The X-Rated Spider-Man Movies Of Axel Braun

The porn parodies of classic Marvel comics are at once overly ambitious and too stuck in adult movie traditions to fully work – but are nevertheless fun alternative versions of the web-slinging superhero.

One of the guarantees of recent (by which I mean the last twenty or so) years is that no sooner do we have a new superhero film than we get the Axel Braun porn parody. Yes, other parodies are available, but Braun is the director of choice – the one who not only seems to have actually grown up on comic books, absorbing all the cross-overs and hidden lore of the 1970s and 1980s time period but who had the ability to craft his own wild version of the assorted Universes that the major superhero movies all exist in (or strive to exist in, given the assorted stumbling and continually rebooted attempts to establish a DC Universe). The Braun Universe might not be spoken of in the same way as the more mainstream ones – though his superhero films have had a surprising amount of positive coverage with comic book and geek culture websites over the years – but it’s a fascinating one nevertheless. It’s also, quite often, a rather frustrating one if you are that odd sort of person who watches porn for the narrative rather than the sex, but bear with me here.

Braun’s work has not been restricted to any particular publisher – he’s made parodies of Marvel and DC based on both the comic books and the movies, including a brilliantly on-the-nose version of the 1966 Batman film and TV series. For the most part, though, he’s kept these as separate, stand-alone entities. Notably, his attempts to form an ongoing story that spreads across several films have generally been restricted to the Marvel stories – even he has struggled to establish a continuing DC Universe, it seems. The bulk of his best-known work came when he was working with Vivid and they were still releasing primarily on DVD – he has since jumped studios and the market for physical adult media has reduced even further (though not vanished entirely, despite what you might think). For a good few years, I used to receive the Vivid superhero titles to review and, as physical artefacts, they were things of beauty – the packaging was extravagant and the sleeve art often had a genuine comic book pop to it (much more so than the mainstream superhero films, which often seem keen to distance themselves from their comic strip origins) and the films came laden with extra content – behind-the-scenes footage, additional scenes and, most interestingly, a ‘non-sex’ version of the film. This was exactly what it claimed to be – a version with all the sex scenes chopped out, and these versions would vary in length. Braun’s Star Wars XXX – which is not part of his comic book series but theoretically could be, given that Marvel adapted the original Star Wars films at the time of release – has a non-sex version that runs for the best part of an hour. It’s a watchable and witty parody of a familiar title. The superhero films, however, tend to have non-sex versions that are around 15-20 minutes, and you hopefully can see the problem there. If not, don’t worry – we’ll be coming back to it.

Braun seems to have been a particular fan of Spider-Man growing up – well, weren’t we all? – and his films featuring the character tend to have a bit more about them than some of the other movies in his Universe. By which, I mean that he’s making the Spider-Man films that he probably fantasised about as a kid (with added sex, obviously – though as a second-generation porn director, maybe he was already conceiving of these films as erotic spectacles, who knows?).

Unlike some of his previous parodies, 2011’s Spider-Man XXX: A Porn Parody sees Braun returning to the actual comic books rather than a film or TV show. Skipping straight past the origin (that’s covered in the eight-page comic book included with the DVD – like I said, these were gorgeously packaged), the film pits Spidey against Electro (Dick Delaware), who has been hired by Kingpin (Peter O’Tool) to rob a S.H.I.E.L.D. warehouse. Along the way, our hero meets (and has sex with) Black Widow (Brooklyn Lee), meets (and has sex with) Mary Jane (Capri Anderson) and – as Peter Parker – is regularly fired by J. Jonah Jameson (Rob Black).

There’s no faulting the effort made to recreate the original characters in this film – Spider-man, Kingpin, Gwen Stacy (Ash Hollywood), Betty Brant (Sarah Shevon) and the rest of the cast certainly look the part (though Electro is sadly missing the lightning bolt mask of old). Performances are, of course, variable – Xander Corvus doesn’t quite work for me as Spider-man/Peter Parker – his raspy voice sounds far too well lived-in to be a Peter Parker I can recognise, frankly, and his delivery of dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. But Brooklyn Lee is an impressively sexy Black Widow, Ash Hollywood is a perfect Gwen Stacy, O’Tool is a perfect Kingpin and Rob Black is inspired casting – as he chomps on his cigar and rants, he’s a spot-on JJJ. Yes, we have to give the cast a bit of leeway on the acting front, but I have to do that with plenty of mainstream films as well. Special effects are solid enough on the whole, and the Spider-man costume can’t be faulted. Again, it’s not the stuff of $100 million+ productions and you’d be stupid for expecting that, but it’s certainly up there with the sort of thing you’ll see on SyFy. It’s whether this works technically on the level that it is at that matters – and it does.

Unfortunately, the film comes somewhat undone thanks to its own ambitions. We’re going to come back to those ‘non-sex’ versions for a moment. There are too many characters introduced that have no purpose other than to provide a lengthy sex scene with a new performer, which is fine in a standard porn flick but feels excessive here, as the characters go nowhere beyond that. As I mentioned earlier, these films were getting covered by regular geek culture sites and so there is crossover audience potential. That audience might well be up for a sexy interpretation of familiar and beloved content but they probably want something a bit more substantial than mere cosplay. The non-sex version here runs 21 minutes and it probably needs twice that amount of story – especially when you consider that each sex scene is so long (seriously – does any sex scene really need to be half an hour long? Are audiences really demanding that?) that you’ll probably forget just what is happening by the time the story kicks in again. Yes, it seems mad to criticise a porn film for having too much sex – but it feels as though Braun is too wedded to the 2000s standard porn movie format to see the greater potential here. 1970s story-driven adult movies did not have sex scenes anywhere near this long in general, and they work much more effectively as erotic dramas as a result. It feels like there is the opportunity here to make more of a crossover film, something in the vein of Flesh Gordon. With all the effort that these films make with costumes, sets, special effects and so on, only to then treat it like any other wall-to-wall porn movie (even the music soundtrack fades away for the endless screwing) – well, it feels like an opportunity lost. I might be overthinking it – but I wonder how many people in that potential crossover audience bothered to come back for more after the first film.

The film ends by setting up the inevitable sequel and sure enough a couple of years later in 2014, we had Spider-Man XXX 2: A Porn Parody. This follow-up turned out to be both a sequel to his Spider-Man XXX and a continuation of Braun’s Avengers series. There are pros and cons to this.

The film opens with a lengthy scene of Leya Falcon giving a blow job to a hood in an alleyway before Daredevil turns up to… well, I’m not exactly sure what he’s arrived for. She certainly doesn’t seem in need of rescue, and this brief moment is the entirety of Daredevil’s involvement in the film. This is one of the problems with this film and with Braun’s superhero films in general – there’s a desire to crowbar as many characters in as possible without the story having the room to develop them or even explain their presence. Again, yes – I get that it is porn and sex is everything. My point remains – the sex scenes can be a little less relentless and no one buying this particular film is going to complain. There are plenty of non-stop, narrative-free sex films out there. If people have bought this, it’s probably because they want something a little more.

The story proper kicks in with Spider-man – or more accurately Peter Parker (Corvus) – on assignment for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Las Vegas with Power Woman/Jessica Jones (Casey Calvert), when he runs into Betty Brant (Shevon), who is on assignment to investigate Mysterio (Giovanni Francesco), a masked stage magician. As our heroes see off a couple of A.I.M. agents in order to retrieve the Cosmic Cube that completist viewers will recall being stolen in Captain America XXX, Betty checks out Mysterio’s show and confronts him about his dealings with the Kingpin. He casts a spell on her, which leads to another sex scene, one that includes the bizarre sight of Shevon licking Mysterio’s fishbowl head at one point. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Spider-Man hooks up with Arachne (Dani Daniels), who has been working undercover as Mysterio’s assistant and the pair confront the villain, only to be brainwashed into having sex with each other while the villain escapes (as distraction techniques go, this is certainly novel). But it turns out that Mysterio is just a hired hand, working for Sasha Kravenoff (Veruca James), who has kidnapped Madame Web (an uncredited Nicki Hunter) and is intent on reviving Kraven from the dead. For some reason, this involves a threeway between the women. Soon, Spider-man is captive too and Sasha plans to use the blood of the spiders to revive her dead lover.

Of course, in common with all Braun’s films, Spider-man XXX 2 has an authentic comic book feel to it, right up to the point of being so cluttered with characters that it is hard to figure out just what is going on a lot of the time. Mysterio looks great and Daredevil is, interestingly, presented in his original yellow and red 1960s incarnation. Braun’s knowledge of the original comic books is clearly extensive, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for the casual viewer, as characters and situations are introduced and referenced that will have little meaning to anyone not equally versed in the Marvel (comic book) Universe. In terms of narrative, the film is also a bit of a mess if taken on its own – but Braun’s movies, even more than the official Marvel films, are all connected and exist as single chapters of a greater whole. So aspects left up in the air in Captain America XXX are referenced and expanded upon here, for instance. It’s intriguingly ambitious, and so makes the way that the narrative is treated as a second (or third) hand element of the film, overridden by endlessly long sex scenes, all the more frustrating because there is clearly a multi-layered narrative that he is attempting to tell across the movies, one that is always scuppered by the restrictions placed on how much storyline each film can actually include. Remembering what is going on from scene to scene is hard enough – following it from film to film is almost impossible. Again, there is all this effort being made with costumes, visuals and a complex ongoing narrative, only for it to be sabotaged by sex scenes that go on for longer than anyone needs or wants. I’ll defend Braun and assume that this was a corporate demand – but still, these films feel like great opportunities to make sexually explicit but mainstream films that have been wasted.

Of course, there might be another reason for the films to sabotage their own ambitions. Like everyone else, I’ve looked at these films and wondered just how far you can stretch the concept of a legally defendable ‘parody’ before the lawyers say enough is enough. These are not remotely satirical movies – in fact, some of Braun’s ‘parodies’ are as dark and moody as any mainstream Batman movie. That the Marvel lawyers – especially since the company’s absorption by the infamously litigious Disney – have failed to even try to clamp down on these movies is odd unless you assume that there has been some sort of agreement. Maybe a silent agreement, maybe not one made formally in any way – but perhaps there is a knowledge that there will be no legal action taken as long as the pornographers stay in their lane. That is to say, as long as these films remain inherently porn films rather than making any attempt to cross over into the mainstream (and by ‘mainstream’, I’m still thinking X-rated, but in the manner of explicit but non-porn arthouse cinema where the sex scenes are briefer if no less graphic) then a blind eye will be turned. Anything more ambitious and less relentlessly pornographic and things might change.

I may be overthinking it. It might just come down to a strange collision of wild ambition and no ambition – a filmmaker and studio shooting sex scenes in the same way that everyone else does because that’s all they know. In any case, the problems that beset Braun’s two main Spider-Man films also beset his third (if we don’t class his Avengers films as actual Spider-Man movies). Similarly, the ambition and the creativity – and the odd lack of both – shown in those films are also at work here. Superman vs. Spider-Man XXX, shot in 2012 before Spider-Man XXX 2 (though released after it) is essentially a stand-alone crossover film, firmly establishes its nerd credentials by being (very loosely) based on the classic 1976 Marvel/DC crossover where the two iconic heroes first met. Even the sleeve art is a spot-on pastiche of that classic book’s original cover. We are unlikely to see a mainstream movie in which these two iconic characters meet (though I’m aware that we should never say never in these cases – there’s a chance that Disney will just buy every film studio and publisher in America) so this is particularly fun for those of us who grew up around the time that the original oversized comic came out.

Just as the comic book started out with individual stories for the two heroes (and their villains), the film opens with Spider-Man (Corvus) running into Black Cat (Jazy Berlin), leading to a vigorous sex scene before he goes on to capture Dr Octopus (James Batholet, complete with CGI arms).

Meanwhile, Superman (Ryan Driller) is notably absent from his solo story, as Lex Luthor (Eric Masterson) & Miss Tessmacher (Alexis Texas) have a run-in with Supergirl (Kagney Lynn Carter), who is captured with a kryptonite necklace. It’s amusing to see that Supergirl has a  labia piercing that I assume she got on the home planet, given her general invulnerability to things like needles. Nice to see body art was popular on Krypton too.

This encounter turns out to be a dream sequence, and Luthor and Doc Ock are actually side-by-side in prison. The pair break out in a scene that lifts elements from the original comic but oddly gives it more credibility. The Daily Bugle and Daily Planet team up to get the scoop on the escapees, inadvertently bringing Peter Parker & Clark Kent together – not to mention Betty Brant (Shevon) and Lois Lane (Andy San Dimas).

The villains kidnap Lois and demand that Superman bring Spider-Man to them so that both heroes can be defeated. Superman heads off in search of Spider-Man, pausing in his vital, time-sensitive mission to have a three-way with Mary Jane (Anderson) and Liz Osborn (Lily LaBeau) – a level of crossover we haven’t previously seen. Of course, anyone who’s read Larry Niven’s incisive scientific study Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex will be painfully aware of the likely dangers of human female/Kryptonian male sex, but thankfully none of that unpleasantness occurs here.

Eventually, the two superheroes meet up and have the traditional bit of an argument (amusingly, Superman immediately knows Spider-man’s real ID, because – of course – he can see through the mask! How did that not happen in the comic?). Perhaps not thinking his plan through, Superman delivers Spidey to the villains but is immediately captured by Dock Ock’s new kryptonite arms. Luthor demands Lois fellates him in order for Superman to be allowed to live (leading to the immortal line “just don’t swallow, Lois” from a distraught Superman). Spider-Man recovers in time to help Superman fight back, though it’s Spiderwoman who pops up to save the day.

Again, there is less plot time that we need – all the above is split by very, very long sex scenes and it’s only the fact that these films clock in at the two and a half/three-hour mark that allows for any story development – but funnily enough, the film still manages to tidy up a lot of the plot holes and unlikely coincidences that drive the original comic. There’s a smart sense of humour, an obvious love for the source material and the usual impressive production values – not to mention the sheer joy of seeing all these characters on screen together. Perhaps by this time, I was simply getting used to the format of these films and had dialled back my own expectations; maybe this one just manages to balance the sex and story requirements more. In any case, it just seems to be a bit more fun than the earlier Braun films with both characters.

For all my criticisms, these three movies – and their assorted related productions in the Braun Universe – are a lot better than they should be. Perhaps they are even better than I’ve suggested here, but I’ve long argued that we should hold adult movies to the same critical standards that we hold any other films – letting them off with the dismissive cry of ‘oh, it’s just porn’ is not good enough, because it still has to work, even if that means just working as porn – and that’s the other point that I haven’t even gone into here, that I don’t think these films actually do work as porn unless you are particularly into superhero cosplay, with the sex often seeming overly-mechanical and predictable, the performers going through the motions with performative passion. It’s all very polished and so not very sexy, funnily enough.

But I do want to like these films and by and large, I do. I’m very aware that I might be asking too much from them and that what I want might be entirely impractical. Still, if I point out all my excessive demands, then at least you’ll approach them fully informed and not expecting more than you’ll get. And in the end, we should be encouraging adult feature films that have plots and ambition and come out on physical media, because modern adult entertainment, more than anything, feels like it is slipping into ephemeral insignificance – and that’s a shame.


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