Movie Review: Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse (Spoiler Free)
Sony nails the big screen debut of Miles Morales as Spider-Man in a vibrant and bold animated offering.
Sorry, Marvel fans, it doesn’t look like Sony is letting go of Spider-Man anytime soon. The first nail in the coffin came from a commercially dominant Venom adaptation. The second comes by way of the excellent animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Sony swings big and takes risks with Marvel’s icon that open the story up to new characters, new themes, and new adventures. All this while remaining faithful to the ideas and aspirations of everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Witty, charming, exciting and emotionally resonant – this may be Sony’s best Spider-Man film to date.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) starts his first day at an elite high school with trepidation. Being the son of working class parents of African-American and Latino origins, he doesn’t look or sound like anyone around him. Frustrated, he goes to hang out with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), the black sheep of the family. Aaron takes Miles to an abandoned subway line where he can work on his graffiti art without upsetting his police officer father. Once there, Miles is bitten by a radio-active spider…much like his hero Spider-Man.
Miles returns to the tunnel after exhibiting super-powers, only to find Spider-Man (Chris Pine) in a desperate battle with The Kingpin and his minions. The Kingpin succeeds in opening a portal to other dimensions, but Spider-Man’s interference sabotages the machine. Out of action, Spidey tasks Miles with thwarting the Kingpin. Luckily, Miles has help as five other spider-themed heroes from across the multiverse were pulled into his reality, and set about training Miles to become his own Spider-Man.
Spider-Man, New and Old.
Into the Spider-Verse does a fantastic job of keeping the Spider-Man ethos while letting Miles be his own hero. Classic themes such as coming of age, responsibility, self-discovery and survivors guilt are all present. The narrative keeps the familiar but reshapes things in smart and engaging ways. Miles’ road to becoming a hero mirrors Peter Parker’s, but has its own flavor, and its own troubles. Even the other-verse copy of Peter is not just a Peter Parker clone. Each of the heroes have stories and character arcs flavored by the iconic Peter Parker story, but each feels unique and offers insight into the old stand-by “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The script is also packed with self-referential material that celebrates and pokes fun at Spider-Man’s legacy. Legendary comic panels are recreated, classic characters are referenced and re-imagined, and nearly 50 years of Spider-Man history in TV and Film are called back to. There’s even a nod to everyone’s favorite cringe-worthy Spidey moment when Tobey Maguire was strutting down the street to James Brown like a creeper.
Into the Spider-Verse accomplishes the daunting task of introducing not just one new Spider-Man but six. Sony really nails it here. It’s hard to believe they’ve taken six films to try to get Peter Parker right, but nail six new versions all in one go. Miles is a blast of fresh air; Shameik Moore blends vulnerability with sass, making his dialogue feel the most like the comic books of any iteration. In places the film lands so many jibes that it feels a bit like Deadpool…reminding you that before Ryan Reynolds made him a household name, he was mostly an R-rated Spider-Man clone.
The rest of the voice work is spot-on. Chris Pine’s heroic Spider-Man sounds heroic; Jake Johnson’s tired and cynical Spider-Man sounds tired and cynical. Even Nicolas Cage gets in on the act, playing a radio-drama style vigilante Spider-Man who sounds like he was ripped from a Dick Tracy serial. Hailee Steinfeld brings Gwen/Spider-Woman to life with fantastic charm, justifying the reports that she’s already green-lit for a solo feature. My favorite was Kathryn Hann, who updates a classic Spider-Man villain in a way that really lands. She feels like the kind of fun and clever baddy that the Incredibles 2 sorely needed.
The visuals in this Spider-Man are mostly great. Mostly. The film pops with color and flows dynamically during action sequences. It balances the freedom of animation with the heft of real movement, so when Miles pulls off some of the big moments we’ve seen a live-action Spider-Man do, they feel just as impressive. Each hero has a unique art-style that gives variety to the image, and it is all topped with a visual aesthetic that seeks to duplicate the four-color look of vintage comics. The animators really went all out to create something visually impressive, including using an anamorphic format to create a wide image, and layering the different animations to create depth. Here’s where the mostly comes in.
I saw Into the Spider-Verse in 2-D, but often felt like I was missing my 3-D glasses. The out-of-focus look you get from a film shot in 3-D when not using glasses was often evident at the edges of the scenes. I checked with others in the theater; all felt the same way. The directors state that the film deserves to be seen in 3-D. I’d agree, but mostly because it feels like that’s what you’re going to see regardless of which ticket you bought!
Is Into the Spider-Verse the best Spider-Man film of all time? Despite a soft spot in my heart for Sam Raimi’s first two outings, I’d have to say Into the Spider-Verse lives up to the hype. This film just fires on every cylinder. It is a better origin story. It has better pacing and flow. It matches or surpasses the action sequences of the other films. It handles multiple heroes and villains much better than the other films. Peter Parker is actually interesting in this film since we don’t have to rehash his origin story again and can take risks with his character (indeed, the film makes fun of all of the origin story-telling of previous outings by rolling its eyes when it has to do back-story for each Spider-Man). It’s funny and it’s exciting. Lastly, it takes the familiar and reinvigorates it. I hope when Sony gets Spider-Man back from Marvel, we get Miles or Gwen in the costume instead of another Peter Parker!