Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—‘Tis the season for superheroes, and this week we have Spider-Man for you. Really, this week we have multiple Spider-Men-and-Women for you; more than a half-dozen versions of the Marvel favorite. This animated feature, you see, involves a massive overlapping of “alternative universes,” from each of which comes a different take on the hero who, having been nipped by a radioactive spider, “does whatever a spider can.”
There are three Spider-Men/Peter Parkers: one young and vigorous (voiced by Chris Pine), another older, grumpier and out of shape (Jake Johnson), and another (Nicolas Cage) the alter-ego for “Spider-Man Noir,” who appears in black-and-white and employs a ’30s-crime-film idiom. There’s Gwen Stacy aka Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), a variation on Spidey’s love interest in which she has the powers, and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a young anime heroine version. There’s also Spider-Ham, aka “Peter Porker” (John Mulaney), a cartoon pig version.
None of these incarnations of the anthropomorphic arachnid, however, are the protagonist here. That distinction belongs to a young inner-city kid with the properly alliterative Marvel-style name of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who has also received his magical spider bite and is trying to adapt to his new powers. The other Spidey-folk end up in his universe as a result of the mischief of Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and Dr. Octopus (Kathryn Hahn). A supervillain called Prowler (Mahershala Ali) also turns up, and so does good old Aunt May (Lily Tomlin!).
That’s about as far as I’m going to go in trying to summarize the story. As eye-crossingly confusing as all this may sound, all of these Spidey variants have some provenance in the comics, and the multiple directors and screenwriters juggle them dazzlingly but lucidly. It’s a terrific-looking movie, visually beautiful and detailed, yet kinetically light and fast and funny and un-fussy, right down to playing with comic-book conventions; like the old Batman TV series, this movie even spells its sound effects out onscreen.
Like this year’s Teen Titans GO! (To the Movies), though more ambitiously and subtly, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is really an extended, phantasmagorical “meta” spoof on the infinite variety and flexibility of comic book storytelling. In this sense, however, comic superheroes are no different than any other kind of mythic figures; there are plenty of alternate versions of the stories of Helen of Troy or Theseus. A few thousand years from now, if this universe’s version of humanity survives, maybe every University will have a Marvel and D.C. Classical Studies Department.
Once Upon a Deadpool—Sure, Marvel may be a noble house of modern mythmaking, but it’s also, above all, a business. And as a business, Marvel doesn’t miss a freakin’ trick.
Case in point: 2016’s Deadpool and this year’s Deadpool 2 made more money, as the title character puts it, “than the man who invented pants.” But as money-making machines, both movies had a minor but annoying design flaw: They were rated R.
Thus we’ve been given this re-cut of Deadpool 2, trimmed of just enough violence and profanity to get that precious PG-13 rating, and the additional loot it brings. But there’s every likelihood that even Marvel-heads that have already seen the unexpurgated Deadpool 2 will show up, because this new version features a new framing device.
The masked, wisecracking anti-hero (Ryan Reynolds) reads the story to the adult Fred Savage, just as Peter Falk read The Princess Bride to the young Savage back in the ’80s. The grown-up Savage’s irritable response to this ordeal—he’s been kidnapped, and bound to the bed with duct tape—results in some pretty amusing commentary and banter.
Also, one dollar of every admission to Once Upon a Deadpool benefits the charity Fudge Cancer. So buying a ticket for this ridiculous double-dip could actually put you in the holiday spirit.