Within this current Superhero renaissance that we are experiencing Spider-Man is the one that has seen the most iterations. Since his cinematic debut in 2002 (directed by Sam Rami, starring Tobey McGuire) there have been two other live-action interpretations as well as three animated shows. Superheroes are meant to be handed to other creative teams and have other actors give their interpretation for a new audience. But within one generation we are now very aware of how malleable these characters are, especially Spider-Man.
This movie is all about accepting that malleable. About how you can have the same character and shoot them through a prism and see all the wonderful spectrums they can cast. We are introduced to our Spider-Man (Chris Pine), he tells the story we all know, he was bitten by a radioactive spider, gained superpowers, his Uncle Ben was shot, with great power comes great responsibility and for the last ten years, he has been your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
Living his life in the city as well is a young boy named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), he is entering a special school which he feels he doesn’t belong in however his cop dad (Brian Tyree Henry) insists on it. Miles isn’t having a fun time but likes to kick back with his uncle Davis (Mahershala Ali) and one day while wandering around New York’s underground Miles gets bitten by a mysterious spider. The next day his body begins to go through changes (not puberty), he is sticking to walls and can sense incoming danger. He goes back to the underground to investigate and while there comes across a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, he attempts to shut down some giant sci-fi machine but it goes boom and Spider-Man is crushed and dies under the debris. This is the end of the hero and Miles is left with questions, while visiting Peter Parker’s grave he’s visited someone else, Peter Parker!
Yes, that machine was a portal to other, alternative universes where another Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has crossed over. He is more of a self-pitying screwup than the one that perished but Miles certainly lacks experience so this looks like a student mentor set-up to me.
Of all the other Superhero movies this is the one that literally looks like a comic book come to life. There are numerous movies that have adapted and taken visual cues from the source material but this one, due to it being animation literally looks like the characters were drawn and were printed with ink on paper. This comes from neat touches like having their shadows be represented by lines, or printing spots and even speech text and sound effect words appearing on-screen. Adding to this they cut down on the frame rate to make the characters movement blockier, a similar effect was used in The LEGO Movie (makes sense because Phil Lord and Chris Miller serve as story developers).
This is a graphic heavy world told through the perspective of a bi-racial character living in Brooklyn, so it only comments the vision that the soundtrack reflects that. Daniel Pemberton serves as the main composer while Post Malone and Swae Lee also contribute original songs to the movie. It is fast and upbeat and compliments the intensity of the story and tone.
Being that we are dealing with characters whose defining ability is to stick to surfaces and maneuver them we get some fun playing with that shifting of perspective. The camera doesn’t stay upright like what a regular person would, it follows the Spider-Men and when they walk along a wall then the camera adjusts for them and the surroundings look as if they are shifting. It is a refreshing and fun way of conveying wall-crawling.
Along with this other Peter, there are still more Spider-Men. There is Gwen Stacey as Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Peni Parker (Kimiko Elizabeth Glenn) a Japanese, Anime inspired little girl that pilots a robot suit that has the soul of her father in it, Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage) from the nineteen thirties and exists in Black & White, finally there’s Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mulaney) a cartoon pig that is probably the least serious out of the gang, also my favorite.
Along with their different design they are drawn differently, have a unique style of animation from one another and each has their own characteristics. Spider-Gwen is like a graceful dancer with fluid leg movements and able to stand on the tips of her toes. Peni, typical of anime, has her expressions change within one frame and have symbols flash on her forehead, Spider-Ham moves like an old Fleisher or Looney Tunes cartoon, with a bounce in his walk, stretchable limbs and even able to hovers slightly.
You have to roll with the continuity. Don’t want an in-depth understanding of every character and their history. See there is a character named Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) and understand he is the bad guy that hates Spider-Man. See someone in a crazy costume and just accept that this is Superheroes and they are everywhere. This movie moves too fast and throws too much at you for it to be smoothly explained.
Of course though with every story to really work it needs its center. There is a lot going on in this movie but it is always Miles story about how he is able to rise up to this legacy and responsibility. As well as that even beyond the fights is the interaction between all the different Spider-People and Miles family and friends. As long as you have a core and stay true to it you can layer it as much as you want.
We have been served a great amount of-of movies of the Superhero genre in the last ten years, but before that, they had already endured for over sixty years. They are able to do so because stories about good and evil are constant and they allow for fantastical imagery and ideas. As well as that each character has their core and is able to be handed to different people and adjust for their interpretation and adapt for a different time. We have seen so many different Superhero tales, from the dark grittiness of LOGAN, the mad colorful comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy to the epic scale of Avengers: Infinity War. This is a tale of a great enduring character and the genre itself and why they will endure forever.