What if Spider-Man were a migraine? I think it would look a little bit like this movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I should dial this back a bit: It has a 97/94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and if asked I would also give it a thumbs up. But it is chaotic. Visual, aurally, character-wise, tone-wise…everything but the plot which is as basic as apple pie.
In the forcible diversification of Marvel superheroes, Miles Morales is the best example of how to do it. Maybe the only example of being done well. Miles has a personality—quiet, studious, a little timid even, with a big love of music—unlike female Thor, female Hulk, Austrian-Chinese Hulk (Amadeus Cho?) and female Ironheart. As such, he’s someone you like before he gets powers, and someone whose issues can’t really be solved by powers (as Stan Lee advised). (UPDATE: Apparently Miles has no personality in the comics, so this was an innovation for the movie.)
In this story, Miles is from a universe with a blond Peter Parker (never a thing, AFAIK) who is murdered trying to stop the evil Kingpin from activating his inter-dimensional portal. Kingpin wants to do this to get his family back, because his family died fleeing in horror from his attempt to kill, you guess it, Spider-Man. With the real Spider-Man dead, it’s up to Miles to take his place—and he’s really not up to it.
Help comes in the form of loser Spider-Man, the fat, middle-aged, separated from Mary Jane Peter Parker that Brian Michael Bendis felt the need to create. We also get Spider-Gwen. Then, no joke, we get noir Spider-Man and Spider-Ham (Peter Porker), who is a pig dressed in a Spider-Man costume. Oh, and Japanese Girl With Spider-Robot Person Thing.
This is a pretty fun movie. The characters are pretty good and likable, even if the whole thing sort of wavers between After School Special and Jokey Comic Book Special. And we can hang a lot on those working parts, because at least there are characters, however broad—and yes, even corny. I mean, sure the “one brother becomes a cop and the other becomes a criminal” thing was old when Humphrey Bogart was doing it, but it works.
The voice acting is good. I don’t know Shameik Moore from anything but he’s likable as the lead. Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed) is fat Peter Parker, Hallee Steinfeld (True Grit) is Spider-Gwen, Nicolas Cage is noir-Spidey, Lily Tomlin is Aunt May, and so on. The music is pretty good, too, though obviously at points geared to the younger, urban audience—which, of course, why wouldn’t it be?
The visuals are basically good. We saw it in Real 3D because that was the available time (and The Barbarienne had the post-Christmas blues and came to me hangdog asking when we were going to see it, so I said “RIGHT NOW!”) and to be honest, I wouldn’t pay the premium ever, if I had a choice. It’s okay, it has its moments, but mostly it’s a distraction. (At least 3D is not just throwing crap at the screen stuff these days.)
But this movie is visually chaotic. The character designs of the various spideys are incompatible. They do a really good job of masking that here, and that shouldn’t be knocked. It’s a feat on a par with integrating Roger Rabbit into Avatar. But it’s still there, that incompatibility, and that incompatibility goes across tones, as well, with Spider-Ham dropping anvils and Spider-Noir being in black-and-white. It’s what you might call “a hot mess”.
Where this really negatively impacts the film is in the final act, when the world is thrown into utter chaos as all the various dimensions collide. But all you gotta do is shut off the machine and everything goes back to exactly the way it was. It’s poor drama because nothing’s really at stake.
Another big issue is what I’ve begun to call “Syndrome Syndrome”. If you recall the good Incredibles movie (not The Incredibles 2) the villain opines (at the critical moment), “When everyone is super, no one is.” I’ve never agreed with that sentiment, personally particularly in the context of a guy who makes machines like Syndrome does. I mean, if you took it to its logical conclusion (“With this device, you can move at speeds up to 800mph! It’s called an airplane!”) you’re basically undermining all of technology on the basis of preserving a few people’s natural gifts. But Pixar movies notoriously fall apart if you think about them for very long.
But from a purely narrative standpoint, yeah: If everyone’s super, no one is, and you ain’t got no story. Someone has to be exceptional in some way. Lately, because of muh representation, peripheral characters are gaining either super-powers or something very much like super-powers, and it’s annoying as hell. In this case, Aunt May is apparently the brains behind the (dead) Peter Parker’s spider technology, whipping up a set of web-slingers for Miles. (Oh, if you only know the movies, you may not be aware that Parker was a whiz-kid scientist, and invented rather than evolved his web-shooters, unlike the Sam Raimi/Toby McGuire Spider-Man.)
And in this case, you have a bunch of wildly diverse Spider-dudes with sometimes really opaque powers. Like the Japanese girl from the future (Peni Parker) who has a link with a radioactive spider, and together they control a spider-robot that they ride around in. In the end, this spider-robot is destroyed and we’re supposed to be sad, but I didn’t understand why, since her actual spider-buddy was fine. Was this supposed to be a third character, the robot, separate from Peni and her bug bud?
I dunno. Like I said, it’s chaotic. And it’s fun if you’re not prone to headaches or seizures, which I am not. The comic book guy (The Barb and I had just gone to the store) said it was his favorite comic book movie ever, or maybe just superhero movie. I…yeah, not me.
I’ll stick with Superman.