December 21, 2021 – Superhero movies based on the concept of multiple universes, like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” or the “Crisis on Infinite Earths (Arrowverse)” miniseries on television, are necessarily messy and complex, with a lot of arbitrary rules regarding how multiple universes are able to coexist and interact.
Theories about multiple universes arise from some iterations of the Big Bang Theory of inflation and certain aspects of Quantum Mechanics. Science fiction writers and others find fertile ground in the related idea that we might all have an infinite number of dopplegangers out there, more or less like us.
In this Spider-Man movie, an ill-advised magic spell by Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, reprising his role) allows various people, both villains and heroes, from other parallel universes to enter our universe, and cause a lot of trouble.
This all happens because villains working for the late Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) release a phony viral video accusing Peter Parker (Tom Holland, reprising his role) of murder and revealing that he is Spider-Man. This revelation, trumpeted by anti-Spider-Man newsman J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons reprising his role) upends Parker's life, along with those of his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, reprising her role) and his friends M.J. and Ned (Zendaya and Jacob Batalon, reprising their roles).
This revelation puts them all at deadly risk (although this is not emphasized in the movie). Peter, M.J. and Ned all have their college scholarships denied because of the publicity, something which is over-emphasized. May and Peter both move into a high-security apartment to get away from bad guys, media and other prying eyes.
Parker goes to see Dr. Strange to see if there is some magic spell to take care of these problems. He comes up with a spell to make everyone in the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. In the middle of the spell, Parker suddenly realizes that he wants some people, like his closest friends, to remember that he is Spider-Man, and he asks Dr. Strange to change the spell, right in the middle of casting it. That confusion leads to the multiverse problem.
Among those entering our universe from others are villains Dr. Otto (“Doc Ock”) Octavius (Alfred Molina) Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) Max Dillon/Elctro (Jamie Foxx) Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard (Rhys Ifans) and Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church).
All these characters from previous Spider-Man films are played by the same actors who played them in the previous films. Joining them are some heroes from previous films as well, and a great many other characters from previous Marvel films also reprise their roles. Charlie Cox, who played Matt Murdock/Daredevil on the Netflix series “Daredevil,” also appears in this movie as lawyer Matt Murdock.
Dr. Strange comes up with a way to send all these villains and heroes back to their own universes with a kind of magic cube equipped with an activation button. Spider-Man and his friends are tasked with rounding up all the villains and locking them up in an underground lair to get them ready to send back. On finding out that some of them will die if they are sent back, Peter Parker, at the urging of Aunt May, decides to try to save them so they don't have to die when they are sent back.
This leads to more conflicts and destruction, including a conflict between Spider-Man and Dr. Strange himself. This film is overloaded with characters, conflicts, role-reversals and complications, but it works. It is an impressive achievement in filmmaking to make such an unwieldy plot work as well as it does. It helps to have good actors and a top flight team of visual effects people. Among the challenges, digitally de-aging some of the older actors, like Alfred Molina, to fit the time line.
A lot of credit goes to Jon Watts (he directed the previous two Spider-Man movies) for pulling off this feat. It will be interesting to see what he can do with Marvel's prized property, “The Fantastic Four,” which has been a disappointment in previous attempts to bring it from comic books to film. This movie rates a B.
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