and Stark and were you on Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Did you enjoy seeing the other Avengers in the film or do you feel like it got a bit too crowded for a Captain America movie? What did you think about Zemo, his character and motivations, and Bucky’s overarching story? Are you a fan of the “Civil War” comic book? Did you enjoy the debut of Black Panther and Spider-Man? What did you think to the decision to tear the Avengers apart at that stage in the larger MCU story? Are there any Captain America stories and villains you would have liked to seen make it to the big screen? How have you been celebrating the Star-Spangled Avenger this month? Whatever you think about Civil War, or Captain America in general, drop a comment down below.

Screen Time [Multiverse Madness]: What If…? (Season One)


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Air Date: 11 August 2021 to 6 October 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Ross Marquand, and Jeffrey Wright

The Background:
As a big comic book fan, it’s been absolutely amazing seeing the MCU become a multimedia juggernaut and some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved characters and concepts come to life on screen. Although Marvel Studios dabbled in television ventures with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix shows, they really doubled down on TV productions for the MCU’s fourth phase to produce content for their parent company’s streaming service, Disney+. With MCU head honcho Kevin Feige behind them, the Disney+ shows aimed to maintain and expand the ongoing continuity of the MCU, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Marvel Studios would delve so deeply into the multiverse that we’d seen an adaptation of What If…? What If…? began life as a semi-consistent series of hypothetical, often light-hearted (or downright dark), stories that presented Marvel heroes and storylines with subtle (or major) changes. The Disney+ show followed this format and recontextualised the premise as an animated anthology series that would explore what the MCU would be like if characters or events had unfolded differently. The show’s animation was headed by Stephan Franck and sported a cel-shaded design that emphasised hyper-realism; as the MCU was officially exploring the concept of the multiverse, episodes could be part of the franchise’s overall canon and many recognisable faces, names, and voices returned to put a new spin on their iconic roles; however, although voice recording was able to continue remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, this production sadly marked the final performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. What If…? was received extremely well and the series was praised as a love-letter to the fans; despite some reservations about the format and presentation, reviews were primarily positive and spin-offs were quickly announced as either being in production or on the cards. Crucially, the multiversal scope of the series would be revisited in the live-action MCU films and characters and concepts from the show even seem set to cross over into the main MCU canon going forward.

The Plot:
From beyond the multiverse, the cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher (Wright) observes as the events of the MCU unfold differently, resulting in Peggy Carter (Atwell) becoming Captain Carter, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) becoming a force for evil, a zombie infection running rampant, and T’Challa (Boseman) becoming Star-Lord. However, when a version of Ultron (Marquand) acquires the Infinity Stones and threatens the entire multiverse, the Watcher must break his oath of non-interference to assemble a heroic force capable of fending off this threat.

The Review:
Because of the nature of the series, I think it’d be much better to look at each individual episode, what they do and how they work by themselves, and then talk about some overall themes and give my opinion on the entire concept down in the summary. The first season of What If…? is a nine-episode series of animated adventures that examine familiar characters and events in the MCU but change things about in subtle, or major, ways to create entirely new stories as part of the MCU multiverse. These alternate realities are observed by the enigmatic Watcher, a cosmic being bound only to observe and never directly interfere, and who acts as the narrator of the show. The Watcher’s opening narration explains the basics of the multiverse; as we were told in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), time and reality in the MCU is not a single, linear, fixed path. Instead, multiple timelines and alternate universes exist, with the deviations occurring from different decisions being made at key moments in time, however big or small. In this regard, time is less like a line and more like a river, with an infinite number of paths trailing off all over the place, and the Watcher acts as our impassive guide to this vast multiverse. The Watcher also serves as our narrator, quickly catching us up on the events preceding the episode and explaining when, where, and how each divergent timeline was created; however, he has taken a solemn vow to never interfere in the events he witnesses, no matter how gruesome or extreme they are.

Peggy takes Steve’s place and is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop Hydra’s interdimensional beast.

The series kicks off with “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” (Andrews, 2021), essentially a retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011). Unlike in the original timeline, Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter chooses to stay and watch on the ground as skinny, ill-bodied Private Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) prepares to become a super soldier. However, when the Nazi sleeper agent attacks the experiment this time around, Peggy manages to keep him from escaping with a sample of the serum but Steve is wounded, so Peggy ignores the orders of her commanding officer, John Flynn (Bradley Whitford), and voluntarily becomes enhanced to the peak of human physical conditioning before the experiment is lost forever. Promoted to head of the SSR, Flynn is outraged at the result; disgusted that the super soldier serum was wasted on a woman, he refuses to allow Peggy to actively participate in the war, much less on the front line, out of sheer prejudice, much to her chagrin and fury. As before, Hydra figurehead Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Marquand) seeks to usurp Adolf Hitler and claim victory for himself with the mysterious and all-powerful Tesseract. Flynn, however, is unimpressed by the threat and unwilling to risk even one man, let alone an entire platoon, on recovering the cube; luckily, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) believes so strongly in the Tesseract’s threat that he furnishes Peggy with a striking Union Jack-style costume and a familiar Vibranium shield so that she can single-handedly recover the Tesseract from Schmidt’s Hydra colleague, Doctor Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decimating an entire convoy of Hydra’s soldiers with efficiency and glee and earning herself an official promotion to “Captain Carter”. Although he lost his best shot at fighting alongside his friend, Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve is fully supportive of Peggy’s newfound strength and abilities and only too glad to pilot Stark’s Tesseract-powered “Hydra Stomper” armour. However, following an action-packed montage, Steve is apparently lost during a familiar assault on an armoured train; though grief-stricken, Peggy forces information out of Zola and leads an all-out assault against the Red Skull’s fortress, where they find Steve alive but are too late to stop the Red Skull from opening a dimensional rift with the Tesseract. The tentacles of a gigantic, interdimensional, Lovecraftian creature breach the portal, killing Schmidt and threatening all life on Earth; Peggy and Steve fend off the beast as Stark tries to shut down the portal, but Captain Carter is forced to sacrifice herself to the unknown by physically forcing the creature through the rift. The story then skips ahead to find the Tesseract being reactivated, spitting Peggy and the remains of the beast’s tentacles out into a Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) facility where she meets Director Nick Fury (Jackson) and Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and learns the bittersweet news that the Allied Forces won the war but she is now seventy years in the future, and thus forever cut off from her friends and loved ones.

T’Challa is a galaxy-renowned force for good who has a positive influence on even the Mad Titan himself!

While the first episode arguably played things a little safe, we really see the potential of a What If…? series with the second episode, “What If…T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” (Andrews, 2021), which wildly deviates from the story of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). Young T’Challa (Maddix Robinson) longed to explore beyond Wakanda but was shielded from the chaotic outside world by his beloved and overprotective father, T’Chaka (John Kani), only to be abducted due to a mistake by Yondu Udonta’s (Michael Rooker) subordinates. Surprisingly, he was excited at embarking on adventures throughout the cosmos with the Ravagers and, while T’Challa doesn’t possess the Black Panther’s near-superhuman abilities, he sports all of Peter Quill’s (Brian T. Delaney) gadgets in addition to his Wakandan fighting prowess. His greatest assets, however, are his charisma, diplomacy, and reputation as a Robin Hood-type figure. Indeed, T’Challa is far more competent, notorious, and respected than his mainstream MCU counterpart; not only does Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) know who he is, he views sparring with Star-Lord as the greatest honour and willingly joins his crew. T’Challa’s positive influence means the Ravagers put their skills towards helping others rather than for personal reward, thus sparing Drax the Destroyer’s (Fred Tatasciore) family and even convincing Thanos (Josh Brolin) that his destructive aspirations weren’t the answer to the galaxy’s problems! Touched by T’Challa’s mission to save others after the presumed destruction of Wakanda, Nebula (Karen Gillan), now a far less violent and far more beautiful woman, proposes a heist to steal the Embers of Genesis, a cosmic dust capable of ending galactic hunger, from Taneleer Tivan/The Collector (Benicio del Toro). While sneaking around the Collector’s museum, T’Challa finds a Wakandan spacecraft and is angered to find that Yondu lied to him about Wakanda in order to help him realise his true calling as an adventurer. The two reconcile in the best way possible: by teaming up to fight with this much more formidable version of the Collector, who is enhanced by weapons, technology, and items retrieved from some of the MCU’s most powerful and prominent individuals and races. Thanks to their teamwork, the Collector is disarmed and left at the mercy of his captives, and T’Challa forgives Yondu’s deception before reuniting with T’Chaka and his people in Wakanda, bringing his two families together in celebration over their mutual friend. Across the world, however, a greater threat awaits when Ego (Kurt Russell) comes looking for his son, here a mere Dairy Queen employee.

Pym is revealed as the culprit but, after taking him into custody, Loki usurps his threat and conquers the world!

“What If…the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” (Andrews, 2021) takes us back to the middle of Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) and Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow’s (Lake Bell) latest effort to recruit Tony Stark/Iron Man (Mick Wingert) to the Avengers Initiative. Fury is horrified when his attempt to stave off Stark’s palladium poisoning apparently has the unexpected side effect of killing the would-be Avenger; this tragedy is quickly followed by Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) being accidentally killed by Hawkeye’s errant arrow and the archer later being found dead while locked in an impenetrable S.H.I.E.L.D. cell. Fury suspects that his recruits are being targeted by an unknown party, and charges Natasha to escape Brock Rumlow’s (Frank Grillo) custody and make contact with Doctor Betty Ross (Stephanie Panisello). Though initially distrustful of Natasha due to her association with those who’ve hounded her friend, colleague, and former lover, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Betty is convinced to take a closer look at the injector used on Stark and theorises that a microscopic projectile fired from the needle killed the superhero. Hungry for blood after learning of Hawkeye’s death, Natasha agrees with Fury’s theory that their killer is targeting Avengers recruits; unfortunately, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Mike McGill) arrives looking to arrest Banner and sparks his transformation into the rampaging Hulk as in his solo film. However, the seemingly immortal Green Goliath also falls victim to the mysterious killer when he violently explodes from the inside out, and things escalate even further when Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) arrives looking to avenge Thor’s death. Fury manages to buy himself one day to solve Thor’s murder on the promise of delivering the culprit to the God of Mischief and, when Natasha finds that a dead agent’s credentials were used to access S.H.I.E.L.D.’s database, she’s brutally beaten to death by an unseen assailant, and only able to tell Fury that all the deaths are relating to “hope”. This, however, is enough to piece together the perpetrator’s true identity: Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who targeted Fury’s recruits in the guise of the size-altering Yellowjacket after his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), died while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. A broken, bitter, twisted old man, Pym blames Fury and has become a deranged killer due to his grief and anger. However, Pym and his tech are outmatched when Fury is revealed to be Loki in disguise but, after Pym is defeated and taken into Asgardian custody, Loki double-crosses Fury and declares himself ruler of humanity. To combat this threat, Fury gets back to work assembling his super team, starting with calling Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Alexandra Daniels) back to Earth and uncovering Captain America’s frozen body.

A grief-stricken Dr. Strange finds he cannot save his love no matter how many times he tries to alter the past.

The show shifts over to the world of magic and mysticism for “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a world where Dr. Strange and Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) are still a couple in a loving relationship. Fully supportive and enamoured by Dr. Strange, Christine encourages his ego and his skills as a surgeon, but sadly her influence doesn’t extend to his driving skills. However, in this world, Dr. Strange is relatively unharmed from the car crash that took his MCU counterpart’s hands but is left grief-stricken when Christine dies as a result of his negligence. In a bid to fill the void in his life, and his heart, Strange travels the world and, once again, ends up studying the mystic arts at Kamar-Taj under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Like his mainstream counterpart, Strange becomes the Master of the Mystic Arts after the Ancient One’s death and successfully bargains with the Dread Dormammu (Cumberbatch), but remains preoccupied with the mistakes of his past and the promises offered by the Eye of Agamotto’s time-bending abilities. Haunted by memories of happier times with Christine, Strange ignores the warnings of the Ancient One and his manservant, Wong (Benedict Wong), and uses the Eye to place his current consciousness into the body of his past self. Unfortunately, the tragedy still occurs no matter how safely he drives, which route he takes, or even his refusal to go to the award speech as Christine dies again and again whether he’s there or what he does. Dr. Strange’s anguish at being unable to save Christine isn’t helped by the Ancient One’s explanation that her death cannot be averted as it would create a potentially universe-destroying time paradox (if Strange prevents her death, he won’t become a sorcerer and be able to go back and save her).

Strange Supreme saves Christine, but only briefly and at the cost everything that ever is or was in his reality.

Refusing to believe that Christine is fated to die, and angered at the Ancient One’s refusal to help him break this “absolute point” in time, Dr. Strange uses the Eye to flee from the confrontation and consult the ancient tomes of the Lost Library of Cagliostro. There, he meets O’Bengh (Ike Amadi) and learns that one can potentially gain the power he requires by absorbing magical beings; thus, Dr. Strange conjures a variety of demonic, Lovecraftian, and magical creatures (including gnomes, familiars, dragons, and even the octopus-like creature Captain Carter fought). When they won’t willingly share their power, he resolves to forcibly take it, and quickly becomes obsessed with gaining more and more magical power from these entities over the course of centauries to become “Strange Supreme”. As he does so, he grows increasingly monstrous and takes on more of their attributes, but is shocked to learn from O’Bengh that he’ll never be powerful enough to achieve his dreams due to the Ancient One using magic from the Dark Dimension to split him in two and create two concurrent timelines. His other half, who took Wong’s advice and moved on from Christine’s death, is charged by an echo of the Ancient One to oppose his dark doppelgänger before his ambition erases all of reality. When Strange Supreme’s attempts to coerce his other half into joining his cause are rejected, a magical battle ensues that spans multiple dimensions. Despite Wong’s protective spells and Strange’s efforts to talk down his dark half, Strange Supreme’s centauries of basking in the powers of countless magical beings makes him the superior and he’s ultimately able to absorb his missing half. Finally whole again, Strange Supreme succeeds in undoing Christine’s death but is transformed into a demonic being by the effort this requires; understandably, she is horrified by his nightmarish appearance, and he’s left helpless to stop the time paradox from devouring all of his reality. Desperate to preserve the world, he begs the Watcher for help but he refuses to get involved, despite wishing to punish Strange Supreme’s reckless arrogance, and the once Sorcerer Supreme is left alone, despondent, and remorseful in the tiniest pocket of reality with nothing but his grief and regret for company.

Banner is horrified to find the world, and many of its heroes, infected by a zombie virus.

One popular, recurring storyline in Marvel Comics in recent years has been the Marvel Zombies spin-off (Various, 2005 to present) that tells of a devastating zombie plague overwhelming the Marvel universe (and beyond). A version of this reality is explored in “What If…Zombies?!” (Andrews, 2021), which finds the Hulk crash-landing into the Sanctum Sanctorum as in Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) only to find it, and the streets of New York City, deserted. When Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Wong arrive to take care of Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Banner’s elation soon turns to horror when the three are revealed to be vicious, flesh-eating zombies who tear Thanos’s children to shreds, instantly infecting them in the process, and Banner is only saved from the same fate thanks to the timely intervention of Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, a swarm of ants commanded by Hope van Dyne/The Wasp, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Hudson Thames). Spider-Man’s amusing orientation video shows that the MCU’s zombies largely confirm to the “rules” commonly associated with their kind; they’re decomposing corpses with a voracious hunger who turn others with a single bite and can only be killed by removing the head or destroying the brain. However, they’re not as mindless or shambling as traditional zombies; they’re intelligent enough to co-ordinate their attacks and utilise tech like the Iron Man armour and magic like the Sling Rings. In a change of pace, the Watcher reveals a definite origin for the zombie outbreak by relating how Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) became infected with the virus while stuck in the Quantum Realm; when she bit Hank Pym, he brought the virus back with him and the entire world was quickly overrun once the Avengers were turned.

The survivors narrowly escape Zombie Wanda, completely unaware of a greater threat waiting in Wakanda.

Banner joins up with the few uninfected survivors and learns from Okoye (Danai Gurira) of a possible cure at Camp Lehigh, New Jersey; the group travel to the Grand Central Station, where they’re attacked by zombified versions of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye, and Captain America. Although they lose Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), the group is able to get the train working and fend off the zombies thanks to Okoye and the Wasp. However, the train is attacked by Zombie Cap, who infects Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and forces Bucky to end his undead existence, retrieving his shield in the process, but Hope is also infected from a small cut she receives after disposing of Sharon. Although Peter tries to remain optimistic that she’ll be cured before she can turn, Hope sacrifices herself to atone for her part in causing the outbreak by carrying the group through a horde of zombies and dropping them off at Camp Lehigh. There, they find the zombies refuse to breach the camp thanks to the presence of the Mind Stone in the Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head; he and the severed head of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reveal that the Mind Stone’s properties can reverse the zombie virus, and the group is excited to spread the cure throughout the world from Wakanda. However, Banner learns that they’re not the first to respond to the Vision’s beacon, and Bucky is horrified to find that the Vision has been feeding parts of other survivors (including T’Challa) to a zombified version of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) since she’s proven resistant to the Mind Stone and he’s been unable to kill her due to his love for her. When Wanda breaks free and proves uncontrollable due to her powers and hunger, the Vision rips the Mind Stone out of his head to atone for his actions and the group’s escape is covered by Bucky and the Hulk, who finally emerges from Banner’s psyche and is able to resist the zombie’s bite and hold back Wanda so the others can take off. The one-legged T’Challa, beheaded Lang, and shellshocked Peter console themselves with the knowledge that they’ll be able to save the world once they reach Wakanda, completely unaware that the nation has already succumbed to the infection and is under the rule of a zombified Thanos and his partially-completed Infinity Gauntlet!

Killmonger rescues Stark and becomes his most trusted confidante to kill his way to his birthright.

We then go back to where the MCU all started in “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” (Andrews, 2021), which recreates the opening moments of Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) with one key difference: right as Tony Stark is about to be injured by one of his own missiles, he’s saved by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens/Killmonger (Jordan), who fends off the Ten Rings soldiers looking to kidnap Stark and thus means that the genius, billionaire philanthropist never learns the humility or courage that led to him becoming Iron Man. Instead, he remains a conceited, arrogant, self-serving glory hound who believes that he needs to build bigger, better weapons to protect America’s interests. To that end, he drafts in Killmonger, who wastes no time in publicly outing Obadiah Stane (Kiff VandenHeuvel) as the man who bankrolled the Ten Rings’ attack on Stark, and Stark is so grateful to his saviour that he quickly promotes Killmonger to his new Chief Operations Officer, alienating Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Beth Hoyt) in the process. Killmonger swiftly becomes Stark’s closest friend and confidante and, together, they create robot drones, the “Liberators”, based on Killmonger’s fandom for anime. Killmonger pushes Stark to use Vibranium as a power source for the Liberators, and Stark sends in Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to steal some from Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). However, the Black Panther attacks the meeting to recover stolen Vibranium, only for Killmonger to reveal his true intentions and kill T’Challa with one of Stark’s weapons. He chastises Rhodey for wearing the uniform of his oppressors and kills him with the Black Panther’s claw to make it seem like they killed each other; thanks to Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Bettany), however, Killmonger’s actions are revealed to Stark. Stark tries to avenge his friend’s murder using a Liberator, but Killmonger easily bests the drone and kills Stark with a Dora Milaje spear, which escalates the tensions between the United States and Wakanda into all-out war. General Ross assumes control of Stark’s assets and the Liberators are pushed into mass production; Killmonger then kills Klaue in order to deceive the Wakandans, then seizes control of the Liberators to lead his people in “defeating” the invading army. His victory and battle prowess wins over his uncle, T’Chaka, and earns him the mantle of the Black Panther; however, T’Challa’s astral warnings of Killmonger’s impending defeat are left a distinct possibility not only due to Ross’s obsession with continuing the war but also when Pepper and Shuri (Ozioma Akagha) agree to work together to expose Killmonger’s deception.

This Thor just wants to party, but his good time is spoiled by Captain Marvel and Jane blabbing to Frigga.

“What If…Thor Were an Only Child?” (Andrews, 2021) lightens things up a bit by retelling the events of Thor (Branagh, 2011); in this version of the story, in the absence of a brother to grow up alongside, Thor is little more than a lackadaisical, party-loving frat-boy who, despite still being worthy of Mjölnir, is far more interested in wasting time revelling with his friends than following his mother, Frigga’s (Josette Eales), instructions to behave or becoming a bore like his father, Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins). To avoid the all-seeing gaze of Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor and his drinking buddies head the Midgard, the most backwater, insignificant world in all the Nine Realms, and invite guests from all over to join them in a massive, nonstop party. Tracking the cosmic disturbance and fearful of an alien invasion, Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) investigates and is both disturbed to find that Thor’s parties are so out of control that they can kill planets and won over by the Thunder God’s otherworldly charm. Jane and her intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), join the party, quickly being swept up in all the intergalactic chaos and merriment on display; Darcy even marries Howard the Duck (Seth Green), and Jane and Thor get matching tattoos, but soon wake up to massive hangovers and the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. Acting Director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is deeply concerned that Thor is leaving a trail of destruction as he takes his party on the road, and calls in Captain Marvel to assist with the perceived threat. Thor’s reunion with fellow party animal Prince Loki of Jotunheim is interrupted by Captain Marvel’s arrival; Thor brushes off her demands that he leaves, and a fight ensues that sees the two battle all across the globe. Despite Thor’s petulant, childish nature, the two are seemingly equally matched in terms of power and durability, but Carol’s forced to hold back her full power to avoid damaging the world or endangering lives. Since Jane disagrees with attacking or eliminating Thor since she’s so enamoured by him, she uses her tech to contact Heimdall and literally tells on Thor to Frigga. As Hill prepares an all-out nuclear strike against Thor, he’s terrified by Frigga’s impending arrival and begs his guests to help him clean up all evidence of their shenanigans. Despite Thor’s best, most frantic efforts to put right all the anarchy he and his friends had caused, she sees through his deception; however, rather than being mad at Jane for selling him out, he thanks her for teaching him a lesson in humility and asks her out…only for he, and the Watcher, to be stunned by the sudden appearance of an alternate version of Ultron!

This alternate version of Ultron is such a threat to the multiverse that the Watcher is forced to intervene.

This cliff-hanger is explained in the following episode, “What If…Ultron Won?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a post-apocalyptic world where Black Widow and Hawkeye are the only Avengers left to oppose the all-powerful Ultron. In this world, Hawkeye not only sports his ridiculous mohawk and a mechanical right arm, but Ultron successfully fulfilled its goal to cause an extinction-level event by claiming the Vision’s body as its own, killing Iron Man, Cap, and Thor, and launching a worldwide nuclear attack that decimated humanity. When Thanos arrived looking to retrieve the Mind Stone, Ultron split him in two with one shot and claimed the Infinity Stones for itself, becoming a God-like being capable of laying waste to entire worlds and Realms with its endless supply of drones. Asgard, Ego, Xandar, and countless others all fall before Ultron’s power and even Captain Marvel is unable to oppose it; having eradicated the vast majority of life across the universe and ascended to a higher pane of existence, Ultron not only sees but also hears the Watcher. Although the Watcher previously considered intervening in Dr. Strange’s story, he held true to his vow of non-interference since he deals in a cosmic balance beyond the lives of mere mortals, even ones as powerful as the Master of the Mystic Arts. However, Ultron’s threat is so terrifying even to this cosmic observer that the Watcher is sorely tempted to assist Natasha and Clint in their efforts to coerce Zola’s artificial intelligence into helping them. The Watcher is pleased when their perseverance pays off but, although Zola is able to possess one of Ultron’s drones, he cannot shut down Ultron’s hive mind as Ultron is outside of the known universe, meaning Clint is forced to sacrifice himself so that Natasha and Zola can escape. The Watcher is aghast when Ultron not only does the impossible and breaches his cosmic observatory but is also able to match even the Watcher’s cosmic power. Their battle sees them literally smashing the dimensional barriers into numerous alternate realities and sees Ultron devour a whole universe and force the Watcher to flee. While Ultron prepares to lay waste to the entire multiverse, the Watcher is forced to turn to Strange Supreme for help in opposing Ultron’s threat.

The Guardians of the Multiverse join forces to end Ultron’s threat.

This story, and the entire show, comes to a head in the final episode, “What If…the Watcher Broke His Oath?” (Andrews, 2021), which sees the Watcher recruiting Captain Carter, T’Challa Star-Lord, Killmonger, Party Thor, and a previously unseen version of Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) to join Strange Supreme as the Guardians of the Multiverse. He enlists each of them right as they’re in the middle of tying up loose ends from their respective episodes and emphasises that every one of them is needed to protect something even bigger than their individual lives or concerns. Captain Carter immediately recognises the gravity of the situation, while Strange Supreme sees this as his chance at true redemption, and, despite the odds, they all tentatively agree to work together to combat Ultron, steal his Soul Stone, and destroy it using Gamora’s “Infinity Crusher” device. While Strange Supreme struggles to contain the dark magics within his body, Gamora is troubled by Killmonger’s obsession with Ultron’s technology, and Thor accidentally attracts Ultron’s attention, but the group is thankfully shielded by Strange Supreme’s protection spell. Following Captain Carter’s lead, the Guardians are able to launch a co-ordinated attack that allows T’Challa to swipe the Soul Stone; when Ultron makes short work of Zombie Wanda and follows the Guardians to its home reality, it gets summarily pummelled by the Guardians’ repeated attacks and Strange Supreme’s ability to counteract both Ultron’s Time Stone and match its enlarged form with his monstrous magic. Although they’re stunned to find the Infinity Crusher ineffectual because it and the Infinity Stones are from different realities, Ultron’s threat is ended when Captain Carter helps Natasha avenge Clint and fire an arrow containing Zola’s consciousness into Ultron’s armour, erasing its sentience once and for all. In the aftermath, Killmonger claims Ultron’s armour and proposes using the Infinity Stones to “fix” their universes; when they refuse, he attempts to destroy them and they’re saved by a Zola-controlled Vision, who tries to take the Infinity Stones for himself. Before they can properly get into a potentially devastating battle over the gems, Strange Supreme freezes them in time and seals them within a pocket dimension, ending their threat once and for all. The Watcher trusts Strange Supreme with watching over the two, and returns everyone to their proper place and time; since Natasha’s world was left lifeless by Ultron, the Watcher sends her to help Nick Fury overthrow Loki, and then alters his vow of impassive observation to a pledge to protect the multiverse when needed.

The Summary:
At first, I wasn’t too sold on What If…?’s animation style; the slick, computerised cel-shaded look has never been a favourite of mine, but I was quickly won over by it due to how closely each character and episode mirrors their live-action counterparts. Everything from the recreation of certain shots, to the musical cues, to the costumes and likenesses perfectly emulates the source material each episode is based on, meaning we get the brown-hued colour scheme of World War Two for Captain Carter, the barrage of bizarre cosmic colours for Star-Lord, and the industrial, high-tech grey of Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities. Although some notable names from the MCU didn’t return to lend their voices to their iconic characters, What If…? employs the services of some incredibly gifted soundalikes and even goes the extra mile in presenting a version of Bruce Banner that resembles both Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo, which is fitting considering we encounter this character between his solo film and his first big MCU crossover. Animation also means that What If…? is theoretically able to do absolutely anything it desires, regardless of budget, and is limited only be the imagination of the animators; thus, while things are a little on the safe side with slightly different retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and other MCU films, it’s not long before we’re seeing massive Lovecraftian creatures, a whole host of Marvel heroes interacting in ways we’ve not really seen before, an additional taste of the cosmic madness of the universe (and multiverse), and a wide variety of both horrifying and oddball concepts to really test the waters of what the MCU is capable of going forward.

Captain Carter and T’Challa Star-Lord are just as competent, if not more so, as their MCU counterparts.

I really liked that, despite their reversed roles, Peggy and Steve still have a mutual attraction based on mutual respect and their respective struggles; Peggy faces an uphill battle due to being a woman in a male-orientated world (and war) that constantly weighs her down even after she’s enhanced by the super soldier serum, and of course Steve has been overlooked and undervalued his entire life due to his gaunt frame and sickly nature. While everyone else is either incredulous due to her being a woman or impressed by her fighting prowess because she is a woman, and she must prove her worth through her deeds to win them over, Steve admires the person that she is and her fighting spirit; he’s the only one that doesn’t judge her for her gender and who doesn’t need convincing that she’s the right person for the job and is only too grateful to be an active combatant alongside her in the Hydra Stomper. Peggy is also quite different in the role; like Steve, she attacks it with a sense of duty and honour, but she also takes far more joy in her newfound abilities. There’s a sense that she’s finally able to let loose, that she’s been given the physical gifts to realise her full potential, and she literally dives head-first into making the most of that opportunity. T’Challa’s characterisation as a galaxy-wide force for good is a fitting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman; unlike Peter Quill, T’Challa is a well-respected and competent space mercenary, and I loved the running gag that he’s somehow able to convince even the most maladjusted individuals to give up their villainous or tyrannical ways simply through presenting a convincing argument. Korath is only too willing to change sides simply out of his worship of Star-Lord, and his crew follow his lead into doing good deeds simply because he was such a positive influence on them. Unfortunately, he’s not able to have the same influence on the Collector, who’s not only blinded by his position in this universe, but also driven by his inherent greed and given a major power boost thanks to his artefacts. However, while threats still remain in this timeline, on the surface it seems to be a far more peaceful and united universe simply thanks to T’Challa’s positive influence on others.

What If…? isn’t afraid to get very dark and show twisted or corrupted versions of these popular characters.

Things take a turn to the dark side once the Avengers (especially Stark) start getting killed off; What If…? is a self-contained show within the larger MCU multiverse, meaning literally anything can happen to anyone, and seeing the franchise’s core six heroes be so brutally murdered really hammers that home. It also gives Hank Pym, someone introduced later into the MCU, a chance to be a more prominent player in this sandbox; seeing him active in the MCU’s first phase is a great way of fleshing out the world in a unique way, especially as he’s become a murdering psychopath. This is a Pym whose neuroses and paranoia have been pushed to breaking point, which deftly showcases just how much of a threat a guy with Pym’s intellect and technology can be to even the most superhuman individuals. Of course, the epitome of dark character turns is the tragic tale of Strange Supreme; it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see Dr. Strange left so desperate and despondent by Christine’s loss that he fell deeper and deeper to the darkness. His frustration and anguish at being unable to change the past see him become obsessed with gaining more and more power, to the point where he is fixated only on being reunited with his love. This makes him blind to all pleas, even those of his uncorrupted counterpart, and it isn’t until all of reality is about to be erased forever that he realises the error of his ways. Sadly, by then, it’s much too late for him to undo anything; Christine once again dies in his arms and everything that ever was is unravelled due to his time paradox; even the Watcher judges his heinous actions, and the once mighty Strange Supreme is left alone and repentant in the tiniest slither of reality. It’s a poignant and gut-wrenching take on the snarky, stubborn, and arrogant Sorcerer Supreme, one that shows just how dangerous a threat he could be if he lost his strong moral compass, and it’s a testament to the show that the character remained a tragic and relatable figure right up until the end rather than simply being a malevolent antagonist.

What If…? showed characters are their grimmest and worst and also at their most carefree.

Easily the darkest tale is the inclusion of zombies; never before has the MCU veered so closely towards traditional horror and I really appreciated the bleak, gory change of pace. It was fantastic seeing the MCU’s most powerful characters reduced to animalistic ghouls, forcing the few survivors to battle their lifelong friends and making painful sacrifices to ensure the safety of others against overwhelming odds. This was also a prime opportunity to show a new side to the Vision; him luring in survivors just to feed his love is a haunting glimpse at the darker side of his cold, calculating logic. We’ve seen such behaviour, this overpowering sense of denial, in zombie films before and, here, it served as a gruesome reminder of just how close to the brink this alternate reality is to total collapse. This continued in Killmonger’s welcome reappearance, with his alternate tale basically showing what could have happened if he had succeeded in his goals of reclaiming his Wakandan birthright; Killmonger was always one of the MCU’s more driven and dangerous antagonists and his episode showed just how truly vindictive and sadistic he really was. He had no qualms about deceiving or using anyone and any resource at his disposal, and even incited an all-out war just so that he could get himself into a position of trust and power, which serves as a stark reminder to just how ruthless a villain he really was. The party-loving version of Thor is the polar opposite; Party Thor cares little for battle or being a king and just wants to enjoy himself. He revels in being the centre of attention and throwing the biggest, most outrageous parties in all the Nine Realms and is lauded amongst his guests as being the wildest party animal around. Thor is a consummate free spirit and a friend to all; alien races, Gods, and recognisable beings from all across the cosmos cheer his name and share in his revelry, making for some of the most light-hearted and amusing moments in the entire series as Surtur (Clancy Brown) tries it on with Lady Liberty and Frost Giants deface Mount Rushmore. This episode also leads to one of the best fist fights in the series as Thor and Captain Marvel trade blows, but he delights in the fight as much as he does in enjoying himself with mead, and only the disapproval of his mother finally shakes Thor from his apathy and pushes him to make amends for his reckless merriment.

The Watcher is forced to take action for the first time in his long life in order to defend the multiverse.

Of course, things come to a suitably dramatic and action-packed conclusion with the final two episodes, which finally force the Watcher into action. Up until then, the watcher existed outside of the normal universe, powerful and cosmic enough to remain completely undetected, but Ultron’s sentience and force grows to such an extent that it’s able to sense the Watcher, breach his observatory, and begin a maniacal campaign to conquer and destroy the entire multiverse. Untold aeons of quietly observing the multiverse haven’t exactly dampened the Watcher’s power cosmic, but in the face to Ultron’s might, enhanced by the six Infinity Stones, the enigmatic onlooker is forced to do the one thing he has never done and ask for help, calling upon the characters he has been observing and asking them to intervene where he cannot. Seeing these wildly different versions of these characters interacting was a blast; they arguably got on the same page much faster than the regular Avengers (which is no doubt due to the short length of the episodes) and were able to launch a united attack on Ultron as a result. Indeed, Ultron kind of got a bit shafted in the last episode; it went from going toe-to-toe with a cosmic being to getting battered about by a handful of mortals and Godlings simply because the Guardians were able to keep the pressure on and keep Ultron from activating the Infinity Stones. Realistically, Ultron could’ve just “snapped” them all away, but then that wouldn’t be anywhere near as exhilarating for a final battle now, would it? Seeing Killmonger claim the gems and just the idea of what his twisted imagination would use them for was a cool moment, as was the idea that he might someday escape his trap to threaten the multiverse again, and just about the only issue I had with that last episode was the random inclusion of a Gamora when they could’ve maybe employed Zombie Wanda instead. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this series; the presentation, the humour, the fun twists on established characters, and the bizarre stories were all really fun and engaging and I can’t wait to see more from this as the MCU continues to expand into more and ore obscure concepts.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy What If…?? Which episode was your favourite, and which of the alternate characters did you like the most? Did you enjoy the Watcher’s inclusion and characterisation? What did you think to all the cameos and the animation style? Did you enjoy seeing Ultron as an all-powerful force and what did you think to its battle with the Watcher? Were you also disappointed that Gamora didn’t get her own episode? Are you a fan of the What If…? comics and, if so, which was your favourite? What other hypothetical scenarios would you like to see explored in a future season? Whatever your thoughts on What If…?, sign up to drop a comment down below and check back next Sunday for the final instalment of Multiverse Madness.

Talking Movies: Morbius

Talking Movies

Released: 28 January 2022
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $75 million
Stars: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Tyrese Gibson, Al Madrigal, and Jared Harris

The Plot:
Doctor Michael Morbius (Leto) is a Nobel Prize-nominated scientist desperate to find a cure for his crippling blood disease. After experimenting with vampire bats, he becomes imbued with the strengths and abilities of a vampire, but also cursed with a thirst for blood! However, his life becomes even more complicated when his friend and colleague, Milo (Smith), seeks to learn the secrets of Morbius’ newfound abilities…by any means necessary!

The Background:
Following the massive success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2000 to 2007) and the sadly unspectacular reception of Marc Webb’s reboot films, Marvel Studios were finally able to achieve the impossible and fold the iconic web-slinger into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The incredible success of Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) was enough to excite Sony into producing a number of spin-offs that would focus on some of Spidey’s supporting characters and anti-heroes; the success of Venom (Fleischer, 2018) meant that Roy Thomas and Gil Kane’sLiving Vampire” would finally get his time in the sun. Eccentric method actor Jared Leto was attached to the project from the early going, and helped bring in director Daniel Espinosa to officially begin the production in June 2018. Producers were reportedly excited about the project for its unique take on having a doctor undergo a gruesome metamorphosis, but audiences were left confused as to Morbius’s continuity after the trailers seemed to reference multiple competing timelines. After repeated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morbius finally released last Friday; as of this writing, the film has grossed just over $88 million at the box office and been met with overwhelmingly negative reviews. Reviews criticised the film’s poor characterisations and humourless narrative, the bloodless action scenes, and generally regarded it as a confused mess that barely qualifies as a coherent film. Although star Leto claimed that there have been talks for future films and appearances from the title character, this negative reaction puts the question of any potential crossovers in doubt, though Sony continue to push ahead with solo projects for other Spider-Man villains.

The Review:
I’ll never understand Sony; they were making big bank with the Spider-Man license after the success of the first two live-action films, but then they let Avi Arad stick his oar in and complicate Spider-Man 3 (Rami, 2007) with a multitude of villains and plot points. Then they rebooted the franchise, which is fair enough, but chose to retell the origin story in its entirety all over again and, rather than building up their audience with a measured approach, they threw all of Kevin Feige’s notes out of the window and crammed at least three movie’s worth of content into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014) in a long-running, misguided attempt to get a Sinister Six movie off the ground. Then they had the audacity to make a Venom solo film without Spider-Man in it…Spider-Man, y’know, the who caused Venom in the first place ,was omitted from the film and there was this weird, awkward question of whether Sony’s films were linked to the MCU or not. And yet, annoyingly, Sony persisted because their films continue to make money regardless of things like this and, in a desperate bid to make tangentially related Spider-Man properties without actually including Tom Holland (why they don’t just make live-action Miles Morales films is beyond me!), they’ve given Morbius, of all people, his own solo film I just…I just can’t. To me Morbius is a nobody; he doesn’t deserve his own solo film at all. Hell, I’d be hard pressed to be excited if he showed up as supporting character in Moon Knight (Various, 2022) or Blade (Tariq, 2023) but to give him, of all people his own film? And to cast Jared Leto, a guy who I really don’t get the hype for considering how bat-shit crazy he is, really had me doubted that this would be any good at all and I literally went to see it out of sheer, morbid curiosity.

Sickly Dr. Morbius is transformed into a monstrous vampire with a thirst for human blood.

Naturally, given he’s the title character, Morbius is the story of Dr. Michael Morbius, who begins the film as a frail, sickly, but brilliant scientist. Despite being crippled by an undisclosed and unspecified blood disease, has become the world’s foremost authority on blood-related illnesses. Morbius is so accomplished that his artificial blood has, somehow, “saved more lives then penicillin” (which a quick Google search will tell you is pretty much an impossible claim) but, for all his genius, Morbius is crippled not just physically but also by arrogance. He not only refuses to accept his Nobel Prize, but apparently insults his peers, the nation of Sweden, and the entire scientific community at the ceremony (though we don’t actually hear what he says and there are pretty much no repercussions from this accept some rolled eyes and, presumably, the loss of the substantial cash prize that comes with the award). Morbius has lived his whole life in agonising pain, requiring multiple blood transfusions a day just to stay alive, and also being the smartest person in the room; even as a child (Charlie Shotwell), his brilliance impressed, and he has dedicated his entire life to finding a cure not just for himself, but also for the only friend he has in the entire world, Lucien, whom he treats as a brother despite lumbering him with the nickname “Milo” since he was used to his dormitory buddies having a short life expectancy. Morbius’s search for a cure naturally leads him to studying the unique blood-eating properties of vampire bats, which allows him to develop a serum that promises to reverse his condition. Thanks to Milo’s wealth and resources (which the film makes no effort to explain the source of), Morbius and his absolutely stunning fellow doctor and co-worker, Martine Bancroft (Arjona), sail out into international waters to test the serum out on his rapidly deteriorating body and, to the surprise of them both, he undergoes a startling transformation. The serum fundamentally alters his DNA structure, transforming him into a bat-man hybrid (a “Living Vampire”, if you will) who craves human blood and is (…somehow…) bestowed a range of superhuman abilities: he’s transformed to the peak of human physical condition…and beyond, capable of manhandling armed foes, ripping through human flesh with his talon-like claws, leaping vast distances and scaling walls with ease, and apparently gaining high levels of durability. Furthermore, he acquires a form of echolocation, which leads to some of the films more visually interesting moments as his ears ripple, his eyes turn all goopy, and the world gains this distorted, smoky, rippley x-ray-like sheen whenever he focuses his hearing. Morbius also develops a kinship with vampire bats, which “welcome him like a bother” and obey his commands, learns how to travel along air currents to glide and fly (it’s not state din the film but I assume he has hollow bones as a result of his transformation…maybe..?), but all of these fantastic abilities come at the cost of his humanity.

Unlike Morbius, Milo has no qualms about indulging his bloodlust and revelling in his newfound powers.

The taste of human blood turns Morbius into a monstrous, fanged creature who attacks those around him in a rabid bloodlust; though he’s able to stave off his cravings using his artificial blood, it very quickly (and I mean within a matter of days) loses its effectiveness and, terrified of becoming a bloodsucking monster, Morbius tries to do everything he possibly can to reverse his transformation. He can’t simply go without blood either, as this causes his debilitating condition to return in full force and threatens to kill him from blood starvation, so he spends the remainder of the film trying to repress his inner monster while also searching for a solution to his problem. Morbius’s plight becomes all the more complicated when Milo discovers his condition and is slighted that his life-long friend denies him access to the life-saving condition. Wishing to spare his friend from the curse of vampirism, Morbius instead drives Milo to steal the serum and take it for himself by pushing his friend away and appearing to be a selfish prick who has no interest in sharing. Unlike Morbius, Milo has no compunction about embracing the physical benefits of the serum, and delights in indulging his bloodlust at every opportunity. This means, you guessed it, that not only does he become a dark mirror of the titular anti-hero (Morbius has his fair share of bloodshed in this film, and it’s barely touched upon how betraying his Hippocratic Oath affects him beyond inconveniencing his life) but he also dons a suit and a tie to stalk the streets as a bloodthirsty vampire. Although Milo shares many of the same powers as Morbius some are inexplicably denied him; he can’t fly like Morbius, and never demonstrates the ability to control bats, though both are able to leap and seemingly teleport vast distances accompanied by an unexplained ethereal smoke. It should also be noted that neither of these artificial vampires are vulnerable to sunlight, and other traditional tropes like Holy Water and a stake through the heart are openly mocked in the film, meaning that Morbius’s only hope of putting an end to Milo’s rampage is to synthesise a fatal anti-serum in his makeshift lab (which, of course, he’s able to do without any difficulty at all). The film wants you to see Morbius and Milo’s relationship as a tragedy of two brothers coming to blows because of a fundamental difference in ideology; Milo wants to embrace his new lease of life and is only too happy to suck the blood from anyone he can to stay healthy and strong, while Morbius sees himself as a monster who has brought an unspeakable atrocity into the world, and his efforts to create a cure and confront Milo are only compounded when Milo’s actions lead to him (as in Morbius) being arrested for murder.

Sadly, the supporting cast really doesn’t get much to do or time to shine and are pretty one-note.

Indeed, Morbius’s actions don’t go unnoticed, or unpunished, throughout the film. He slaughters the ship full of trigger-happy mercenaries in a pretty creepy scene and the bodies catch the attention of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents Simon Stroud (Gibson) and Alberto “Al” Rodriguez (Madrigal), who quickly piece together that the ship was being used by Morbius for some bizarre experiment. These two, while a highlight, are severely underused and underdeveloped in the film; they have a bit of back and forth banter, which is amusing, and are readily accepting of the possibility that Morbius is an actual vampire, but they really don’t actually get to do all that much accept discover the crime scenes, interrogate Morbius, and arrive too late to really help with anything, and we learn next to nothing about them beyond the fact that they’re dedicated FBI agents who’ve worked together for a while. Sadly, the same can be said about all of the film’s supporting characters, particularly Martine and Morbius and Milo’s lifelong doctor and father figure, Doctor Emil Nicholas (Harris).Martine isn’t just some assistant to Morbius or the object of his affections; she’s a smart and capable doctor and, while he’s clearly attracted to her (how could he not be, after all?), his focus has always been on the research since he believes he has nothing to offer because of his crippling condition. After witnessing his starling transformation, Martine works to protect and help cure him, covering for him even when seeing the monster Milo has become, and the two (as in her and Morbius) develop a romantic attraction that has all the chemistry of a wet paper bag simply to emphasise that Morbius has more of a heart and a conscience than his bloodthirsty counterpart. Still, she has a bit more to do than Emil, who’s mainly there to support Morbius’s brilliance and take care of Milo, and to give one a kindly target to rip open and the other a mentor to avenge.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Morbius primarily focuses on many of the same cliché tropes as any other “man-made-monster” film you’ve seen before, or any movie that deals with the potential horrors of reckless scientific experimentation. Morbius is an arrogant and brilliant scientist, but one driven to desperation by his rapidly deteriorating condition and the promise he made to Milo to cure them both. When he turns, he’s horrified by his actions and struggles to keep his monstrous side at bay, while also relishing the power and freedom offered by his abilities. though he goes out of his way to target disreputable types, he can’t help but deliver some smarmy backtalk to Stroud and Rodriguez when they start asking questions, and even tells a horrified money forger “I am Venom!” when intimidating him and his friends into vacating their makeshift lab. As I expected upon seeing the many different trailers to this film, many of the more explicit references to Spider-Man and the MCU have been excised from Morbius; this “Venom” line and a throwaway comment by Rodriguez seem to suggest that it takes place in the same universe as the Venom films, but the “Murderer!” graffiti over a Spider-Man poster is missing and, while Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) does make a cameo, it’s in completely different scenes and contexts first suggested and only serve to muddy the waters when it comes to these standalone Sony films. Indeed, this cameo along makes absolutely no sense as Toomes somehow transports over to this world thanks to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home (Watts, 2021), somehow cobbles together a new flight suit, and then suggests the two team up…which Morbius randomly agrees to for no reason. Why they couldn’t have just had Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) make a cameo, or even Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, is beyond me; instead, Sony continue to just desperately try to get in with the MCU in the most ham-fisted way possible and I dread to think what sort of ridiculous Sinister Six they’ll eventually put together will look like.

Despite some cool visuals and horror elements, Morbius is a confusing mess of a film.

I went into Morbius with low expectations; I make no apologies over not being a fan of the character, the lead actor, to the concept of wasting millions of dollars on a standalone film for the character, but there were times when Morbius impressed me…just a little. While the film plays it as safe as the Venom movies when it comes to violence and gore, and it doesn’t even contain the one f-bomb its rating would allow, some of the scenes of Morbius’s feral attacks are framed quite well, with a good use of shadows, tension, and quick, brutal cuts to imply some ferocious action without necessarily dwelling on the gore. Morbius rips open people’s throats, mauls them, and drains their blood all, mostly, offscreen, making for a decidedly toothless vampire film but I was actually okay with this as at least something interesting was actually happening. Morbius looks pretty decent when he’s all vamped up as well; while his monstrous visage comes and goes and is realised pretty much entirely through CGI, it’s present a lot more than I expected (I was almost certain he wouldn’t go full on vampire until the very end) and a pretty decent adaptation of the source material. While it makes no sense that he’s able to teleport in a puff of smoke or slide like he does, Morbius generally looks pretty cool when he’s bouncing all over the place, swinging from poles, and going all feral, so it’s a shame that his scuffles with Milo descend into a confusing and blurry CGI slugfest full of gratuitous slow motion and frantic, poorly lit shots. I can understand when the Venom films generally become a CHI mess since those characters are brought to life exclusively through CGI, but Morbius offered the opportunity to craft a ore traditional, cheaper horror/action film that relied more on practical effects than bonkers CGI someone at Sony, however, clearly didn’t get that memo and what we’re left with is a confusing mess of a finale that pits the two Living Vampires against each other in a wild brawl of questionable CGI and nonsense editing.  

The Summary:
As I said, I had low expectations for Morbius; I don’t even like the character so I couldn’t even begin to hope that it’d be this sleeper hit or a surprisingly enjoyable action/horror romp as I would forever be questioning just why the hell anyone would ever invest millions of dollars in a standalone film about Michael friggin’ Morbius of all people! If you’re gonna do Morbius, you stick him in a Blade film or in an episode of one of Marvel’s many TV shows, you don’t give him his own movie, let alone one that doesn’t even have Spider-Man in it. Yet, Sony continues to be absolutely clueless regarding their license rights, and it boggles my mind how they were ever able to be successful with the Spider-Man property in the first place with decisions like this! Setting aside my bias, Morbius wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be; there are some decent moments, Jared Leto actually does a decent job in the title role, and I quite liked seeing Morbius go full-on vampire and bamf! all over the place, slashing at people and baring his fangs. Sadly, though, those moments are fleeting and tarnished by an abundance of cartoony, dodgy CGI; both Morbius and Milo’s vampiric forms look like something out of a videogame, and the film itself is a massive step back fort he superhero genre, almost back to the mid-2000s era of throwing messy CGI fights at the screen amidst a few quips, attractive actors, and middling action scenes and hoping it’ll stick. I can just about understand banking on Venom, even without Spider-Man, since Venom have always been popular but…Morbius is a nobody. Even if Spider-Man had been in this, or if it had been part of the MCU, this film would have been dead on arrival for me and the only way it could’ve even been remotely salvaged is if it had been part of the Venom franchise but Sony couldn’t even do that right! In the end, it was a poorly paced, messy piece of nonsense with a few decent visuals and action scenes but which squanders whatever potential it could’ve had with a middling narrative and crippling case of identity crisis.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Morbius? If so…what’s the matter with you? What did you think to Jared Leto’s performance and Morbius’s relationship with Milo? Did you enjoy how the film portrayed Morbius and his powers? Which villain or context do you think would’ve worked better for the Living Vampire? Were you confused by the film’s identity and the odd post-credits scenes? Are you a fan of the character in general (and, if so, again…why?) and would you like to see Morbius return in some capacity? What Spider-Man villain would you like to see get a standalone movie? I’d love to know your opinion of Morbius, so sign up to leave them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check in for more Spider-Man and Marvel content in the near future.

Back Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #102

Story Title: “Vampire at Large!” (also includes “–The Way it Began” and “The Curse and the Cure!”)
Published: November 1971
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane

The Background:
After achieving incredible success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee created Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a teenage superhero who unexpectedly became one of Marvel’s best selling titles. Spider-Man’s popularity was such that he featured in a number of spin-offs, including Marvel Team-Up, which partnered him with other, less mainstream superheroes, and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comicdom. Doctor Michael Morbius was just one of these; the creation of writer Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, and billed as a “Living Vampire”, Morbius came into being thanks to the Comics Code Authority finally relaxing its ban on vampires and other supernatural beings in comic books, but was actually the product of science rather than magic. Morbius would go on to feature in a number of Marvel crossovers and stories, generally those involving supernatural characters such as Eric Brooks/Blade and the various Ghost Riders, but the only time I’ve ever encountered him is in his neutered depiction in the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon. After years of stop/start efforts to make it onto the silver screen, Morbius inexplicably made his live-action debut recently, so I figured now is as good a time as any to revisit the Living Vampire’s debut and see if he’s really worth his own solo movie.

The Review:
Before tackling “Vampire at Large!”, it’s probably best to also give a bit more background on Morbius and the events surrounding his introduction. The character actually appeared in “A Monster Called…Morbius!” (Thomas, et al, 1971), a story which opened with Spider-Man startled to find that his attempt to cure himself has resulted in him growing four additional arms! Struggling with the despair and horror of his newfound predicament, Peter makes a desperate call to Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard and is invited to stay at the Connor’s Long Island beach house until he can find a solution. However, after working tirelessly for two days straight, Spider-Man is frustrated by failure, but has little time to dwell on his misery as he is attacked by a grotesque, pale figure garbed in an elaborate cape ensemble.

While trying to rid himself of his for extra arms, Spidey is attacked by first Morbius…and then the Lizard!

This previous story also details how this vampiric man known as Morbius was found adrift in the ocean and slaughtered the crew of a vessel under the darkness of night. Washing ashore, Morbius flees to Connor’s summerhouse to sleep in the belfry and avoid the draining influence of the daytime sun, but awakens to find the six-armed Spider-Man awaiting him. The Living Vampire isn’t one for villainous monologues; he simply attacks, surprising the wall-crawler with his deathly visage, his superhuman strength, and his sharp fangs. Fatigued after working without a break for two days, Spider-Man is in little condition to fight and is knocked unconscious following a massive blow. Morbius’s meal is interrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of Dr. Connors; stunned by the vampire’s horrific appearance, Connors transforms into the Lizard and “Vampire at Large!” begins with Spider-Man being caught between a brutal throwdown between the two tortured monstrosities.

Dr. Connors struggles to maintain his humanity and help Spider-Man whip up a cure.

With Morbius desiring to feed on Spider-Man’s blood and the Lizard fixated on killing the wall-crawler, the two monsters are almost evenly matched in strength and ferocity; however, Morbius gains the upper hand by sending the Lizard flying into an electrical gizmo, which renders the reptilian unconscious and easy prey for the Living Vampire. Unable to see anyone, least of all a tragic soul like Dr. Connors, fall victim to such a fate, Spider-Man intervenes and tries to get answers from Morbius, but the enigmatic vampire chooses to fly out into the night, unaware that Spidey has tagged him with one of this spider tracers, and leaving him with the weakened Lizard. Although Connors briefly returns to a reptilian version of his human form, he finds himself trapped as the Lizard but retaining some semblance of his humanity thanks to the effects of Morbius’s bite. Spider-Man and the Lizard resolve to combine their resources and intelligence to help cure both of their conditions; the Lizard theorises that Morbius’s vampiric bite must have infected him with an enzyme, but time is against them as the Lizard grows wilder and more animalistic with every passing minute.

In trying to cure his mysterious fatal disease, Morbius becomes a Living Vampire craving human blood!

We then re-join Morbius in the throes of another soliloquy regarding the anguish he feels during the day time, the screams and accusations of his victims, and his need to sleep through the day to keep those nightmarish thoughts out and remain at full strength. As he sleeps, however, Morbius not only begs for forgiveness from his victims but dreams about how he came to be; it seems he was once Doctor Michael Morbius, a Nobel Prize winning scientist stricken by a facial deformity and ravaged by a rare disease that he hoped to cure by conducting research on vampire bats using experimental shock treatment. Desperate for a cure so that he can give his beloved Martine the life she deserves, Morbius has his friend and colleague Nikos help him by subjecting him to an untested dosage of electrical current while garbed in a special suit; however, Morbius emerges forever changed, transforming into a monstrous, man-made vampire during the night and he accidentally kills Nikos with his bare hands. Horrified by the monster he has become, Morbius attempts to lose himself in the ocean’s tumultuous waves, only for his survival instinct to kick in, forcing him to the surface…and to an undead life of feeding upon the blood of the living.

Although Spidey recovers the serum, Morbius is seemingly lost beneath the sea.

While Peter’s friends, family, and colleagues worry after him, Spider-Man and the unpredictable Lizard finally manage to track Morbius down and, conscious of time being against him, Spidey is able to finally render the Living Vampire unconscious so that the Lizard can extract the enzyme they need from Morbius’s blood. Without even waiting to test it, the Lizard injects the serum into himself and becomes Dr. Connors once more; however, Morbius suddenly awakens, catching Spidey off-guard and making off with the serum in order to drink it for himself. Dr. Connors finally recognises Morbius as Morbius (I mean…the clue’s in the name, right?) and Spider-Man is compelled to help him, sympathising and identifying with his horrific fate, but Morbius is so determined to escape and live free that he collides a bridge and appears to drown in the river. On the plus side, Spider-Man is able to snag the serum before Morbius disappears beneath the water and successfully rids himself of his additional limbs, but guilt over Morbius’s fate weighs heavily on the web-slinger’s mind.

The Summary:
“Vampire at Large!” is a very different, and yet very familiar, Spider-Man story; of course you’ve got all the usual tropes you’d expect from a swingin’ Spidey tale set in the late seventies, but Peter’s usual depression, bad luck, and lamentations are made all the worse by the presence of his additional arms. Although Peter is cured of his four extra arms by the conclusion of the story (and you can bet such a plot point would be dragged out for months or even years today), it’s an entertaining and visually interesting sight to see Spider-Man swinging around with these four extra arms sticking out of his side, but they don’t really factor into the story that much beyond giving Peter something new to despair over and driving him to tirelessly find a cure for his condition. What I mean to say is that he doesn’t really get to use the extra arms in an interesting way; they’re simply a plot point, something to make him feel like a freak and an outcast and thus relate to the plight of the Lizard and the debuting Morbius even more.

Morbius’s superhuman strength and unending hunger make him a formidable foe.

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting the Lizard to show up in this story, but it does make sense that Spider-Man would turn to the one man who has experience in trying to cure a limb problem (even though Dr. Connors has been…less than successful in his attempts) and it’s a good job that he does go to Dr. Connors for help or else he would have been another of Morbius’s very victims. Morbius himself is, of course, the big star of the story; mysterious and enigmatic, Morbius makes a visual impression with his chalk-white skin, gruesome bat-like visage, and elaborate outfit that is like a superhero reimagining of Count Dracula’s regal attire. Able to fly at will, sporting superhuman strength, and driven by an overwhelming need to drink human blood, Morbius is a conflicted individual; he sought to cure himself of his fatal ailment, and instead became a monstrous creature of the night that laments having to prey upon his fellow man, and his condition, and yet is also motivated by an irresistible desire to survive at any cost. Initially, Morbius attacks with a silent, driven fury and, thanks to Spidey’s fatigue, easily overwhelms the web-slinger but, as the story progresses, he becomes much more loquacious and prone to the same soliloquies and grandiose boasting so closely associated with comic book villains.

All three struggle with their monstrous afflictions but only Morbius gives into it completely, to his undoing.

And yet, Morbius remains a tragic figure. There’s a definite theme in “Vampire at Large!” regarding humanity as each character has a monstrous condition that leaves them a freak of nature and a threat to their loved ones and fellow man: Peter is distraught that his four arms could shock his beloved Aunt May to death and spell the end of his secret identity and the few relationships he has left, Dr. Connors is continuously battling for control of his mind and body and against the animalistic urges of his scaly other half, and Morbius has seemingly given in to his gruesome urges. Indeed, he actively shuns the daylight not just because it weakens his vampiric abilities but also because he sees only the faces of those he has killed and is haunted by the screams of his victims. Initially, he is so horrified by his condition that he seeks to end his existence, but chastises himself for his short-sightedness, his survival instinct overriding his anguish, and is seemingly destroyed by his obsession with maintaining his freedom by the finale. Personally, I’ve never really been that big a fan of Morbius; he’s okay, but hardly a character I would deem to be a game-changer but his debut here was well handled as it was tied so closely with Spider-Man’s bizarre appendage predicament. He definitely had a mystery and aura around him, though his origins were ill-defined and vague compared to later iterations, and he had a striking appearance that set him apart from Spidey’s abundance of green-and-purple-garbed villains, but he’s definitely more at home in Marvel’s more supernatural and horror-themed books and, for me, little more than a footnote in Spider-Man’s history.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Morbius’s debut? Are you a fan of the character and, if so, what are some of your favourite Morbius tales? Were you disappointed with how brief Peter’s struggles with his four extra limbs was or do you think it was a good idea to not drag the concept out too long? What did you think to Morbius’s depiction, origin, and powers? Do you think the Lizard was necessary to this story? Are you excited for Morbius’s live-action debut or, like me, do you consider it a waste of time and money? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Morbius below or comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Friday for my review of Morbius’s big-screen debut.

Talking Movies: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Talking Movies

Released: 17 December 2021
Director: Jon Watts
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, and Benedict Cumberbatch

The Plot:
After having his secret identity publicly outed, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland) finds himself branded a murderer and hounded at every turn. In a bid to return his life to something resembling normality, he requests that Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) cast a spell to make everyone forget his identity. However, when the spell is corrupted, the walls between realities are fractured and Peter is beset by foes from across the multiverse seeking to avenge themselves against Spider-Man, no matter what world he’s from!

The Background:
Following the massive success of the original Spider-Man trilogy (Raimi, 2000 to 2007) and the largely mediocre reception of the poorly-timed reboot films, Marvel Studios were finally able to achieve the impossible when they reached an agreement to include a new version of the iconic web-slinger in their interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Tom Holland took on the role of a young, fresh-faced take on the character and debuted in spectacular fashion in Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016) before spinning off (no pun intended) into the incredibly successful Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017). Spider-Man: Far From Home’s (ibid, 2019) impressive $1.132 million box office proved that the MCU could sustain the success it had amassed even after the cataclysmic events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019) but development of a third outing for the character was initially stalled when financial disputes threatened to see the character once again pulled from Marvel’s control. After these issues were resolved, and following a delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, production finally got underway in late-2020 and, almost immediately, rumours began circulating regarding the possible return of actors from the previous Spider-Man franchises. These were only exacerbated when Benedict Cumberbatch was confirmed to reprise his role as Dr. Strange, a character who was already scheduled to have his own multiversal adventure, and when the long-awaited trailer was finally released following a leak, confirming that Alfred Molina would be returning as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus thanks to digital de-aging. Finally, after months of speculation and wild fan rumours, the film’s final trailers confirmed that this story would tackle Spider-Man’s varied cinematic multiverse and the film received an official release date. As of this writing, Spider-Man: No Way Home has been met by unanimous praise; critics lauded the performances and heart of the film, in addition to atmosphere and chemistry between the actors, and has currently made over $600 million at the box office..

The Review:
I feel it’s only fair to emphasise here that I simply cannot find the language to talk about this film without using spoilers. If the title and various warnings aren’t enough for you, then this text should be: here be spoilers, and I’m not planning on holding back as I feel the movie deserves to be discussed in detail and the only way to do that is to talk about spoilers. Also, I was initially torn when it came to this film; the build up to it saw some really toxic opinions and members of the fandom rear their ugly heads, and the marketing has been a bit all over the place. Sony showed a surprising amount of restraint with their trailers, and maybe held them off a little too long, but it definitely built up a great deal of hype and intrigue surrounding it and it felt good to be excited and curious about a movie for a change. Having said that, though…be better, people, come on. If you have a favourite Spider-Man, that’s great, but don’t rag on people for having a different opinion. Spider-Man is really lucky as he has had so many adaptations and so much representation, so many live-action portrayals, and all of them have been extremely accurate to the source material and exciting outings in their own right, so maybe just be thankful that the web-head gets so much love and is so popular rather than being ungrateful or attacking others for their opinions?

Jameson’s smear campaign spells personal trouble for Spider-Man and his friends.

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up immediately where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, with blustering, loud-mouthing online personality J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) gleefully broadcasting edited footage sent to him by Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) that not only implicates Peter as a murderer but also outs his secret identity to the entire world. Naturally, this sends New York City into a bit of an uproar and, pretty much immediately, both Spider-Man and his new girlfriend Michelle Jones-Watson/M. J. (Zendaya) are swamped by a mob that is split between worshipping and condemning Spider-Man, paparazzi looking to get a sound bite, and cops seeking to question Peter’s involvement in Beck’s death. Despite his best efforts to escape the chaos, and to break the news to his beloved Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his begrudging friend and handler, Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), Peter and his friends and family are soon apprehended by the Department of Damage Control (DODC), which has now extended its scope into being a federal agency responsible for such matters. Although M. J. and May remain tight-lipped on the matter, Peter’s bungling but loyal friend Ned Leeds (Batalon) and Peter himself don’t exactly help his case, and Peter is left overwhelmed by the barrage of accusations and the public’s awareness of his true identity. Any legal ramifications concerning these matters are quickly swept under the table, however; although Happy and May recently ended their fling (much to Happy’s dismay), the Parkers are given sanctuary at Happy’s secure apartment and an especially good blind lawyer is able to ensure that the charges against Peter are dropped. However, public opinion remains divided; since the world considers Mysterio a hero, many people condemn Spider-Man (which isn’t helped by Jameson’s continuing smear campaign against Peter) and Peter is treated with both awe, fear, and adulation by his fellow pupils. Thankfully, he has M. J. and Ned there to support him through it; despite the revelation uprooting their lives and thrusting them into the spotlight as well, they remain his loyal and understanding companions, which is always sweet to see. While Peter appreciates this, and could probably have adjusted to the major changes in his life with their support, his guilt and shame are magnified when neither her, Ned, or M. J. are able to successfully get into college.

Peter turns to Dr. Strange for help, but muddles the spell and causes reality to fracture as a result.

Because of the media storm and controversy surrounding Peter, no college wants to risk being associated with any of them, and Peter is guilt-ridden at having cost his loved ones the chance of realising their dreams. Yet, even though this has happened, M. J. and Ned still take it on the chin and remain optimistic (or, at least, put on a brave face, in M. J.’s case) and neither of them blame Peter for this, but it does little to alleviate his guilt. Desperate for a solution, Peter seeks out the council of Dr. Strange (who, it is amusingly revealed, is no longer the Sorcerer Supreme thanks to being snapped away for five years; Wong (Benedict Wong) has assumed the position instead, which could potentially be explored to greater humourous effect in Strange’s upcoming movie). Although Wong cautions against it, Dr. Strange offers to cast a complicated and dangerous spell that will erase the knowledge of Peter’s secret identity from everyone in the world; however, Peter starts to panic mid-way through the spell and requests that May, M. J., Ned, and Happy be exempt from the erasure, which causes Strange to lose control of the spell and contain it within a jewel least it wreak havoc upon the world…and the multiverse. The relationship between Dr. Strange and Peter is notably different to what we saw between Peter and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr); Strange isn’t a mentor to Peter, he’s more like a work associate, and he’s willing to help the kid out because of his efforts at restoring half the population, but he’s easily frustrated by Peter’s naivety and ignorance, especially when it comes to the world of magic, and angered that Peter risked tampering with the fabric of reality before properly exploring all of the real-world options available to him or learning to adapt to the changes in his life.

Molina makes a triumphant return as the crazed Doc Ock, who’s intrigued by the presence of the MCU.

Determined to make up for this, Peter tracks down a college professor to plead M. J. and Ned’s case, only to suddenly be attacked by a face very familiar to us but completely alien to him as Dr. Octopus attacks the Queensboro Bridge in a confused rage, ranting at Peter and demanding to know what happened to his “machine”. Though confused by the villain’s sudden appearance, Spider-Man holds his own in impressive fashion thanks to the advanced technology and gadgets built into his Iron Spider costume, saving lives while fending off Doc Ock’s mechanical arms; his genius mind addled by the corrupting influence of his mechanical tentacles, Doc Ock is intrigued by the Iron Spider’s nanotechnology but startled to find a very different face behind the mask. His confusion soon turns to manic frustration when Peter is able to use the suit’s nanotech to take control of Doc Ock’s arms and render him helpless, and Octavius’s rage is only incensed further when he suddenly finds himself a prisoner in a dark catacomb beneath Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. Although dismissive of the idea of magic and vehemently rejecting the idea that he needs help or to be fixed, Doc Ock is intrigued to see the evidence of a multiverse surrounding him; not only has he met the MCU version of Peter and M. J., but he shares his prison with Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), a monstrous creature Dr. Strange was able to subdue offscreen and who is very clearly from another reality. Ock’s curiosity is only piqued further when he and Peter catch a fleeting glimpse of another Spider-foe Octavius knows all-too-well, Doctor Norman Osbourn/The Green Goblin (Dafoe), before being imprisoned.

Peter finds a number of monstrous, and maniacal, villains have crossed over into the MCU.

Angered at the incursions that have slipped into their world because of Peter’s ignorance, Dr. Strange demands that he and his friends “Scooby-Doo this shit!” and round up the visitors so they can be sent home; he grants Peter a magically-charged gadget that allows him to shoot a web that instantly teleports the villains to the prison, and Peter is forced to turn his suit inside-out after it gets ruined by paint thrown by a mob. Although he initially heads out to track down the Green Goblin, Peter instead finds Max Dillon/Electro (Foxx), who draws power from electricity lines to regain his physical form and alter the nature of his powers. Disorientated at having being violently ripped from his reality, Electro lashes out in anger, and Peter is only saved by the timely intervention of Flint Marko/The Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church), who helps Peter subdue and capture Electro. However, upon realising that he’s trapped on another world, the Sandman also grows antagonistic and winds up confined as a result, and Peter learns from each of them the nature of their personalities, their worlds, and their fates: Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Electro are all fated to die in battle with Spider-Man, and returning them home would seal that fate, and that’s something Peter cannot, in good conscience, allow.

The Green Goblin quickly re-establishes himself as Peter’s greatest threat.

This brings him into conflict with Dr. Strange, who is determined to activate the jewel and send the visitors back home regardless since he’s weighing the fate and stability of the entire multiverse rather than the lives of a few villains. When Peter tries to take the jewel from him, a bit of a scuffle ensues in which we see Peter is able to control his body even while forced into his astral force thanks to this spider-sense, and his knowledge of geometry also allows him to figure out the mirror dimensions, web up Strange, and leave him stranded there while he works to cure the villains. While he has good intentions, and his friends and family support his efforts, and he is even able to convince the villains to trust him to help keep them alive, Peter underestimates the depths of Norman’s psychosis. Rendered a meek, bewildered scientist who is lost and in pain, Norman willingly works alongside Peter to help fix Doc Ock, returning the tentacled menace to his more good-natured self, but Norman’s dark half, the Green Goblin, soon resurfaces to throw Peter’s entire plan out the window. I got a real kick out of seeing Norman and Otto being familiar with each other, and the Lizard and Electro also having a familiarity with each other, it really helped to flesh out their respective worlds and deliver exposition regarding the characters to those who might not be familiar with them. While it’s disappointing that the Sandman was rendered entirely in his sand form for 90% of the movie, and the Lizard was basically a non-factor (there’s even a moment where he is simply confined to a van and forgotten about until the film’s big climax needs to happen), both Doc Ock and the Green Goblin play significant roles in the story. The Goblin wraps the remains of his God-awful suit in a tatter cloak and Dafoe’s demented facial expressions get to shine trough as he operates entirely unmasked throughout the film; he’s also far more vicious and deadly than ever before, cackling in Peter’s face and taunting him at every turn. While all of these returning actors slipped back into their roles perfectly (and even got a chance at redemption, in Electro’s case), Dafoe steals the show ones again as a maniacal and vicious villain who simply wants to cause Peter pain, no matter which Peter it is!

The Nitty-Gritty :
When I first heard that Tom Holland’s third solo movie was going to delve into the multiverse, I have to admit that I was disappointed and annoyed; I enjoyed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018) but even with that film I questioned the logic of confusing matters with multidimensional shenanigans. The MCU definitely seems to be gearing towards exploring the multiverse, but I expected this to be confined to Dr. Strange’s solo films and worried that bringing in faces from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb films would just be pandering and confusing. Not only that, but I’m of the firm belief that every role can be recast: Dafoe, Simmons, and Molina were all fantastic in their previous iterations but who’s to say that another actor wouldn’t be just as good, if not better? I expected this third Spider-Man movie would be the perfect excuse to finally bring the Sinister Six to life using the villains already established in the MCU: Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Herman Schultz/The Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine), Mac Gargan/The Scorpion (Michael Mando), and even Mysterio (he was the master of illusions, after all) could all have returned and joined forces with two new villains (ideally an all-new Doc Ock) to collect a bounty on Spider-Man. Hell, I was more excited at the prospect of Charlie Cox returning as Matt Murdock/Daredevil or Spider-Man being forced to go on the run and teaming up with the Netflix Defenders than complicating things with multiverse hijinks, and I still maintain that it makes zero sense to have Eddie Brock/Venom (Tom Hardy) exist in a separate universe when it would have been far simpler to have him be based in San Francisco but still exist in the MCU (like how other MCU heroes and movies take place in different cities but those characters don’t have to be transported through time and space to interact).

Spider-Man butts heads with Dr. Strange regarding how to deal with the villains.

And yet….man, was it a thrill to see Alfred Molina return in the role! Bringing back these iconic actors in their most famous villain roles might be unapologetic fan service but it was fan service executed almost to perfection. I say “almost” as we were one villain short from an iteration of the Sinister Six; Eddie doesn’t show up into the mid-credits scene and he is teleported back where he came from without having any impact on the movie (though he does leave a part of himself behind…) and there was no secret sixth villain added to the roster. However, that’s not to say that the five villains we did get were disappointing…far from it! Since the MCU is different to where he came from, Electro is able to not only reconstitute his body, but also alters his powers; the addition of an Arc Reactor only pushes his powers even further, allowing him to resemble his traditional comic book appearance far closer than in his original iteration. The Sandman may be in sand form for the majority of the film, but he remains an emotionally conflicted character; at first, he helps Peter, and even tries to talk sense into some of the villains, but the idea of being kept from his home world and his daughter pushes him against the web-slinger out of pure self-preservation. This motivation is the driving force behind many of the villains, as they have either accepted their monstrous new powers or have no wish to be sent away to die. In the case of Doc Ock and the Lizard, this is due to technology or mutation clouding their judgement; when Peter repairs the inhibitor chip on Ock’s neck, he becomes much more agreeable and even helps Peter to hold off the villains in the finale, and when the Lizard ingests the cure and returns to his human form, he returns to his more docile personality.

Peter is devastated by loss and pushed to the edge by the Green Goblin.

The same is also true of the Green Goblin, however Norman’s psychosis is far more manipulative, calculating, and violent. He has no desire to return home to meet his end and absolutely brutalises Peter to keep him from trying to cure him; the Goblin quickly re-establishes himself as Peter’s most dangerous and notorious foe not only by swaying the other villains into turning on Peter, but delivering a massive beatdown on him that leaves him helpless to keep his Aunt May from harm. Although Peter manages to shield May from the Goblin’s pumpkin bomb, the glider blindsides her and leaves her with a fatal wound, and she tragically dies in his arms, leaving him heartbroken and with her final words of encouragement ringing in his ears: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” May’s death devastates Peter, and drives him into a quest for revenge against the Goblin; no longer merely satisfied to cure or help the villains, he wishes nothing less than the Goblin’s death at his hands, and it’s a true moment of despair for the young Avenger. No Way Home really puts Peter through the wringer, pushing his morals and optimistic outlook to breaking point, and really burdens him with the guilt of having indirectly caused his mother-figure’s death by trying to help the villains rather than allowing them to return home and potentially die as fated.

Spider-Man gets some unexpected help to fend off the combined threat of these multiversal villains.

Desperate to find Peter and give their support, M. J. and Ned mess about with one of Dr. Strange’s sling-rings and discover the presence of two more familiar faces who slipped through the dimensional barriers and are determined to help and let me tell you…I have never seen a cinema explode into rapturous applause before but my screening blew the roof off when Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire made their long-awaited, and long-rumoured, return to their famous roles. Both arrived due to Strange’s spell and have been trying to track down MCU-Peter, and both have arrived from later in their careers, finally giving us a coda to their stories: Webb-Peter reveals that he struggled to cope after failing to save Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and almost lost himself to his rage at one point, and that he has thrown himself into his duties as Spider-Man to cope. Raimi-Peter is noticeably older, but still in good shape, and, though haunted by his failures and losses, maintains that he and M. J. (Kirsten Dunst) found a way to carry on). The scenes with the three Peters are an obvious highlight and they share some fantastic line sand banter together; Webb-Peter is elated to have found “brothers” and they work together to synthesise cures for the villains based on their previous experiences and scientific acumen. They also share stories of their adventures and powers, with Webb-Peter and MCU-Peter both being astounded (and a little disturbed) by Raimi-Peter’s organic webbing, Raimi-Peter extending a much-needed pep talk to Webb-Peter, and both Webb- and Raimi-Peter being impressed by MCU-Peter’s space adventures. Seeing them work together, offering MCU-Peter support and understanding, is fantastic as Webb-Peter delivers an emotional soliloquy about his failures (and gets to make amends for it by catching M. J. in a truly emotional moment) and Raimi-Peter relates the messages passed on to him by his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), and MCU-Peter is even able to help them get past being solo heroes and work together using his experiences of teamwork as an Avenger.

The multiversal breach rages out of control, leading to Peter making a selfless sacrifice…

With three Spider-Man working together, the Lizard, the Sandman, and Electro are all subdued and returned to their human forms, presumably alleviating them of their madness and violent tendencies, in a mind-blowing final confrontation around the Statue of Liberty (which is being refurbished to hold Captain America’s shield aloft). Despite the best efforts of his alternative counterparts, though, MCU-Peter is driven into a rage and attacks the Green Goblin mercilessly and even prepares to deliver a fatal blow with his own glider, only for Raimi-Peter to intervene (and get stabbed in the back for his efforts). Ultimately, MCU-Peter delivers a cure, rather than a kill, to his newest foe and Norman is left an emotional and remorseful wreck, though this pales in comparison to the threat unleashed by one of his pumpkin bombs as Strange’s spell is blown free and miscellaneous, vaguely-defined villains and intruders from all across the multiverse threaten to converge on the MCU. Dr. Strange struggles to contain the spell and, determined to make amends for his previous mistake, MCU-Peter decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and has Strange cast a new spell that will make everyone, everywhere, forget all about Peter Parker. He thanks his counterparts for their help and bids an emotional farewell to M. J. and Ned, promising to find them and rekindle their friendship/relationship after the spell is cast, but hesitates upon seeing how happy and better off M. J. and Ned are without him in their lives. Ultimately, Peter chooses to leave them be and fashions a new, 100% comic accurate costume for himself using his counterparts’ suits as inspiration and finally gets his big, triumphant final swing as he begins a new life safe in the knowledge that no one knows his true identity any more…and that he’s not alone in the vast, dangerous multiverse.

The Summary:
After viewing that first trailer and seeing Doc Ock show up once again, my mind was pretty much blown when it came to this movie; it raised so many questions, many of them being concerns that Tom’s third solo outing would get overwhelmed or bogged down by multiverse shenanigans and blatant fan service. Subsequent trailers helped shed a bit more light on the film, and I began to calm down a bit and predict that these returning characters wouldn’t be as integral to the narrative as many were making out. This turned out to be true, to a degree; the villains are definitely a big part of the film, but Spider-Man: No Way Home still does a fantastic job of focusing on Peter, his relationships, his growth, and his identity crisis. Could we have seen a grittier, more grounded film that dealt with him being on the run and learning to adapt to his tumultuous new public life? For sure, yes, and I would also argue that many of these villains could have been recast and reimagined as MCU characters and it would have worked just as well, but again there is such a thrill to be had at seeing these actors return to their iconic roles and, in many cases, reinvigorate their characters with the benefit of hindsight.

No Way Home successfully juggles its multiversal aspects to focus on Peter’s current crisis.

I loved that Peter’s focus was on others the entire time; his selflessness is a driving force of his character, and every decision he makes is to try and benefit either his friends or family or to save lives. This is motivated by his guilt, of course, as they would only be in danger because of him, and he remains a flawed character trying to make amends for his mistakes, which is the quintessential essence of Spider-Man for me. More than any other Spider-Man, MCU-Peter tries to help even the most villainous characters rather than condemn them to death, it was truly heart-breaking to see him o devastated by Aunt May’s death that he was willing to cross that line. Of course, the undisputable highlight is seeing Tom Holland share the screen with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield; while it’s painfully obvious that all three actors weren’t on set or in the studio at the same time for every shot (whether due to Covid or scheduling), it’s still a blast to see them interacting, hearing those iconic themes, and seeing them in action. Once I accepted that No Way Home was going to be a multiverse adventure, my hope was that the film would go all-out to deliver on its potential…and I’m happy to say that it went above and beyond! Action-packed, emotional, and amusing throughout, Spider-Man: No Way Home may very well be in the top-tier of Spider-Man adventures and I am very excited to see where Peter’s journey takes him now that his status quo has been so dramatically changed.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you seen Spider-Man: No Way Home? Did I completely spoil the film for you? Were you excited at the idea of iconic Spider-Man villains making their return or do you think that the multiverse stuff should stay in the Dr. Strange movies? What did you think to the way the film handled the public’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity and would you have preferred to see this explored a little more in-depth? Which of the returning villains was your favourite, and how excited were you to see Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield return (and Charlie Cox finally be incorporated into the movies)? Were you disappointed that we came so close to the Sinister Six and that Venom didn’t have a role in the film? Where do you see the MCU-Spider-Man’s story going from here? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man: No Way Home, sign up to leave a comment below or leave a comment on my social media (but be mindful of spoiling it for others!)