At the end of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” you’ll be convinced that no one learned from the 1957 George Langelaan’s short story, “The Fly.” No matter how mad you are as a scientist, you need to think about good housekeeping and that includes flies and spiders. In the case of Spider-Man, you have to think about radioactive spiders and that few superheroes die and remain dead. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a convoluted story about how artists got some real freedom with Spider-Man and went in many different possible directions, but as an animation, it harks back to the traditions of graphic novels in a way that is clever rather than Batman TV series campy and eye-popping with bright colors like the live-action cartoon of Tim Burton’s Batman and with more money and potential than the augmented reality novels that have been issued in the last couple of years. This is action leaping off of the page, but not literally. The result is a flashy eye-candy approach to an origin story that emphasizes multiculturalism.
Death and rebirth and inconsistent timelines can be explained as alternative realities and that’s how we get int the Spider-verse. In alternative realities other people got bitten by a radioactive spider. In the movie’s base reality, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is both black and Latino (yes, a minority two-fer) and his police officer father, Jefferson Davis-Morales (Brian Tyree Henry), and his Puerto Rican hospital administrator mother, Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), have enrolled Miles in a preppy school. That means he leaves his home-boys and girls behind, gets dressed in a blazer and boards during the week this high school. Without parental supervision, he can and does get into mischief.
Miles gets on well with his cool uncle, Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali) but that will change. Miles is a budding urban artist whose need for spray paint is actively encouraged by his Uncle Aaron, who leads him into a secret, long forgotten underground area off of the subway where Miles gets to freely create his masterpiece, but also gets bit by that radioactive spider. And…you know the drill. He begins to have spider-sense, but doesn’t know it and hears his own inner voice in stereo.
In a panic, he tries to contact his uncle who is oddly away on business but just what is his business? Returning to the scene where he was bitten, he finds where the spider came from…a secret lab where the very bigly Wilson Fisk has built a particle accelerator. What’s that? That’s a way to break into alternative universes and Fisk just wants to kidnap an alternative universe version of his wife and son who died in an auto accident…an accident that made him hate Spider-Man. Spider-Man senses this is a bad idea on so many levels and battles Fisk who has both the Green Goblin and the Prowler at his command.
Spider-Man (Chris Pine) meets Miles and what I guess passes for a cute-meet for superheroes and senses that they are genetically similarly altered, but Spider-Man dies before he can mentor Miles, but he also leaves Miles with a mission: Use the device to disable the accelerator. Miles is not ready to be a super hero yet. Luckily by Fisk/Kingpin is an unstable genius whose accelerator has caused moments of instability in the structure that prevents dimensions from bleeding into one another and a jaded, older and paunchier Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) is dropped into Miles’ universe and, with some prodding helps to train Miles.
While this Jake version of Spider-Man may bumble about, Miles bungles by destroying the device–something that he doesn’t immediately own up to. Luckily, there are other Spider-kin that leak out from other Spider-verses: Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) as a ballet dancing Spider-Gwen, Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) as a Loony Tune-ish talking pig, Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) as a black-and-white crime noir hero and lastly, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) as a young Japanese girl from an anime-ins
pired future world. These Spider-People are the only ones in their universes but they must pull together to defeat Kingpin and school the young Miles on how to be the best Spider-person in his Spider-verse.
This is all fun, including Doctor Octopus being a woman with crazy hair (Kathryn Hayn), but I was disappointed in the representation of the Asian girl. I know that in my alter
native universe cosplay and life, I, at times, hijack my inner five-year-old or inner 12-year-old. Peni Parker has a robot to help her which is cool. She does repair the device which is also cool, but she is saved by Spider-Ham. That bothered me a bit, but what really bothered me was the infantilization of the original Peni Parker character. Her body language is not just child-like, but one that too often signaled weakness, minimizing the space she occupies without her robot and suggesting helplessness and weakness. After a little research, I discovered the character is portrayed as more high school teen than the young teen or pre-teen we see in this animated feature. Would it have been so bad to have Gwen Stacy and Peni Parker bond for a little woman power? After all, there’s already Spider-Man Noir and Jaded Jake Spider-Man.