"Spider-Man" trapped in web of monumental folly

Tue Feb 8, 2011 9:15am EST
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By David Rooney

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - As the dominant parent of the problem child "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," Julie Taymor does herself no favors by including a program note about a mythological creature brought down by hubris.

In an ungainly mess of a show that smacks of out-of-control auteurial arrogance, the parallel speaks for itself.

Official opening is not until March 15, but following repeat postponements and what feels like 30 years of previews, The Hollywood Reporter is observing the previously scheduled opening of February 7 with this review. The capitalization hiccups, cast reshuffles, technical glitches and series of injuries have been too exhaustively chronicled to require a recap here. But the big shock when sitting down finally to assess this $65 million web-slinging folly, is what a monumental anticlimax it turns out to be.

Sure, there's still five pre-opening weeks to keep tinkering, but the point at which any savvy producer would have sent for script doctors is long past. While much has been said about the decision to begin performances without an ending in place, this "rock circus drama" has no beginning or middle either.

There's one thrillingly beautiful image about ten minutes in -- during a song appropriately titled "Behold and Wonder" -- as aerialists suspended from saffron-colored sashes weave an undulating fabric wall that fills the stage. And the impressive speed and agility of the flying sequences is a major leap forward in action terms from the slow glide of Mary Poppins.

But mostly, "Spider-Man" is chaotic, dull and a little silly. And there's nothing here half as catchy as the 1967 ABC cartoon theme tune.

The absence of the word "musical" from Taymor's definition of the show seems key. The songs by Bono and The Edge display minimal grasp of music's function in goosing narrative or illuminating character. And despite all the wailing-guitar attitude, they only squeak by as atmospheric enhancement. Aside from one or two stirring anthems in familiar messianic U2 mode, this is strictly album filler, with echoes of everyone from T. Rex to Alice Cooper, plus an occasional nod to The Who's Tommy. The lyrics -- when you can decipher them -- are either too vague or too literal.

But an underwhelming score is the least of the show's worries. What really sinks it is the borderline incoherence of its storytelling.   Continued...

<p>Banners advertising the Broadway play "Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark" shine in front of the Foxwoods Theater in New York December 23, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>