Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoon Review
So there’s a new Spider-Man cartoon out and opinions on it are differing, though one thing is certain this show isn’t Ultimate, in more ways than one.
Created by Jeph Loeb (Heroes season 3, Ultimatum), Joe Quesada (Spider-Man: One More Day), the Man of Action team (Ben 10, Generator Rex), and Paul Dini (Tiny Toons, Batman: TAS). The show is an action comedy meant to be in the vein of Teen Titans or Batman Brave and the Bold but the action is sub-par and the comedy is more Family Guy than anything actually cleaver and funny.
The premise is simple; Nick Fury wants to SHIELD train Spider-Man into a better superhero, an “Ultimate Spider-Man” giving the show its title. Then Fury puts Spider-Man in charge of a group of young heroes since he’s apparently experienced enough to lead them but requires SHIELD training because he’s too inexperienced.
Right there in the premise is a plot-hole. It’s not the show’s first or last, but it is an example of the sloppy writing the show is littered with. However this is the least of the shows problems.
Let’s get into the thing everyone has commented on, the cutaway gags. This show uses Family Guy style cutaway gags for most of its humour. Most of them straight up don’t work as all they’re doing is repeating the same joke that was just told verbally. It makes the jokes run on too long and ruins any humour value they could have. It takes away valuable time from the episodes which could be used to improve the characters or flesh out the world. They are also frequently used in fight scenes, which interrupt the flow and bring the action to a complete stop. It ruins both the comedy and the action by trying to mix both together.
That’s the main flaw of the show; it’s a comedy show that isn’t funny. It tries to be but it pelts the audience with gags every other second making it overwhelming. Because of this even the rare funny moment in the show overshadowed by bad comedy.
Next there’s the massive exposition dumps. It happens a lot in the first episode and I realise some things need to be explained to a new audience, but did anyone watching this really need to be told Spidey’s origin in detail? Or who MJ/Aunt May/Flash/Harry/the rest of the supporting cast were? Or that he has Spider-Sense, and how it works? All of it was forced and unneeded. Now the main villains of the first episode, the Frightful Four, are something the audience might need to know about. The show however wasted it’s time elsewhere to bother explaining anything useful about them. They could’ve elaborated on what their powers were, why they are a threat, or just something to make the audience feel like Spidey should be worried. Adding tension or drama to the show instead of just deflating it like when Peter starts a food fight in order to distract the villains that have invaded his school carpeteria. Making the villains appear weak that way is not conducive to trying to have them look like a threat, like they did in episode 2.
Now the voice acting… wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great and it feels like everyone was phoning it in, but there was no one I couldn’t stand or got on my nerves. Drake Bell is probably the best choice for this type of show, since he’s used to bad superhero parodies, but he’s just not a good choice for Spider-Man. Misty Lee as Aunt May was probably the worst of the lot, though. She just seemed so disconnected and lacking any emotional connection to Peter. It seems like there’s some really bad voice direction in this show that’s dragging down the veteran voice actors.
Then there’s the Spider-Bike. In episode two Fury gives Peter a motorcycle, which shoots webs, lasers, and drives on walls. The show justifies why Peter needs one is because webbing is expensive, he wares himself out when swinging, and the bike is about a minute faster. This is flimsy at best since the bike would be more expensive, harder to hide in his house, only slightly faster than he is. To make matters worse the bike serves no story purpose, at all. It takes up about half the episode’s screen time and then is completely forgotten about in the second half. It could be cut out entirely without any real noticeable effect on the plot. This was horrible toy marketing intruding on the show in the worst possible way. To not even tie it to the main plot makes it seem so throwaway and even the cartoons designed to be toy adverts know that you have to make the new toy seem as “cool” as possible by having it solve the dilemma of the episode.
It also generates another plot hole. In episode 1 had Fury know a lot about Peter, even the ever quoted Uncle Ben line, through a background check, yet in episode 2 this background check didn’t come up with the fact that Peter doesn’t even have a learners permit. Fury just hands Spidey a motorcycle and as Spidey goes out of control on it, crashing out the Helicarrier, he then asks if he knows how to drive it. So SHIELD is either super-competent or incompetent with their background checks, depending on what the plot requires of them. Even comedies need some sort of internal consistency.
I suppose I should talk about MJ being a journalism student in this. While it might be straight from the Ultimate comics it would’ve been nice if it was explained to the audience. With all the exposition that was happening the audience wasn’t told why and how she’s difference here than in all her other media depictions. She’s pretty much been made into Peter’s Lois Lane, rather than having her be MJ. I was a little bit disappointed she didn’t know Peter is Spider-Man, unlike the comics, which would’ve been a nice change of pace for a Spider-Man cartoon. The rest of the supporting cast are barely worth mentioning as they’re all flat pale imitations of their comics counterparts. Spider-Man has often been said to have the greatest supporting cast in all of comics but there’s not a whiff of that here.
The animation was decent but the storyboarding and direction were lousy. It made the show look less high quality than it trying to be. Things like this really let the animation down and keep it from being as good as it could be. Character designs were serviceable, nothing really bad or good. They felt designed for a comic book rather than an animation, which is a step in the wrong direction since animation should look like animation not a comic. Those two mediums require different things and while they can be similar what works in one doesn’t always work in the other.
Overall this show is terrible and the worst Marvel cartoon since Avengers United They Stand. You can have a serious show that does comedy, both Avatar series’ do this very well, and you can have a comedy series that has serious stories, Teen Titans and Batman: Brave and the Bold come to mind, but you need a balance between the two and do both well. This show doesn’t do either of them well. The comedy side is frequently shoved into serious moments where it doesn’t belong, and more importantly it’s not funny. The serious end of things are so ineptly written they could’ve been from an 80s cartoon. If the drama can’t be taken seriously and the humour isn’t funny then the creators have failed in making a quality show. This is supposed to be an example of the new era of Marvel TV and it makes me worried. If this is the type of show they’re going to be producing then they’re catering to the lowest common denominator and not doing a very good job of it.
If you like Family Guy you might find this show funny. Everyone else don’t give this show the time of day, it’s not worth it. It’s not even funny bad like some of the older Marvel shows; it’s just a bad show.