There is much to like about this new Spider-Man movie, the seventh such since 2002. (This is on top of hundreds of Spider-Man comic books starting in the 1960s and a Spider-man cartoon television series in the 1990s.)
The challenge for this outing was to make the story fresh, and the filmmakers have done this by giving us a new Spider-Man.
The hero now is an Afro-Hispanic middle school student, Miles Morales, who has nice parents but some of the attitude problems that are common to young adolescents. Miles begins experiencing strange symptoms after he is bit by a spider. Then, somehow, he meets Peter Parker, the famed Spider-Man who has been rescuing New York from bad guys for many years.
Then a bad guy (Kingpin, a stock enemy in the Spider-Man oeuvre) mortally wounds Parker in his most recent battle to save the city. Before breathing his last, Parker charges Miles with taking up the role of New York’s protector.
Unfortunately Miles has no idea how to go about this.
Then comes a bunch of sciency-sounding mumbo jumbo about parallel universes, quantum mechanics, the space-time continuum and a super collider. The effect, somehow, is to introduce five other, more experienced Spideys — a Parker doppelganger, a noirish 1930s character, a cute classmate of Miles’, a Japanese anime girl, a computer and a toon — who have arrived from their respective alternate universes.
The back-and-forth among the spider individuals, plus Miles’ family concerns, play together with humor and, ultimately, solidarity, and even Peter Parker’s Aunt May (you had to see one of the many originals) makes an appearance as Miles slowly learns what the others already know.
By the end, Miles is becoming the man and the superhero he was meant to be.
Besides a generous and jocular spirit, the movie also has a rap and hiphop soundtrack that feels authentic and sets the tone and pace for various scenes.
This film is rated PG, and there is nothing in its content to offend small children.
But its totality has much in common with the frenetic pace of the opening of The Lego Batman Movie. In fact, some of the same people worked on both projects.
Unlike the first six Spider-Man movies, this one is entirely computer-generated imagery — effectively a cartoon for the new millennium, and a skillfully done one at that
There is the rub. Spiderverse is filled with camera cuts between realistic looking cityscapes and explosive-charged neon-ignited versions of same, between characters and cartoon panels of characters and between dialog and cartoon dialogue balloons — these occur frequently and within seconds of each other. When some big new thing happens, it is preceded by an explosion of hot-pink-to-purple bubble shapes.
The fact that filmmakers can produce this sort of thing is impressive, but I’m not sure it is an unmitigated good.
Certainly someone who spends 10 hours a day playing video games will enjoy this movie, but after 217 minutes (on top of 30 minutes of kid-movie “previews”) I left the theater feeling pretty darned jangled.
I wouldn’t recommend taking a five-year-old to see it.