“Superhero Movie” is a comedy that’s remained off the radar for a long time since its release, and that’s a good thing. As a comedy it’s a pretty solid spoof of the “Spider-Man” movies, mocking the inherent silliness and idiocy of the Sam Raimi movies. And ironically enough it manages to be a much more creative and coherent superhero picture than “Spider-Man 3” ever hoped to be. I don’t disagree that the movie is a mixed bag of humor that tackles the superhero movie craze, as well as old hat superhero tropes, but it’s succeeds as an entertaining novelty and a respectable guilty pleasure.
Director Craig Mazin hits on point why the original Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies are so absurd, and while it does march to the beat of its own drummer mid-way, most of the laughs are at the expense of Sam Raimi’s campy adaptations. Drake Bell is well cast as the buffoonish Rick Riker whose own sense of innocence comes off more like a social deficiency. He walks right in to accidents left and right when we first meet him and we can only really identify with him because of his longing after the girl of his dreams. Incidentally the beaming Sara Paxton does a better job playing pseudo-Mary Jane Jill Johnson than Kirsten Dunst did, playing the actual character.
Riker gets a new purpose when he’s bitten by a scientifically advanced dragon fly, and as he realizes he has the powers of the dragonfly (and a bit from a spider), corporate executive Jim Landers has learned he’s dying from Cancer. Creating a new machine that allows him to suck the youth from people to restore his health he becomes the Hourglass, a mad villain anxious to find victims to help him acquire immortality. Riker must navigate between learning his powers, and discovering his love for Jill, all the while trying to carve his own identity as a superhero. “Superhero Movie” follows all of the beats of the first two “Spider-Man” movies, reveling in Riker’s idiocy, mocking the relationship he has with his eccentric adopted uncle, and even does a fine job with some hilarious flashbacks.
Even when the movie falters, Mazin picks up the pace by injecting solid madcap and one-liners by Leslie Nielsen and Kevin Hart. There are also some fun twists on key moments in the “Spider-Man” movies like the thanksgiving sequence, Riker building his own costume, and Riker tolerating his eccentric aunt and uncle. *Bell is often very funny as Riker, mastering the art of the double take and gaping glance, as well as playing well off of the equally funny Nielsen, Hart, and Christopher MacDonald. While it does hit pitfalls, including a painfully drawn out spoof of “X-Men,” and a lame Stephen Hawking running gag, “Superhero Movie” is a surprisingly solid guilty pleasure that inspired many chuckles and chortles, and even manages to be a fairly decent superhero origin in its own right.
*Bell who plays a pseudo Spider-Man, went in to voice the actual Spider-Man years later in “Ultimate Spider-Man.”