Friday, May 31, 2019

New York as an Animated Playground: Discovering “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

I’m just back from New York City, a vibrant metropolis where social diversity is the name of the game. On one recent trip to the Big Apple I walked into a soul food buffet on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, and discovered—next to the fried chicken and spare ribs—a full assortment of vegan delights. Yes, tofu, quinoa, and kale salad. There was a big sign advertising fresh bagels daily, and the counterman was Korean. Only in New York, right?

Along with its lively ethnic mix, New York offers a vibrant swirl of bodies in motion. The streets teem with pedestrians, along with cars, trucks, bikes, and electric scooters. Horns honk at all hours. Neon lights flicker. And those wonderful glass towers that scratch the sky make a dramatic backdrop for what’s happening above and below ground, as well as at ground level. Life in New York City just doesn’t quit.

While flying to New York from the left coast, I finally encountered a movie I’d never bothered to see at the multiplex. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had always sounded to me like yet another superhero movie, and I’d already seen plenty of those. And since it was a work of animation, it promised to be something of a kiddie flick. But that Oscar victory (over a Pixar film!) and the strong enthusiasm of my students encouraged me to check it out. Not that a seatback screen was the right way to enjoy a film first released in 3-D. But at least I could catch a glimpse of what everyone seemed so excited about.

I knew, going in, that this Spider-Man was a tribute to multiculturalism, featuring Miles Morales, a teenaged Brooklynite who is half-black, half-Puerto Rican. Far be it from me to explain a complicated plot that features multiple Spider-Man figures who hail from several alternate universes. There’s  Spider-Woman, Spider-Man Noir, SP//dr (a young cutie-pie who represents Japanese anime stylistics), and the goofy Peter Porker, also known as Spider-Ham. Moreover the grown-up Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man himself, appears in two very different incarnations, both as a vigorous hero and as something of a sad flop. Needless to say, there are also villains of all stripes, as well as a nefarious plot that must be stopped in its tracks. The head-scratching array of Marvel comic book characters is augmented by the more realistic folks of Miles Morales’ daily world. There’s a thoroughly convincing relationship between Miles and his dad, a NYPD officer who’s both loving and at times totally exasperating to his son. (Imagine having to say “I love you” to your cop-pop in front of your way cooler classmates.)     

But beyond the quirks of plot and characterizations, I quickly spotted that this film is a paean not only to comic books of old but to the glitz and glamour (as well as the grit and crud) of New York City. I’ve simply never seen an animated feature that looks like this one. It’s loud; it’s bold; the style of the artwork changes from moment to moment, sometimes capturing the SHAZAM look of comic strips, sometimes verging into psychedelia. They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brilliantly conveys the energy of Times Square when the sun goes down. To say this film is eye-popping doesn’t do it justice.  I only wish I could experience it in 3-D someday soon. But I’ll probably have to wait until my next trip to NYC to experience something of the wild and crazy city where Max Morales, aka Spider-Man, makes his home. 

No comments:

Post a Comment