By Jim Slotek
I may be at a point with super-hero movies where I only enjoy the ones that ridicule the genre.
Or make that ridicule the ‘canon.’ The worst shake-my-head moments this year came from people who seriously grieved certain onscreen super hero deaths as real.
There is at least one such death in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the crazily imaginative, hilarious and frenetic animated feature that’s practically a palate-cleanser for comic book earnestness. And that death ultimately is irrelevant.
Sure, you may lose one Spider-Man. But in an infinite cosmos of multiverses, you get back five. It’s almost a metaphor for saying, “Um, it’s fiction. You know they can write him back to life, right?”
It comes off a lot like Deadpool’s vibe, but without the profanity. (It’s actually from producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of The Lego Movie fame). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes place in New York in a universe that, I’m assuming, is not supposed to be ours. (My assumption is based on repeated sightings of movie posters advertising a comedy where Seth Rogen plays a jockey. If that movie is actually in development, please don’t tell me).
In it, a Puerto Rican/African-American kid named Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore) is pushing away from his cop dad (Brian Tyree Henry) and embracing “tagging art” with his cool uncle (Mahershala Ali), when he’s bitten by – you guessed it – a radioactive spider.
This seems to be a universe that’s gone off script, since there already is a Spider-Man named Peter Parker. But soon, as he klutzily practices his newfound powers, Miles witnesses Spider-Man’s death at the hands of The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) while trying to stop the crime boss from activating a machine to connect universes.
The experiment is aborted. But unbeknownst to anyone involved, the connection existed long enough to pluck a bizarre array of, um, Spider-beings. One is a Spider-woman (Hailee Steinfeld) from a world where Gwen Stacy was the one who was bitten. Another is a cynical, middle-aged Spider-man, Peter Parker with a made-for-sweatpants dad bod (Jake Johnson). There’s an anime inspired spider robot from the future operated by a little girl (Kimiko Glenn) and a grim, fedora-ed black-and-white noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage) who evokes Watchmen’s Rorschach.
And there’s Spider-ham (John Mulaney), a pig from a Loony Tunes-type anvil-dropping cartoon universe (there are jokes written referencing possible lawsuits from Warner Brothers, but I’d be more wary of Fox suing over the “Spider Pig” from The Simpsons movie).
As zany as this sounds, it actually works. If one Kingpin can kill Spider-Man, six (counting Miles) could turn the tables, even with an opposing side of hired-gun villains including a female Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn).
It’s all shot in a colourful, constantly-shifting animation style that adjusts to each character with added comic book flourishes (but adheres to the demands of 3D such that the 2D version I saw made a few viewers think they’d forgotten to get their glasses).
Finally, two things to watch for: the first posthumous cameo by Stan Lee, and a post-credits nod to those of us whose Spidey bona fides go back to the ‘60s.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman. Written by Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord. Starring (voices): Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld and Jake Johnson. Opens wide December 14.