Where to start? There are so many big things wrong with the retooled Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that it feels only sporting to mention the positives first.
Which won’t take long. The jaw-dropping aerial stunts, especially in the closing 20-30 minutes, work perfectly (all technical glitches have evidently been solved), eliciting the wide-eyed wonder of the circus and the best comic-book action movies. The justly celebrated sets, supplemented by witty and at times immersive projections, practically burst with creativity, zooming from perspective to perspective, cityscape to cityscape, setting to setting, cleverly and with evocative urban grandeur.
Hmm…what else? Well, Patrick Page has fun as the Green Goblin towards the end. There are a few nice duet-vocal moments between leads Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano. In a couple of spots, the score, by U2’s Bono and The Edge, hits a high, if pointless, peak, also during the second act.
That’s all the juice I can squeeze out of this sad husk of a show. The music, for the most part, ranges from colorless to awful. (An example of the latter: I really want back the five minutes of my life lost to a number called “Sinistereo.”) The forgettable lyrics are only marginally better than the ham-handed, amateurish dialogue, which isn’t even worthy of a bad B-movie, resembling instead what you might find in an original middle school musical.
Even the amusing lines are spoiled. “You know, when Ben and I graduated high school,” Peter Parker’s sweet Aunt May tells Peter and Mary Jane suggestively upon their own graduation, “we got married.” Funny and cute, but then, after a beat, as if we didn’t take her meaning, it’s slammed home: “Right away!” Much of the script is similarly insulting to the audience’s intelligence.
Worst of all, the story lacks what made the best superhero comics great: that combination of mythic mystique and crackling emotional punch that made stories like Spider-Man’s so compelling, and that the best movie versions (like the first two Spider-Man films) carry forward.
Within the show’s already shaky narrative framework, the characters exert no pull on us and no magnetism upon each other. Characters die, and so what? It’s on to the next thing. The death of Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben, for example, although foundational to the myth of Spider-Man, barely registers emotionally, and why should it? This version of Peter Parker’s father figure is just a ball of cliches. And then there’s Arachne (played by a thoroughly wasted T.V. Carpio), the mythological spider-woman who functions here as a sort of spirit guide. About this incomprehensible character, the less said the better.
Peter neglects Mary Jane and then sees her out with his rival; again, so what? MJ really loved Peter all along, and how do we know? Because she tells him so shortly thereafter. When she asks, after the pair suddenly and inexplicably appear in a nightclub, “What are we doing here?”, it was exactly what I was wondering.
Just about the only parts of the show I enjoyed were – and how sad is this? – the parts with no dialogue or singing, notably the final aerial fight sequence, and secondarily the clever scene illustrating Spider-Man’s first appearance in full Spidey garb, foiling cartoonish masked robbers and establishing himself as this fantasy New York City’s uncaped crusader. Even at that, though, I couldn’t help thinking that The Powerpuff Girls did this sort of thing just as well, or better – and with more depth of character.