Spider-Man (1977) — The CBS movie that Aunt May won’t let you see!

“You just said he was a spider. Spiders have got lots of legs.”

Justin’s rating: Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a low-budget television special can!

Justin’s review: Part of the great fun of being a Mutant Reviewer is walking the path much less traveled. While the whole world is still buzzing about the events and cameos of No Way Home, I’m over here going, “Hey, I totally should review that terrible CBS television movie from the ’70s with our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler!” Truly, I have to hire a bodyguard entourage to keep me safe from my throngs of admirers these days.

So for those of you who thought that Spider-Man’s first theatrical outing was his 2002 Sam Raimi blockbuster, here’s your rude awakening. In 1977, CBS was putting together a new television series on the comic book superhero and — as was the fashion at the time — took the pilot and released it in theaters in certain parts of the world. The TV studio did this twice afterward, and I’m not going to put myself through those for you.

In a rather creepy opening, a doctor and lawyer working in the city hear a strange buzzing noise and abruptly stop what they’re doing and head out to rob a bank. They’re mind-controlled, of course, by Byron (Thayer David), a hypnotist who demands $50 million from the city or he will make 10 random people commit suicide by the week’s end. Golly, that’s kind of dark for 1977.

Covering this story is Daily Bugle photographer Peter Parker, played in this version by 27-year-old Nicholas Hammond. When he’s not disappointing his boss J.J., he’s playing around with radioactive waste as part of his Ph.D. project. One thing leads to another, and Mr. Radioactive Spider bites him to get this origin story going. You know how this goes: He finds out he can crawl up walls, get premonitions of danger, and wear 200% more beige than the average college kid. So why not become a superhero? Surely, the MCU will come a-calling!

Spider-Man 1977 really, really hopes that you’re going to be wowed by watching a stunt guy crawling up and down walls, because that’s what Spider-Man does best here. It’s not quite as thrilling as I make it sound, because this whole production is done in that languid ’70s way with a funky soundtrack that removes any suspense or excitement. Obviously, there was no huge budget for special effects for a project like this, so it tends to skew more to pointless scenes than fast-paced action setpieces.

And for those well-acquainted with Spider-Man’s whole origin and mythos, you’ll find only a small part of that here. Sure, there’s Aunt May, J.J., web-slinging, and the iconic red-and-blue costume (with weird silver eyes), but a lot is missing too. There’s no Uncle Ben, Mary Jane, or recognizable villains. He doesn’t have webs so much as a string that he can shoot from his wrist. Probably the most “off” element here is Hammond as Peter Parker. Instead of sassy quips, Hammond plays Peter like a deranged serial killer in training with absolutely horrible alibis, manic facial expressions whenever he pulls off a new spidey trick, and a tendency to giggle.

The MVP of this feature film is definitely Captain Barbara (Michael Pataki), a gruff-talking policeman who chomps on a cigar in every scene and gives Peter no end of grief. He’s the one guy who genuinely feels like a comic book transplant, and my non-existent hat is off to him.

While Spider-Man was certainly a hot comic book commodity in the 1970s, it had to be a fiendishly difficult concept to pull off with the limited resources and effects of the time. I mean, obviously they hashed out enough material to create a few seasons, but let’s be honest: It was never going to do the character justice.

Didja notice?

  • Spidey likes randomly crawling around on buildings during credit sequences to a funky jazz beat
  • “I don’t know much about mind control…”
  • Fun with radioactive waste!
  • Plexiglass is enough to keep radiation contained
  • Spider dreams
  • Peter Parker in super-floppy bellbottom pants
  • The costume isn’t terrible, I’ll give this movie that
  • “I’m taking pictures!” “Oh, so that’s what it’s for.” bwahahaha
  • “We’re doing everything we can” says the paramedic who is simply leaning on a car
  • Spidey-strength to slightly move a car seat back!
  • Nobody notices that their outfits suddenly have a weird pin on them? It’s very noticeable.
  • Peter swinging off the thinnest tree ever

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