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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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I watched “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” in a state of cross-eyed bliss. Then I found myself thinking about, of all things, studio notes.

They’re the suggestions, admonitions, objections and flat-out demands that movie executives present to filmmakers at various stages of a film’s development. All too often these notes are destructive, negative anddemoralizing, along the lines of “No, this is too subtle,” or “No, that’s too smart.” Or “Explain it,” and “explain it again.” So what comments might have been dispensed to the filmmakers this time? Well, judging from how the movie turned out, the notes must have been something along the lines of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” There has never been anything like this animated exaltation of the Spider-Man canon. The animation is glorious, and more faithful to its comic-book roots than any big-screen graphics in the past. The story is deliciously witty and preposterously complex, but perfectly comprehensible, whether or not you’ve studied quantum physics. The scale feels vast, yet the spirit is joyous. It’s as if everyone had set out to make the best Spider-Man movie ever, which is exactly what they’ve done.

Within the first 30 seconds you know you’re watching something new. A sensational title sequence threatens to be the design equivalent of flash bang grenades, yet the art isn’t assaultive, only inventive, with colors that stretch the spectrum as far as the eye can see. Once the story kicks in, an unlikely hero emerges—not another iteration of Peter Parker but Miles Morales, a black-Latino high school student in Brooklyn who will become Spider-Man. How can this be? The answer is that anything in the Spider- Verse can be, including multiple Spider-Men—Spider-Mans?—when you’re dealing, as this film does, in parallel universes, ruptures in the space-time continuum and portals to other dimensions.

The danger in lifting glib concepts from pop science is that they can short-circuit storytelling logic. Here, though, they open a narrative portal to one simple, brilliant notion. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” summons up a multiplicity of Spideys and male and female Spidey variants—Miles Morales among them—from decades of TV shows and comic books, then puts them together in a single story that, against all inter-dimensional odds, has its own compelling logic.

It's a coming-of-age tale in which Miles, the earnest son of a New York City cop, suffers an obligatory bite from a radioactive spider, then learns to master his new powers, and, of course, save the world, with the help of a bummed-out Peter Parker from another multiverse. For further plot info please see the movie. Occasionally, maybe inevitably, there’s too much of a good thing, but even the too-muchness is first-rate. “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” takes off spectacularly, and sticks its landing. In between is sheer bedazzlement.

I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.

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Joe Morgenstern