TOO MUCH SPI­DER-MAN? NOT IN THE SPI­DER-VERSE

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You might be for­given for feel­ing su­per­hero over­load this hol­i­day sea­son. Had enough of, say, of Spi­der-Man for a while? Well, this may sound nuts, but con­sider watch­ing not just one web-slinger but five of them in the an­i­mated “Spi­der-Man: Into the Spi­der-Verse.” In­stead of over­load, you’ll be beg­ging for more.

The film glee­fully scram­bles the no­tion there can be only one friendly neighborhood Spi­derMan and of­fers the ex­cit­ing idea that he can be any­one. He can be a girl, he can be a mid­dleaged dude with a paunch and he can even be a car­toon pig.

It’s hard to un­der­es­ti­mate what this means. ”Spi­der-Man: Into the Spi­der-Verse ” does what comics and graphic nov­els have long ex­per­i­mented with, but this time makes the leap to the big screen. It lit­er­ally opens up a uni­verse of pos­si­bil­i­ties. “Any­one can wear the mask. You can wear the mask,” we are told.

The re­sult is a film that’s fan­tas­ti­cally fresh, both vis­ually and nar­ra­tively, trippy and post-modern at the same time and packed with in­trigu­ing sto­ry­telling tools, hu­mor, em­pa­thy and ac­tion, while also true to its roots — still telling the story of a young man learn­ing to ac­cept the re­spon­si­bil­ity of fight­ing for what’s right.

Our main hero here is one plucked from a spinoff from the main Spi­der-Man comic book uni­verse: Miles Mo­rales, a half-African-Amer­i­can, half-Puerto Ri­can teen from Brook­lyn who has a Chance the Rap­per poster on his wall. He looks and acts noth­ing like pre­vi­ous Peter Parker types — Tobey Maguire, An­drew Garfield and Tom Hol­land — and that’s great. Hey, if Cate Blanchett can play Bob Dy­lan in a movie, why not of­fer us a new look on Spidey?

Pro­duced by Phillip Lord and Christo­pher Miller, the duo be­hind the ac­claimed “The Lego Movie,” this Spi­der-Man saga pops with out­stand­ing an­i­ma­tion, con­stantly chang­ing its styles. At times, it can be hyper-real, then sur­real. It in­cludes an­ime, slo-mo, color dis­tor­tion, Pop art, hand-drawn el­e­ments, CG an­i­ma­tion and even tweaks its own ori­gins by adding di­a­logue in lit­tle pan­els.

The an­i­ma­tors place their story in a won­der­fully gritty New York, com­plete with screech­ing, graf­fiti-streaked sub­way cars and charm­less pedes­tri­ans, (one of whom turns out to be voiced by Post Malone, who con­trib­utes to the sound­track.) One quib­ble: Their abil­ity to have things in the fore­ground ap­pear in sharp re­lief while ob­jects in the back­ground bleed away makes it seem as if you’re watch­ing a 3D film with­out those weird glasses.

Our hero Miles (Shameik Moore) is try­ing to nav­i­gate life be­tween his cop dad (Brian Tyree Henry) and his cooler un­cle (Ma­her­shala Ali). Af­ter be­ing bit­ten by a ra­dioac­tive spi­der, he wit­nesses the death of Spi­der-Man (smaller view­ers, be­ware). But Miles soon learns there are many other Spi­der-Peo­ple, freed from their real­i­ties by the hulk­ing King­pin (Liev Schreiber), who has built a nu­clear col­lider that al­lows ac­cess to al­ter­na­tive uni­verses.

“New Girl” star Jake John­son voices a flab­bier and de­pressed Peter Parker who wears sweat pants and is go­ing through a divorce to Mary Jane. There’s a fe­dora-wear­ing, black-and-white Spi­derMan Noir (Ni­co­las Cage) who has been tele­ported from bat­tling Nazis. There’s also a cool-girl Spi­derG­wen played by Hailee Ste­in­feld, and Kimiko Glenn voices an an­ime school­girl from the fu­ture. And there’s Spi­der-Ham (John Mu­laney) who is rooted in Satur­day morn­ing kid­die car­toons, in­clud­ing the use of a drop­ping anvil.

This odd fam­ily unites to take down King­pin and re­turn to their uni­verses, wink­ing for­ever at them­selves and the viewer, not a lit­tle like the “Dead­pool.” Direc­tors Bob Per­sichetti, Peter Ram­sey and Rod­ney Roth­man — Roth­man and Phil Lord wrote the story — also ground the tale with a great sound­track that in­cludes El­liphant, Run-DMC, The No­to­ri­ous B.I.G., James Brown and Nicki Mi­naj.

Mar­vel icon Stan Lee makes his ex­pected an­i­mated ap­pear­ance, but this time there’s sad­ness at­tached. He mourns Spi­der-Man’s pass­ing. “I’m go­ing to miss him,” he tells Miles. Lee died Nov. 12 and we’re go­ing to miss him, too. But this film some­how sums up a lot of what he tried to do over his ca­reer: Pack fun, ac­tion and sweet­ness into a story and then watch it soar.

“Spi­der-Man: Into the Spi­der-Verse,” a Columbia Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG for “for fre­netic se­quences of an­i­mated ac­tion vi­o­lence, the­matic el­e­ments and mild lan­guage.” Run­ning time: 117 min­utes. Three and a half stars out of four.

MPAA Def­i­ni­tion of PG: Some ma­te­rial may not be suit­able for chil­dren

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