Spider-Man is a person we all know and love. He appears in every movie we watch, on every T-shirt in we wear, and in the rearview mirror when we’re driving in our car. I had a conversation with Spider-Man over a hot cup of coffee this morning, and he assured to me he will return to us as was outlined in the prophecy. The only question is what form he will take.
In Spider-Man: Cataclysm, we are introduced to an entirely different Spider-Man, a Spider-Man who is far more in tune with the rhythms of the Millenial Age. First introduced in comic books earlier this decade, Miles Morales is the first black Spider-Man, and just the second time a Latino character has taken on the Spider-Man identity.
Miles Morales as Spider-Man is the next generation, is the future, is all of us confused and shambling youth hoping for something better, and driving for Lyft in the meantime. But in Spider-Man: Cataclysm, the role of Miles Morales is played by Elle Fanning wearing a very dark spray-on tan.
Some critics have commented that Sony/Marvel got their diversity wires crossed and attempted to “kill two birds with one stone” by casting a woman to play the first black Spider-Man. I think this “hot take” obscures more than illuminates, as “hot takes” are often wont to do.
Because who is Spider-Man anyway? What defines him? Can we even use that ugly term “him” to describe a human bitten by a radioactive spider and thus imbued with the ability to sling webs and crawl about the walls and buildings that make up the urban jungle in which we must live?
Spider-Man is a genderless, raceless, ageless icon. We project our fantasies onto his masked face, and onto the very strange and distracting high-pitched and heavily accented voice Elle Fanning uses in Spider-Man: Cataclysm.
Cataclysm opens with Miles and his father Jefferson (Delroy Lindo) mourning the recent deaths of two close family members. Prior to the events of the movie, Miles’ mother Rio and his uncle Aaron died in a hail of gunfire that led to an accidental explosion during a battle between Spider-Man and Venom.
Miles comes to believe the world is about to end, and his prophecies gain him a cult-like following across storefront churches in the Bronx. His father doesn’t know what to think about his son’s behavior, which alternates between bombastic preaching and silent brooding.
Meanwhile, Galactus, a cosmic entity who eats planets to sustain his life force, emerges from a nearby nebula and prepares to consume Earth. All over the world, astronomers and soothsayers point out the giant in the night sky and gape in wonder.
Fearing the final reckoning is at hand, Miles reveals his double life as Spider-Man to his father. As a result, his father becomes convinced Miles is responsible for the death of Aaron and Rio, and disowns him.
When Galactus descends, Spider-Man mounts a last-ditch effort to save the planet, and must enlist the help of the Avengers to help him. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) must all work together with Spider-Man and his legion of dedicated followers to defeat Galactus once and for all.
Just when they think they have subdued Galactus, the massive planet eater bursts into four great beasts. The first beast is a lion with the wings of an eagle, the second is a bear waving giant bones with its fists, the third is a leopard with four wings and four heads, and the fourth is a massive serpent with ten horns. One of the horns speaks very pompously (voice of Nathan Lane).
Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the cultist Servants of the Spider’s Word eventually trap each of the four beasts. They turn the beasts over to the Guardians of the Galaxy who imprison them in an egg made of the rubble of a thousand starships.
Joseph Kosinski’s direction has a spectacular grandeur, but it’s the human moments between Miles and his father that really make the film worth watching. I laughed, I cried, I prayed for humanity, and so will everyone else who watches this movie. And we praise Elle Fanning for her derring do. She is Spider-Man, just as much as you or I.
TL;DR – Visually striking and thematically rich, Spider-Man: Cataclysm draws its bizarre power from its strong production values and a perplexing performance from Elle Fanning.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“If I have to watch any more Spider-Man reboots, I’m going to puke.” – Darla Blaugrana, Newsweek
“I feel like Elle Fanning wasn’t the best choice to play Miles Morales, who is half black and half Latino.” – Brive Hoxhauer, LA Weekly
“More than most films, Spider-Man: Cataclysm is full of soaring ambition. Just try not to think too hard about any of it.” – Thurman O’Herlihy, Seattle Times
“The most interesting scenes feature Miles Morales preaching a prophecy of doom to poor, underprivileged communities of color.” – Uriah Ward, Christian Science Monitor
“Elle Fanning is back, baby! And she’s better than ever!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“Elle Fanning, infected with a sickly gleam, plays the leader of new religion, and her penchant for manic sermons is so dynamic will that she keeps the film afloat all on her own.” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club
“It would have behooved Marvel to cast a person of color to play Miles Morales.” – B. Conner Yonk, Toronto Sun
“Let’s hope that I, Spiderman recaptures the magic that made many of the other Spider-Man reboots so joyous to watch.” – Alissa Wilkinson, Vox
“Is this supposed to be funny?” – Tsinoglou Luther, Detroit News
“What are you even doing?” – Gower Halstatt, ReelViews
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