I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed the three episodes on the Spider-Man: The Ultimate Face Off DVD. MTV's Spider-Man animated series goes beyond your typical kiddie fare and updates the character for modern generations (just like the montly Ultimate Spider-Man comic whose author, Brian Michael Bendis, had a large part in bringing this series to the small screen). While I wouldn't exactly say the series is aimed at adults, it most certainly is geared toward the older kids in the audience. And this is exactly what makes this series stand out from the rest.
One of the reasons Spider-Man is loved by so many people is the fact that Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter ego, is just like any teenager. He's the guy next door, and he has relationship problems that parallel his life as a super hero. Fortunately, this series delves into his relationships to bring out the human side of the character. In the three episodes on this DVD, Parker must deal with new love, friendship with a girl he's always loved, a friend who hates Spider-Man, and of course his college class assignments, all while dealing with the various bad guys roaming New York.
While this series sheds life on Spider-Man's more normal life, it doesn't forget about the action. There's plenty of web slinging, punching, kicking, and exploding buildings and cars. And most of it looks great, but I think the animation is an acquired taste. At first, I didn't like the look, which in essence is a sort of merger between computer game graphics and classic cartoon animation. Some of the facial expressions don't work, and the "human" character movements aren't as fluid as they could be. However, all of the superpowered action looks awesome. Spidey's web slinging through the city has a dynamic, acrobatic quality that I loved, and the fight scenes were generally powerful and exciting. I may not have liked every aspect of the animation (water and fire looks particularly bad), but I felt the good far outweighed the bad.
This DVD contains three episodes from the first season of MTV's new animated series. They are:
1. Spider-Man Dis-Sabled—While covering a press event, Peter Parker/Spider-Man spoils an assassination attempt, and Silver Sable will stop at nothing to get his film, which may contain evidence against her. When she captures Mary Jane, Harry, and Indy (his new love), Spider-Man must find a way to keep them safe while taking out the assassin.
I've always enjoyed the Silver Sable character and this episode does a good job of making her walk the line between good and evil. This episode features plenty of action and the plot is surprisingly complex for an animated show. Sure, it's not Hitchcock, but it's a step in the right direction.
2. Mind Games: Part One—The Gaines Twins escape an armored transport but Spider-Man is there to save the day. However, Silver Sable and Kraven the Hunter are on his trail. Just when Spider-Man reveals his identity to MJ, Kraven finds the perfect way to get payback on his nemesis.
This one is the perfect first part to a story with a great cliffhanger that all but forces you to watch the next episode, when all the pieces come together. Sure, we all know what's coming, but that doesn't seem to matter. Maybe it's Peter's anger and the dark nature of the ending that works here.
3. Mind Games: Part Two—Spider-Man confronts Kraven for what he did to MJ and he's ready to take out his revenge in any way possible, even if it means killing the hunter. But what happens when he realizes not all is what it seems? Nothing good.
This is another fun episode for two reasons: the action, and the emotional repercussions that come from that action. This is one of those episodes that show how a hero's life impacts his everyday alter ego.
Columbia Tristar presents Spider-Man: The Ultimate Face Off in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen. This show looks great. Colors are bright and truly jump off the screen. Darks appear equally as solid. The detail is great, although there are some noticeable moments of pixellation. I'm very pleased with this presentation.
Spider-Man: The Ultimate Face Off is presented with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that is very effective for the show. While the majority of the sound comes from the center channel, there are plenty of moments in which the rears come into play. Plus, there's just enough bass to give the show a sense of power even though it won't give your speakers a real workout. This presentation doesn't provide a real sense of envelopment, but I think it works well for the show.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Just like the previous volumes of this show, the only extras on this DVD are previews for Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 (which sounds great in the 5.1 audio track), Steamboy, Tokyo Godfathers, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Cyborg 009, Memories, and Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels.
I enjoyed these shows more than I thought I would. The animation may be an acquired taste and the bonus features are next to nothing, but I still recommend the series to Spider-Man fans. However, with the entire season on a special edition DVD, I can't suggest doing more than renting this one. If you like it, buy the two disc version of the series.