Whether or not you believe in multiverse theory, you do have to admit that as in idea it’s kind of cool- the thought of millions of versions of yourself, each making different choices and walking different paths of life. It’s fascinating to think about- what is it like in a world where I went into a life of, say, police work rather than journalism? Would i have a different childhood convincing me to make that decision? How would my day-to-day life change? And what would happen if journalist me and police me ever met?
It is this idea of multiple universes, each with their own versions of people, that has spawned so many film and television show episodes, and for good reason- it’s not only a very interesting plot line to merge versions of the same character from so many different universes, but an opportunity to show how the character is represented in so many different forms. Ever wondered what it would look like in a universe where your favorite superhero was the opposite gender, or a villain instead? Then a multiversal plot line is the story for you. This combination of so many alternate realities is the inspiration for the latest Spider-Man film.
This movie takes the idea of branching storylines in comic book universes, especially those in the Marvel line, and rolls it into a marketing and cinematic frenzy, putting not one, not two, but five incarnations of one super hero in the same room- and while the idea has extreme promise, it’s a mixed bag whether or not it works. In this case, it creates a strong and intriguing plot line, but misses a few opportunities to fully indulge in the insanity of these universes colliding.
The lead Spider-Man in this case is Miles Morales, a young African-American teenager who leads a difficult life: he has just transferred to a new school where he feels out-of-place, and his policeman father expresses a strong dislike of his penchant for graffiti art. The only person he can confide in is his cool Uncle Aaron, who tries his best to act as a mentor to the boy despite being looked down on by his brother. When Aaron takes him down to a remote area in the Brooklyn subway system for some graffiti practice, Miles finds himself bitten by the famous power-giving spider, and soon struggles to hide his new abilities. After a search for the now-swatted spider leads Miles to the reveal of a diabolical scheme involving the Kingpin (who in this universe resembles a large angry square) and a dimensional collider, Miles encounters his world’s version of Peter Parker, who offers to show him the ropes of spiderhood- but does not get the chance as he is promptly killed by the Kingpin. With the city in mourning, it’s up to Miles to stop the collider from opening a black hole underneath the city during it’s next test- but he’s still having trouble growing into the role. Thankfully, he’s not alone- the multiverse collider has accidentally summoned the Spider-People of five alternate dimensions to his reality to assist him. These include a down-and-out alternate Peter Parker (who has divorced Mary Jane and leads a lonely life), Spider-Gwen (from a world where Peter was killed and his best friend was bitten instead), the black-and-white private investigator Spider Noir, the genius duo of Peni Parker and her spider-powered mecha, and Peter Porker, otherwise known as the Spectacular Spider-Ham (from a cartoon world where animals can talk).
But as it turns out, Kingpin isn’t alone either: in addition to his own impressive might in this universe rivaling the Hulk, he’s joined by some famous Spider-Man foes as well, most notably a female Doctor Octopus, the Spanish-speaking Scorpion, a monstrous Green Goblin, some guy who looks like a gun-wielding Frankenstein, and the enigmatic Prowler, who’s special boots and razor-sharp claws make him more than a match for the Spider-Friends. The question is, will the Spidey Squad be able to stop the dimensional collider from destroying everything and return home? And just why is the Kingpin doing this anyways?
On the surface, there’s a lot of fun things going on in the film- most notably the art styles. The way that the designs of each hero, especially the ones who are from alternate art styles (especially the ‘secondary trio’ of Noir, Peni, and Ham) conflict with each other and yet still blend is an interesting stylistic choice, one that works to the film’s advantage. The comic-style artwork and effects used in much of the film can range from slightly headache-inducing to wonderfully fitting. There’s little bits of the story where each character gets their own art style used in a way, and while they’re amusing, I feel like more could have been done with them. The film is striking a balance between action and comedy, and one of the aspects of this is making it so the characters are aware of their own inconsistencies in-universe. Here, they barely act as if anything is amiss, which is understandable (as they’ve got bigger things to worry about), but still miss a few opportunities for the humor that Marvel is known for. Part of the fun of team-up films is how the heroes interact with each other, which is what made the Avengers so amusing, but Spider-verse lacks as much of this quality. This isn’t to say it’s a bad choice- as now we can focus more on the actual mission and action- but with the comic art style, seems like it should be secondary to the humor.
But where the film lacks random humor, it makes up for it in background jokes. There’s references to spider-Man lore all over the place, including jokes regarding infamous scenes from his past (including the infamous dancing scenes from the live-action films as well as the campy memes from the 60s show), and I especially like the small detail that in this world Spider-Man origin comics are referred to as ‘The True Tales of Spider-Man’ in contrast to the real-world title of ‘Strange Tales’. There’s a little bit of humor in the way some of the Spider-Pals talk and fight, especially in the case of Spider-Ham (who, true to his cartoon origins, can produce mallets and anvils out of nowhere), and it makes amusing aspects. Some of the casting is also curious and funny if you can spot it, including Post Malone, Stan Lee in his last film role (a tribute to him is included in the credits), and the triumphant return of Nicolas Cage into Marvel movies as Spider Noir.
All in all, there’s a few missed opportunities in this film, but those only act as major detractors if you look too deeply into it. Following the recent trend of Marvel movies (I cite in particular the ending of Infinity War), it’s nice to see a more comedic and lighthearted team-up film with an interesting art style. While Spider-Verse isn’t as monumental in scale as the Avengers franchise, as action-packed as Thor: Ragnarok, or as humorous as Deadpool, it strikes a great balance between the three- something that makes me want to recommend it very highly. Swing in to your local theater on the 13th and give it a whirl.
Spider-Man lore characters I’d like to see in cinema:
-The Kangaroo, a criminal who trained with kangaroos for years, and as a result possesses the amazing power to jump reasonably high
-The Chameleon, a shapeshifter who would be extremely dangerous if he was not the stupidest man in existence
-Spiders-Man, a ton of spiders crammed into a suit who all believe they are Peter Parker
Review by Brendan Rodenberg for Movement Magazine