3 Stars – Thought-provoking
The genius of the newest Spider-man film is not only in its computer-animation but that it allows virtually anyone to identify with the character. As a white male teenager, Peter Parker has been played by various actors during the previous ten live-action films, but clearly culture is changing and our imaginations are expanding such that we can accept a shift in the story. The shift occurs simply in that the radio-active spider bites a young African-American teen but then expands into the possibility of a multi-verse reality. In such multiplicity of universes, the spider could bite a different Peter, but also a woman, a gangster and even a cartoon pig. This obviously opens the door to a fascinating study not only of the fictional character but how the variety of abilities and personalities would be realized.
Directing a multitude of creative computer-animators and technicians required three directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman. Bringing both animation and writing skills to the team, the only experienced director is Peter Ramsey for Rise of the Guardians and Monsters vs Aliens. Their collaboration works magic as their own enjoyment of the Marvel comic book style flourishes.
The ensemble of Spidey heroes focuses primarily on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) the son of an African-American New York policeman and a Latina mother. Having earned a place at an elite high school, Morales is struggling to find his place. Turning to his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) for understanding, his uncle takes him deep beneath NYC where he can display his creative art without hindrance. It is there he is bitten. Struggling in similar ways to that of Parker (Chris Pine), Morales turns to the comic books describing his hero’s experiences as the film becomes a visual feast of genres.
This expansion of spider-men to two in our universe is quickly altered when Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Liev Schreiber) decides to alter the time-space continuum. We won’t spoil the reason behind this, except to note that the unexpected consequences brings in the Spidey characters from other universes: Another, older Peter Parker, a young teen girl Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-ham (John Mulaney), and Peni Parker-SP//dr (Kimiko Glenn). It is the interaction of these various forms of the spidey experience that creates the depth of the film, but the villains play a central role as well, especially Kingpin.
The moral messages of the film are many and encourage the viewer to consider both identity and relationships as primary in a successful life. That we all fail in this task is also presented in both large and small ways but the film presents a hopeful message that such failure can be overcome . As a comic book on steroids, this is a wonderful and surprisingly complex film both cinematically and morally!
The possibility of multiple universes causes us to ask whether there is a person with similar experiences to ours in each of those worlds. Do you think that would be true or that every universe would uniquely develop?
Do you think the film captured the differences between how various people would respond to becoming suddenly empowered? Were the differences emphasized or the similarities?