Last year we were treated to the gleeful spectacle of Captain America fighting Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Everyone rightfully went wild over it, but did you know that wasn’t the first time those two superheroes have squared off on the big screen? No, that honor goes to the 1972 Turkish film 3 Dev Adam. That title translates as 3 Giant Men, but it’s better known to cult movie fans as Turkish Spider-Man or, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man.
The movie starts off with Spider-Man burying a woman up to her neck and cuisinarting her head with a boat propeller. So, you know, they totally got the character right. Spider-Man is a gang lord here, heading up the “bloodthirsty Spider gang from the Far East,” and he’s running a needlessly complicated con involving Turkish artifacts and counterfeit dollars. In an example of international cooperation we could all learn from, Captain America and luchador folk hero Santo join forces to investigate Spider-Man’s nefarious schemes. The two of them, along with Cap’s girlfriend Julia,1 trace the operation back to Istanbul, where they aide local law enforcement in taking Spidey down.
As you might expect, this movie is bad, and not always in a fun way. As short as it is, it still feels like a bit of a slog, which is exacerbated by how convoluted and poorly edited the whole thing is. This movie is really hard to follow at times. However, it’s weird enough that I would urge you to see it at least once. For one thing, original title aside, the filmmakers don’t seem very familiar with the material they’re working with. Of the three “giant men,” the one I’m least familiar with is Santo. What I do know is that the real Santo never took off his mask, while this version rarely puts it on. Meanwhile, Captain America goes by that name alone, and the name Steve Rogers never passes anyone’s lips. We never hear anything about the Super-Soldier Serum or Bucky or punching Hitler. Nada. He’s just a sleazy looking guy named “Captain America” who likes to wear a spangly outfit and wail on people. Speaking of that outfit, Captain America is pretty shy about putting on his trademark garb. Check out this conversation he has with a cop before one of the few times he dresses up:
Listen, Cap, you could have spared us the amateur psychology and lead with “bullet proof.” Except Santo is shirtless, so… You know what? Forget it. Guys, if you’re going to make a movie where two superheroes and a legendary Mexican wrestler fight, you should really ditch the Bryan Singer-level aversion to silly costumes. This shit is silly no matter what. Roll with it.
Spider-Man himself, though? Oh, wow. I can only assume that the filmmakers saw a picture, read the name, and just barreled on in. This film’s version of the character is a mob boss mixed with a pervy serial killer. Unlike the heroes, he’s almost always in costume, with the sole exception of a trippy sex scene with his girlfriend where you can see the back of his head. He doesn’t have the proportional strength of a spider or Spider-Sense or any of his traditional powers. In fact, for most of the film he doesn’t appear to have any powers at all. He’s just an extremely sadistic madman in a funny costume who cackles with glee as he shoots, stabs and chokes people. At one point he uses a guinea pig as a murder weapon, and he clearly takes great pleasure in it. But later in the film he gets weird.
For one scene and one scene alone he displays the ability to mimic the appearance of other people. He kills a man so he can take his place and sneak into a building, and for that scene “Spider-Man” is played by the same actor as the dead guy. It is not explained. Still later in the film, it is revealed that either there’s more than one Spider-Man2 or he has the ability to insta-clone himself when he’s in a tough spot. Cap and Santo will have him precisely where they want him, dead or knocked out, and bam! He just shows up a few yards away, laughing tauntingly, then runs off. The heroes are clearly just as baffled by this as the audience, and it’s pretty funny, but these extra Spider-Men are never explained, even as the final fight drags on and on and Spider-Man keeps getting killed and coming back.
3 Dev Adam is a spectacularly bad movie, but it is so odd that it makes me happy. Even if I’m unlikely to watch this mind-numbing piece of weirdness again, I am so, so glad that it exists. Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (aka Turkish Star Wars) tends to get more attention, but that was just a science fiction b-movie that stole effects footage from the actual Star Wars films. The creators of 3 Dev Adam outright lifted characters from mainstream North American works, filtered them through another set of influences and genre tropes, and the result was… whatever the heck it was I just watched. This is the kind of movie that could have only been made in a certain time and place by a certain group of people, and we should feel lucky that it happened.