Thursday, June 27, 2019

Spider-Man Strikes Back

Directed by Ron Statlof.

1978. Not Rated, 90 minutes.
Nicholas Hammond
Joanna Cameron
Robert Alda
Robert F. Simon
Michael Pataki
Chip Fields
Leigh Kavanaugh
Lawrence P. Casey
Emil Farkas

Before revisiting 1977's made-for-TV movie The Amazing Spider-Man, I had planned to do so for months. Thank goodness for YouTube because there it was after a quick search. Something else was also there: this kinda-sorta sequel to that curiosity. Though I'm sure I watched it as a young'n, I'd completely forgotten about the existence of Spider-Man Strikes Back. In fairness to me, I may never heard that title. See, this isn't a movie in the truest sense of the word. It's actually a two-part episode of the TV series. Then again, it's Wikipedia page reveals that was released theatrically overseas. So what do I know? Not much other than that I was somehow simultaneously anticipating and dreading the clicking of the play button. After a deep breath and a roll of the eyes, I clicked it, and this film swings into action.

When I say the film swings into action, I really mean it. As soon as it starts, we see a woman standing on a ledge high above the city streets and threatening to jump. The cop that's trying to talk her down looks like he's been on the force for quite some time, but he's clearly new to this part of the job. The first thing we hear this clown say to her is "If you jump, you'll never see your boyfriend again." As the words were leaving his mouth, I was thinking, "Hey dumbass, don't you know you're in a cheesy network show from the 70s? That means her boyfriend is the whole reason she's up there! Sure enough, she tells him exactly that. Sigh. Anyhoo, Spider-Man scales the wall, snatches her off the ledge and swings her to safety. Well, "snatches" and "swings" are two entirely overpowered verbs for what Spidey actually does. The reality is he puts his body against hers and struggles mightily to walk her to the nearest window. Whatever. The point of this entire scene is that our hero makes the six o'clock news which gets the attention of a newspaper in Florida. That paper sends Lois Lane Gail Hoffman (Cameron) to score an interview with the web-slinger.

     Dear reader, 

          I apologize for the previous paragraph. In my quest to be at least a little bit funny, I dove into the opening scene. The result is I've spent lots of time on what amounts to a subplot. Now I've wasted even more of your precious seconds with this letter. At its conclusion, I promise to discuss the main plot, as well as my feelings on the film as a whole. I'm sorry again. And again.

Your friendly neighborhood movie blogger,

The professor of one of Peter Parker's classes at New York State University has decided it was a good idea to bring in a bunch of plutonium so he can make his very own reactor. When he announces this in class, they understandably lose their shit, Peter included. They have two main concerns. First, they're worried about it exploding by accident because it might be pretty volatile. Second, they're really scared it will explode on purpose because terrorists might steal it and build an atomic bomb. He tells them that even if someone stole it, it would be incredibly difficult to build  working bomb. Good ol' Peter refutes this by telling him that any bozo with a library card can figure it out. This exchange is important for reasons I'll get into later. Several of Peter's classmates are so pissed they feel they have to make a point. That's a college kid thing to do so I get it. I don't get what they actually do. They steal the plutonium themselves. In the midst of their heist, Spider-Man shows up too late to stop them, is seen and gets blamed for the theft. When all of this doesn't get as much media attention as they hoped, they decide to do the next "logical" thing and try to build a bomb themselves. Meanwhile, Mr. White, a business mogul/knock-off Bond villain catches wind of all this and comes to New York to get his grubby paws on the plutonium, and of course, build a bomb. Spider-Man trying to clear his name, keep his identity a secret, and prevent New York City from being blown to smithereens ensues.

No matter what's written from this point forward, please understand that almost all of it is a clear improvement over its predecessor, the series pilot. In other words, things are better but still not good. The most easily noticeable thing is the special fx. Our hero's wall-crawling is almost passable. Almost. Some of the stunts don't even cause laughter, another step up. The absolute highlight of the movie is a moment that combines both of those things. During a fight, Spidey gets himself thrown off a building. For starters, he's actually shown falling through the air, and not some lame POV shot like the first movie gave us. To save himself, our hero shoots a web that attaches to two opposing buildings and forms a net that he lands on. Through two movies, this is the only instance where I was like, "Daaayyumm, that was cool!"

Unfortunately, the rest of the visual lack the same magic. We still get plenty of those crappy POV shots. Fights look like it was everyone's first learning the choreography and the more complex stuff hasn't been put in yet. I'm pretty sure that if you listen closely you can hear someone saying, "Okay, Nick, step to the left as he swings. Now duck!" Still, the worst looking thing by far is something that should be the easiest thing to pull off, Spider-Man walking. There are no special fx involved here, just star Nicholas Hammond behaving like a burglar on a kiddie show aimed at pre-schoolers whenever he puts on his Spidey suit. No matter what the situation is, he gets in a stance like he's about to try and guard LeBron James, takes a few steps, stops, looks left and right like he's trying to make sure no one sees him, then repeats the process over and over until he finally gets where he's going. A drinking game could certainly be made of this. It doesn't help that he's wearing a god-awful rendition of the costume, including big, clunky, metal web-shooter adorning one wrist.

Thankfully, someone was smart enough to know that they weren't great at all that action stuff so our hero's heroics are pretty spread out. The film relies heavily on Peter Parker's intellect. The plot only moves when he deduces one thing or another. Time between deductions is filled with people gushing over how smart he is. This allows the movie to generate some drama by making our hero the main suspect. We're told time and again that Peter is the only person smart enough to take the plutonium and make a bomb out of it. Strangely, his lack of motivation is wholly unimportant. Even his own words are ignored for the sake of pushing the story along. As stated earlier, before anything related to the main plot happens, Peter himself says that anyone with a library card can build one. Wouldn't it stand to reason that if the smartest person in New York City is telling you anyone could build one, you might take that into consideration. Okay, that's a nitpick. The larger takeaway is that Nicholas Hammond, despite how bad he is as Spider-Man, does a nice job with the Peter Parker part of the role. Those of you who take their comic books seriously might disagree. However, I fault the way the character is written more than the actor. He's made out to be some odd hybrid of Bruce Wayn and Clark Kent, as opposed to any other version of Peter you've ever seen. If you afford this movie its own take on the character, it goes down smoother.

In general, the writing is wonky. Everything that happens is either cliche or makes no sense at all. Mr. White, the bad guy, is a poor man's...a very poor man's Bond villain. The one running gag is so terribly done it ruins the entire character of Gail Hoffman. The joke is one Peter shares with the audience, which is, of course, that he's Spider-Man. It's executed by having him repeatedly say things in conversation with Gail that are synonymous with the phrase, "I am Spider-Man." This, combined with mounds of evidence means she has to be a pureteen idiot to not figure it out. Naturally, she doesn't. Presumably, it's to give her character something to be concerned with over the course of a series. Within the context of just this movie, she comes off as an imbecile. To boot, the film introduces her like a love interest, but doesn't quite pull that trigger because, again, series, I think. In place of a full-blown romance we get Peter lightly flirting with Rita (Fields), J. Jonah Jameson's black secretary. I only mention her race because it's the 70s and it's pretty clear their exchanges won't go any further for that reason. Still, the biggest issue is that every single thing that happens is a result of the deliberate action of people trying to prevent these exact same things from happening.

At this point I'm just ranting. So, like I said, take all this with a grain of salt. Spider-Man Strikes Back" is by no means a good movie, but it is quite a bit more enjoyable than its predecessor. For all its issues, there are lots of signs of growth from that movie to this one. And that's about all I can ask for.


  1. Oh, that Spider-Man suit looks bad in that last picture. Yeesh. The way you described that opening scene makes me want to see it even more. I think there was also a Japanese movie version of Spider-Man made around that same time only exclusively in Japan.

    1. I've been trying to find the Japanese version online, but all I keep seeing are clips. It looks like it's absolutely nuts.

  2. Love Into the Spider-Week