I remember watching the two part series premiere of the Spectacular Spiderman in 2008. Despite reservations over the art style, I could tell the show had the goods halfway through the first episode. By the end of the second episode, I couldn't wait to see the third the following weekend.
Fast forward to 2012 and I find myself watching the two part series premiere for Ultimate Spiderman. By the end of the second episode, I was feeling on the verge of being physically ill. However, to be fair, I decided to watch the third episode to make sure my hunches were correct. They were. This show is rubbish.
USM is nowhere near being in the same league as SSM. To be blunt, it comes up short against every animated series to feature the character. Yes, this includes Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. While Spidey had to share the spotlight with Firestar and Iceman, in that series, here he is all but crowded out of frame by the likes of Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova. Oh Yeah, there's also Nick Fury, Agent Coulson (from the movies) and the rest of shield. Oh yeah, there's also the ever ubiquitous villain of the week. Not one of the good or bad guys really fit in with the Spiderman mythos, and it shows. Thankfully, there are the good old standbys.
For instance, Mary Jane Watson is now a burgeoning, high school reporter and only feels vaguely reminiscent of a teenage Lois Lane because this characterization blatantly rips that property off. Aunt May is shown as being a bit younger and livelier here than ever before. Were it not for her gray hair, one could imagine May blowing off her nephew to go clubbing with college kids. J. Jonah Jameson has apparently gotten out of printed news and is now a television news personality, because seeing him scream out from a television screen is cooler than seeing him run roughshod over a bullpen. Right? Then, there's Harry. Why should Harry Osborn be a geeky outsider, when he can be a cool kid who sticks up for Parker? Well now we find out why.
But, the belle of the ball, the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top and the recipient of more clichés than I have fingers is USM's lead. One has to wonder if Otto Octavius was charged with developing this series because the Wallcrawler really gets the short end of the stick. Here, Parker is prone to flights of fancy where he'll see himself as a toaster or using a jetpack. When not envisioning painfully out of character scenarios, he's breaking the fourth wall with an alarming regularity. Every time he freezes the action to talk to me, an esteemed member of the viewing audience, I find myself wishing he'd have the common decency to shut up. Some of this is due to the context of the situation he's in. It makes no sense for him to "timeout" in the middle of a fight to fill us in on what's happening. But the majority of the pain this narrative device provides, however, is due to Drake Bell's performance as Peter Parker.
Over three decades of reading the comics, watching the movies, watching the cartoons and playing the games, I've come to expect Spiderman's voice to be cerebral and quite sardonic. In short the character's always been a blast to listen to. In USM, instead of an intelligent smart aleck, we get a pipsqueaky delivery that confuses crass for wit. Spidey, the thinking man's superhero, sounds about as witty as a high school kid bragging about his first beer.
There's only one aspect of USM that compares favorably to previous series. This would be the animation and overall character designs. Visually, Parker veers extremely close to his depiction in the USM comics. The character model is quite detailed. Surprisingly, despite the bump up in detail, everything animates very smoothly. To be honest, the animation here actually seems to do a better job of conveying momentum and impact than even SSM. Regardless, when the writing, acting and action scenes are so jarringly bad, what does it matter? A lemon's a lemon, regardless of how shiny its paint job is.
I honestly have no idea what the creators of this series were thinking. Most of them are former or current comic scribes who honestly should have a better handle on things. It's as though there is a deliberate effort on their part to sabotage this series. Either that or these guys are working past their expiration date. I'm going with the latter. Even so, this would still be an interesting experiment in failure; were it not for the fact a MUCH better series was cancelled for this pile to exist.
In defense of USM's creators, this probably was written for a much younger audience to sell toys. After all, exploiting rugrats to attack their parent's wallets is such a noble endeavor. Regardless, if you're in the target demo and are old enough to sleep on your stomach without dying, don't watch USM. It'll only make you want to swear, and that's a bad habit to get into.