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Will the real Spider-Man, please stand up?  Please stand up?  Please stand up?  One might reckon the story of a victim of a radioactive spider bite, turned local superhero, turned most iconic character in a comic publishing empire, wouldn’t be the easiest template to recreate.  Luckily, in the magical and limitless world of comic books, not only can that singular premise be reproduced, it can now take place in the past, or future, or in a completely different world.  Our hero can now be an elderly man, a young woman, someone back from the dead, or someone of a completely different race.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of multiverses, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, is not only a wonderful entrée to the alternate worlds of the beloved web-slinger, but it’s a perfect complement to and new standard for the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Spider-Man, is dead, long live Spider-Man:  Sure, there is the indelible and beloved Marvel icon, Peter Parker, but maybe he’s not the only radioactive spider-bitten hero out there?  Meet Miles Morales, a nice boy from Brooklyn.  Like every kid growing up in NYC, Miles idolises the friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler, but cannot imagine what it must be like to be him, until he becomes him.  Just as it did with Peter Parker, the bite of a sparkly spider imbues Miles with supernatural powers.  He doesn’t have time to become accustomed to his new “gifts” before a tragic interaction with the real Spider-Man drags him into a world-destroying plan hatched by some of Spidey’s most lethal enemies.  Miles is going to need a lot of help to learn about his impressive new powers and stop the cataclysmic scheme, but who can he turn to to teach him the webs?

For fans of Spider-Man, Mark 1, this retelling of a boy gaining superhuman powers and circumstantially compelled to save the world is nothing new.  What is audacious about SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is daring to tread upon those well-worn roots to give us something entirely fresh and exciting.

Part of the magic of Marvel Comics, particularly with Spider-Man, was always its representation of a living, breathing New York City, and the relatable and familiar denizens therein.  Cinematically, the Sam Raimi Spideys gave us the actual Tudor-style condos of Forest Hills, and a Daily Bugle renting space in the Flatiron Building (Though an elevated railway bisecting lower Broadway was pure fantasy.  That, along with Peter Parker’s epically bizarre SPIDER-MAN 3 boogie through SoHo gets an appearance in ItSV.).  SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING dug deeper into Peter Parker’s Queens, setting a multicoloured cast in the most diverse borough, and the presence of NYC iconography, like omnipresent fashion emporium, Rainbow Shop, and the mysterious urban deity known as the Bodega Cat.

Bringing the multiracial character of Miles Morales centre stage seems like a natural step.  Marvel has never been shy about representing the world around it, and to that end, a half-Puerto Rican, half-African-American Brooklyn youth actually seems like a more logical fit to set a story around than Queens’ entirely Caucasian Peter Parker would in this day and age.  Likewise, his doting mother {Her name is Rio…}, who is a nurse that speaks Spanish to her child, and his adoring father, who raises Miles with the sense of right and wrong that made him a police officer. 

The parallel universe of ItSV is trenched deep enough into reality and consciousness to present the burgeoning reality of gentrification around its Brooklyn base {and all the previously underrepresented areas of New York City}, and comment on its lemming-like absurdity.  Miles is smart enough to have gained entry into a posh prep school, but still yearns to be with his friends in the neighbourhood.  To that end, his closeness toward his loving, ne’er-do-well uncle is understandable, as Uncle Aaron encourages Miles to be himself and nurture his creative gifts in a way his cautious, hard-working parents do not.

Visually, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is glorious.  The artistic marvel (NPI) of this film is clear immediately:  The constant shift in styles, palettes, and techniques is astounding.  Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller told me how ItSV was interlaced with layers of both 3D and 2D animation.  This gives the film a subliminal texture and depth that a completely CG animation hasn’t yet achieved.  A simple four-second close-up of Miles sitting in his bedroom shuffles at least three different patterns across his face, all disparate, but somehow harmonious in the illustration of the bright-eyed lad. 

The character designs for the bad guys are unforgettable, with the aforementioned ninja-like Prowler, the massive, boxlike Kingpin (Recalling the bad guys from LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE.}, a ragged, hulking Scorpion (Who taunts Miles in Spanish.), and a clever, unexpected spin on another of Spidey’s old foes that MCU fans have met before -- Think multitasker. 

The backgrounds are bright and vivid, even in the dark, and often made of refracted collages of different images and styles.  I was grateful to have seen it in 2D, but I feel an IMAX viewing might be necessary because the gorgeousness of the world cries out for total immersion.

Backed by a thumping hip-hop soundtrack (Sony, release the Black Sheep remix, now!), the action scenes are as thrilling, intense, and rambunctious as any seen in an animated film.  They are even a bit scary when there’s villainy afoot; such as the Prowler’s relentless hunt of our hero, and the dispatch of the Spider-Man Mark 1 (or is it 2?), which takes place offscreen, but still implies its brutality.  Still, it’s clear that directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman have faith in their formidable storytelling skills, and the intelligence of their audience to hang in and enjoy the comic-book thrills.  

They also sense that for those who will lose their minds at some of the unexpected Spider-Verse characters (and the actors who play them), or viewers utterly unfamiliar, everyone will enjoy all the iterations of the characters, both male and female, and their individual artistic presentations.  Thanks to the Kingpin’s evil dimension-disrupting plot, we are given two versions of Peter Parker, the tragic, young, Captain America-esque one in Miles’ reality, versus the Petey viewers all know and love, who has gone to seed; scruffy, middle-aged, and disillusioned. 

The bright spark from another line is a female victim of the spider bite, the mighty and heroic Spider-Gwen, whose appearance in Miles’ world comes after a heartbreaking tragedy that seems somewhat eased by her friendship with the Brooklyn lad. 

The anime-kawaii genius, Peni Parker’s powers are realised through her emoji-filled, arachnid-imbued, mecha, SP//dr, while from a Raymond Chandler-inspired past comes Spider-Man Noir, a monochromatic wallcrawler with a flair for the dramatic.  Last and most bizarre is the anthropomorphic, superpowered swine called Spider-Ham.

Each in their own ways helps Miles along his journey of discovery and heroism, and in finding each other, the Spideys become stronger, not just in their battle against Kingpin, but in the knowledge that they are no longer alone in whatever universe they reside.  Somewhere, there is always someone who understands them in ways no one else can.   

The obvious love the filmmakers have for even the furthest reaches of Spider-Verse, for the entire Marvel world, and pop culture in general, is on display in the film’s humour, and the abundance of references, Easter eggs, and in-jokes that make the movie must-see repeat viewing.

With so much going on visually, the story needs an anchor, and that is clearly Miles.  A simple schoolkid who the unbelievable happens to.  A young man with a lot of familial love and support around him, who suddenly is isolated from those closest as he faces dangers that threaten existence itself.  

This Miles is sweet, goofy, and adorable as the teenager loudly going through a rather strange puberty, courtesy of a psychedelic spider -- and his attraction to the cute, smart, new girl at school.  It’s clear it’s due to Miles’ caring upbringing that we have a protagonist who is intelligent, sensible, grounded, and affable, even in the face of unimaginable peril and tragedy. 

Beyond and above any discussion of the real significance of presenting this character of colour as the most iconic in the Marvel pantheon, it is most important to remember that one of the biggest reasons we love Spider-Man is because we love Peter Parker.  The filmmakers (and Marvel) have crafted a character so deeply likeable that we want to see Miles’ adventures go on, with, or without the mask.  However, with all the fun and excitement on display in this film, I’d be happiest if he kept the mask.

There simply is nothing like SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.  Dazzling and magical, it is a stunning benchmark in animated film, and becomes the new standard in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of storytelling and pure entertainment.

Extremely well done.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Dec. 14th, 2018

 

 

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