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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Spiderman, Into the Spider-verse: Spiderman is dead; long live Spidermen

Spiderman, Into the Spider-verse: Spiderman is dead; long live Spidermen

“I love you” yells PDNY cop Jefferson Davis, to his son Miles, as he drops him off to school. After a few seconds, he insists that Miles yell back, “You gotta say I love you back.” Miles, the would-be new Spiderman, finds this awkward, and asks, “Are you serious?” and when his Dad says “I want to hear it”, he yells back, “I love you, Dad.” On his police-car PA system, Davis yells back, “That’s a copy.” Towards the end of the film, in his costume, he hugs his Dad—who is not fond of Spiderman because he goes “zip zap zop and answers to no one”--then salutes him, modulates his voice and says, “Officer, I love you.” That’s the slice-of-life humour that typifies Marvel’s 3D animated Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse.

14-year-old brown kid Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), whose mother Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez) is Puerto Rican and father (Bryan Tyree Henry) an African-American, is reluctantly enrolled in an elite New York City boarding school but would rather hang out with his Brooklyn friends and his Uncle Aaron/Prowler (Mahershala Ali). He fudges his exams to get 0/10, so that he would be removed from school. But his teacher sees through his game. After all, even a blind man has only 50-50 chances of getting all answers wrong, she exults! Then, one fine day, when he's bitten by a radioactive spider, Miles starts to experience changes in his body he can't explain. Retracing his steps to a mysterious underground lab, Miles discovers Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson, of New Girl fame) trying to stop greedy crime boss, the hulking madman Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening a hole in the space-time continuum, which could destroy New York.

Spider-Man is mortally wounded, but Kingpin's experiment results in another Peter Parker from a parallel dimension showing up and bumping into Miles, who asks him for advice. Together they encounter four more Spider-people, including teenage Gwen Stacy/Spider-woman (Hailee Steinfeld), an anime-style girl from the distant future (Kimiko Glenn), a cartoon pig Spider Ham (Peter Porker?-John Mulaney), and a black-and-white 1930s Noir Spider-Man (Humphrey Bogart+ James Cagney-Nicolas Cage).

This one is based on a story by Phil Lord and a screenplay by Lord and Rodney Rothman. The basis for the film is the comic-character Miles Morales, by Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Sara Pichelli (artist). Spiderman was created, of course, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, with comic characters created by David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative minds behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, bring a ground-breaking visual style to the screen. There is no mistaking that it is the 6-16 age-group that is being targeted. To strengthen this premise, there’s a whole track about attaining puberty. Other metaphors used are French fries (Parker tells him that he is different, just as a bent fry is different from a straight one) and the Coca Cola logo, made to read Koca Soda after Spiderman swings through. Having a crush on Gwen, who gives herself a South African name before confessing she was messing with him, Miles is advised that in order to make headway, he should put his hand on her shoulder and say “Hey”. But it takes several takes to get the tone right! While being mentored by Parker, Miles is taught how to sling, by going ‘twip’ and the word, being unfamiliar, appears as a blurb flash on screen.

It’s a brilliant idea: if you have to kill Peter Parker, kill him in an animated series and create five more Spiders, so that the Spider-verse remains populated. What’s more, with a space-time continuum, you can pull out any one of them, or more, as and when required. And also create a jaded, tired, bad-back Peter Parker, with the beginnings of a pot belly, so that the audiences can chuckle, even as they bid him adios and Miles visits his tomb-stone. After being 16 and 26, Peter Parker at 40 can afford to die. Moreover, the script plays with time and has monologues introducing the Spidermen, suggesting that they start at the beginning. Yes, there is confusion. With so many Spidermen, including one woman, and Peter being dead/undead (the other dimensional Peter comes as stand-in), you do wonder at times what is going on? Add to that characters like the octopussian Doctor Octavius (Doc Ock/Kathryn Hahn), Miles’ room-mate and Aunt May Parker (Lily Tomlin), and the confusion only grows bigger. That’s a minor blemish in a cleverly, painstakingly (142 animation artists!) crafted film experience.

Though the style is very 2D hand drawn comic-book+Sony Pictures Imageworks computer animation, directors Bob Persichetti Jr.(co-writer The Little Prince, head of story on Puss in Boots, story artist for Monsters vs. Aliens, Shrek 2), Peter Ramsey (storyboard artist; directed Rise of the Guardians) and Rodney Rothman (not credited on the official website; producer/writer 22 Jump Street, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Popstar, Get Him to the Greek), have made sure there is a huge human dimension to the characters. Had that not been the case, it would have been impossible to sustain the plot in 3D over 1 hour and 57 minutes. The directors play a lot with perspective, upside down angles and vast panoramic shots, giving a grand feel to the alternate universe. And yes, they do oblige you with an end-credits scene, but with so many credits rolling, you’ll have to be patient, and not “point fingers”.

In 2018, 56 years after he was created, Spiderman, with its plural and feminine variations, is alive and well. Sadly, his co-creator Stan Lee died last month at the age of 95. As is the norm, Lee has a cameo in the film, a more noticeable than usual one, albeit only voice acting. Miles goes into a shop selling Spiderman costumes and picks one, but finds that it does not fit. Lee, the shopkeeper, responds with “They all fit. Eventually.”  There’s no dearth of such self-deprecating humour. Take the “with great power comes great responsibility” quote that came from Peter’s Uncle Ben (originally Voltaire). It is repeated ad nauseam, until the character himself becomes fed-up of hearing it.

Voice acting is uniformly good, with Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn, Lily Tomlin and Nicolas Cage apparently enjoying themselves thoroughly. Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse evokes a belief that any of us could become a superhero and that superheroes are like any of us, yet different. Miles Morales learns to swing/sling as if he was a little kid on a mechanical swing, and it is the little kid in us that sways to the goings on. What’s more, even a pig can become Spiderman, if only it was ‘different’! Golden Globes has nominated Spider-verse for Best Animated Feature! No less a person than acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro has tweeted “Academy animation members take note!!”

DC Comics and Marvel might be rivals, and Spiderman might take a dig at cape-wearers, yet both brands have their merits. As of now, Spiderman might be dead but the Marvel Comics Universe is alive and healthy. Did I say Spiderman was dead? Hasn’t he been reincarnated in the politically and ethnically correct teenager Miles Morales? Long live Spiderman…er…men…er…men and woman…er…men, woman and pig!

Rating: ****


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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