Skepticism, confusion, and downright derision have greeted the troubled hybrid of rock opera and comic-book adaptation that is Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. But there might also be room for a smidgen of grudging respect for the show’s musical creators, Bono and The Edge. As opposed to taking the safe route with a jukebox musical recycling their greatest hits, U2’s twin figureheads wrote an original score that attempts to squeeze their usual stadium-rock heroics into the unfamiliar (and ultimately untenable) conventions of the Broadway musical. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark might be an epic tumble for two of the most successful rockers ever, but at least they tried stepping in a new direction.
Then again, it’s worth asking whether this particular risk was worth taking. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark seems uniquely constructed to frustrate the expectations of U2 fans, musical-theater lovers, and even train-wreck enthusiasts, who will be disappointed to find that the show isn’t as bad as some have suggested—at least when experienced solely as an album. The best bits of Spider-Man fall in line with U2’s serviceable run of backward-looking records from the ’00s, only this time, stage actor Reeve Carney is the one aping Joshua Tree-era Bono (and doing a credible job on the opening number, “Boy Falls From The Sky”) rather than the huskier-voiced, 51-year-old co-composer. Bono himself steps in to sing “Rise Above 1” and “Picture This,” decent pop songs whose connection to Peter Parker’s story is flimsy at best.
The songs that actually drive the plot and characters development, like “Pull The Trigger” and “DIY World,” also happen to be the most tiresome. (Only the Green Goblin showstopper “A Freak Like Me Needs Company”—a better stab at disco than “Discotheque”—works both as music and storytelling.) A callow lyricist even on the best U2 songs, Bono tends to rhyme words like “above” with words like “above,” which does him no favors with an audience that actually pays attention to the words. Unfortunately, the only people who couldn’t see the obvious—that Bono and The Edge were ill-suited to write a Broadway musical based on a comic book—were those with the most to lose from being involved in Spider-Man.