Spider-Man: the NEW Animated Series Episode #3-“Law of the Jungle” Review

 Whilst never appearing in the Rami movies proper, the Lizard debuts in the MTV continuity! Is his outing in this episode a prelude to his portrayal for the upcoming ASM movie?

Screenplay By: Greg Johnson

 Directed By: Alan Caldwell

Guest Starring: Rob Zombie as Doc Conners/The Lizard and Ed Asner as Officer Barr.

THE PLOT: Curt Connors, a professor at Empire State University, experiments with lizard DNA to regrow his limbs. Bitter from a lawsuit with Oscorp, Connors is obsessed with getting revenge. Meanwhile, the one year anniversary of Norman Osborn’s death has arrived, and Harry is tasked to move out some of the items of Norman’s office. Whilst rummaging through, he realizes his dad wasn’t exactly the man he Harry thought he was.

LONG STORY SHORT: Connors transforms into a giant, mutated lizard (would you believe it). He attacks Harry at Oscorp, and after a chase from Spider-Man and the NYPD, falls to his death from a police helicopter.

MY THOUGHTS: The series has gotten better and better with each episode, succeeding at the type of mature tone the show had ascribed to it through being shown on the MTV Network. This episode finally feels like something that would not have been done in a typical Spidey cartoon at the time, because the Lizard is portrayed as the violent, deadly creature he is in the comics since the famous “Torment” story from Todd MacFarlene back in 1990. I may’ve spoken about thematic similarities to the story in the pilot of the 90s show, but this episode goes to town with the horror atmosphere and because of it is the best episode so far in the series. In my opinion of course.

Curt Connors, voiced by Rob Zombie for some reason, is radically different in this portrayal than he’s been in past Spider-Man shows. As opposed to the scientist seeking to help people including himself re-grow limbs, he’s shown to be a bitter, contemptuous wretch who’s creepy before he turns into the Lizard. There’s no hint of a family, and the guy is pretty unlikable all around. It’s an interesting change which makes this version stand out somewhat from all the others. It was probably the template for the Zeb Wells horror show “Shed” a few years later. Connors’ personality wasn’t very consistent though. When Peter visits him in the school ( which btw, I don’t know why Connors, who is transformed at this point but can still have full function of his brain would show up at the school even though he cancelled class. Why not stay home?) Connors pleads with Peter to leave him be, showing a hint of compassion that wasn’t previously shown with the character. I suppose this sort of instance would pierce through the hard exterior of his personality, but Connors still wants homicidal revenge on Norman Osborn, by ways of some convoluted lawsuit subplot. Essentially, while the change in Connors’ character to being an out-an-out unlikable bad guy is interesting, it robs the audience of any sympathy with the guy when he really should have sympathy given to him. Curt Connors has always been made to be sympathetic, and here he’s just a wretch. It’s not a case of a bad guy being given any empathy, he’s just a sour wretch. Peter doesn’t really like him although he certainly respects him, and it makes Connors come off more like Victor Fries. The whole thing is conflicting to watch, albeit very interesting.

  The Harry subplot made what I had believed to be a general hollow interpretation of Harry into the type of layered character this version gave us in the films. This episode felt like we were seeing Harry Osborn, not “MTV Harry Osborn”. The feelings he had about his father and the frustration he felt in not really knowing him gave Harry the sympathy the episode should’ve shared with Curt Connors. Nevertheless, it was a very nice outing for Ian Ziering’s Harry and made for a nice performance from him. I liked seeing Harry feel elated when learning that Peter remembered the anniversary, and Harry genuinely came off as someone who truly needed his friends as a support group but didn’t know how to approach them. Also his anger with Spider-Man felt truer in this episode as opposed to the last two, where it was just randomly thrown into the dialogue and forgotten about seconds later. You really get the sense that he was hurting from a solid year of straight grief from the events of Spider-Man 1. Nevermind the fact that the three should be college sophomores by now and Peter should be 19, not 18 if it is indeed a year since. Whilst this episode definitely had a much stronger presence felt by the first movie, I think a brief animated flashback to Harry finding his dad’s body would’ve sufficed to make Harry’s pain that much more strongly felt, but it’s just a thought.

On the not-so-good sides of this episode, this story in particular had some of the most gratuitous college references for a show that’s already gratuitous with college references. It begins with Peter saying in his internal monologue that college is meant to be fun whilst seeing a…”College is Fun!” parade? Anyway, the main three characters all go on about studying and mocha lattes and other crap that college kids legitimately do not talk about when they have free time on there hands. It’s one thing for Peter to reference studying and trying to excel in school. The character has always done that. But at no point in history up to this moment did he or the supporting characters stop the show dead to point out how much in college they are. It’s really pretentious and stupid, to the point of inducing laughter. It’s a transparent chalkboard sketch of the words “THE KIDS ARE ALL ABOUT COLLEGE” written by MTV, but this was always something I remembered for the show. I don’t have all that big of a problem with it, but you can’t help but notice it after seeing shows with Peter in school in pretty much every animated incarnation with little comment about the school. Spectacular Spider-Man had lots of high school references, but they would always play into the plot and not done for the sake of reminding the audience about the youth of the characters. In this show, it always feels like they’re trying too hard when they really don’t need to. College is the setting, leave it at that.

 After  a baffling outing in the pilot, and a really solid portrayal in “Royal Scam”, Mary Jane’s character is back to being weird. She’s not so-much the gal pal of Peter and Harry as she is a source of reward for Peter at the end of the episode. Near the end, there’s some romantic tension felt between her and Harry when she kisses him on the cheek, but her kiss with Peter was, again, as forced as a fist to the face. She says all Peter cares about is his friend, and while that’s not strictly untrue, at no point in the episode was Peter bending over backwards to try and help Harry with his father’s things. MJ was with Harry more than Peter was, so the ending was again just thrown in the there get some unwarrented shipping action between the two characters. When she says “for a while (you almost lost) me.” to Peter, you get the sense that she means lost in the romantic feelings sense, although she could be talking about the climax to Spider-Man 1. Nevertheless, what is it with these two? They clearly want each other, but how do the think the other feels? Is MJ letting on the she wants Peter to be attracted to her, even though he told he he wasn’t? Does Peter want MJ to know his feelings, even though he lied to her at the end of the first movie? It’s a really muddy situation that compounds the weird characterization of Mary Jane in the series. This is by far the most inconsistently written portrayal of the character in any Spider-Man cartoon, including the ’67 show where she was George Stacy’s niece. It’s very odd.

All told, I really enjoyed this episode aside from some glaring gripes I had with it. The third act is exceptionally well directed, and the way the Lizard himself was portrayed was pretty good. As a monster, it was probably the most realistic it would’ve been done, but it also ended way too abruptly an unsatisfactorily with the character falling and dying. It may’ve been realistic, but realism rarely makes for entertaining fiction. I do like this the best out of the series thus far, but the Lizard’s end, plus MJ’s odd characterization keeps me from grading it higher.

3.5/5 music videos

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(5) Comments

  1. Podcasterify

    This is the very first episode that introduced me to the series. I was at my neighbor's house and saw, I think the latter half of this episode. when they finally released the full season dvd, I bought it. NPH is a fantastic Spidey, in my opinion, definitely ranks high up there. I don't recall a lot of this series, so these reviews are most definitely welcome. I still need to read all of the 90's Spidey TAS reviews...Keep it up Donovan!

  2. Spideysinger

    Likely the best episode of the series! The images come from http://marvel.toonzone.net/spideytac for those who want to see more.

  3. Proto Goblin

    Remembering this episode. I remember liking it but also finding it odd how different lizard was from the comics and other cartoons. I remember feeling his end was kinda sad, especially with that tear(i think there was one) that comes out of his eye when he dies, even though he did bring it on himself. I wonder if Kevin would like the lizard more(or at all) if he had this portrayol in the comics, no turning the world into lizard men here.

  4. AbdulAziz

    This one is a great episode, but your point about the kiss is spot on @Two-Bit: I see what you did there

  5. Two-Bit Specialist

    "her kiss with Peter was, again, as forced as a fist to the face" If a kiss from MJ is a fist to the face, then she can punch my lights out any day! (ha, ha, I'm so creepy).

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