Sunday, July 7, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman.
2018. Rated PG, 117 minutes.
Shameik Moore
Hailee Steinfeld
Jake Johnson
Mahershala Ali
Brian Tyree Henry
Luna Lauren Velez
Nicolas Cage
Lily Tomlin
Zoë Kravitz
John Mulaney
Kimiko Glenn
Liev Schreiber
Kathryn Hahn

That comic book fans are a territorial, resistant to change, uncouth bunch is a perception hard-earned by the group’s vocal minority. Into the Spider-Verse understands that it is in their crosshairs. I get it, to an extent. When I was into comics, way back in the 1980s, Spidey was my favorite character. At the time he was featured in three different comics and I made sure I got them all every month. In all of them, and in every other form of media, Peter Parker was Spider-Man, and that was the end of it. By the time Miles Morales was introduced I was no longer reading comics, but I knew the backlash was coming and understood it. Some of it, a lot of it, was racist. Ya’ know, the old, “How dare you take this fictional character that you created and make him Black?” Shout out to Halle Bailey who, as of this writing, is dealing with this from disgruntled fans of The Little Mermaid. A lot of it was just us nerds being overprotective of our childhood. Therefore, including Peter Parker was a much needed, if not altogether brilliant play in the origin story for Miles. Regardless, the filmmakers had to make the story work. Did they ever.

By now, you know that original story. Queens kid Peter Parker (Johnson) gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gets superhuman strength and the ability to climb walls, and becomes the masked crime-fighter known as Spider-Man. We pick things up ten years into Spidey’s career and get introduced to Miles Morales (Moore), a Brooklyn kid struggling with teenage stuff. He has a cop for a dad, mom’s a nurse, but when he gets stressed, he sneaks off to his cool Uncle Aaron’s place. While hanging with his uncle, Miles is, of course, bitten by a radioactive spider and is endowed with the creature’s abilities. When he goes back to the place where it happened in hopes of making sense of it all, Miles finds himself in the middle of a battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin. It’s a fight that leaves Peter Parker dead, but also opens a multi-dimensional portal just long enough to pull in several other spider-powered beings. The first one we meet is an older, rundown, jaded version of Peter. They must band together to figure out a way home and stop Kingpin from re-opening the portal and inadvertently killing everyone.

In most superhero movies, the villain drives the story. The better the bad guy, the better the movie. Origin movies are generally different because they focus on the protagonist’s journey from zero to hero. Miles is an extremely fun and relatable young man to watch go through that process. Right away, we can recognize kids we know in him. He has personality. We instantly take to him, but not in the way we typically pity our soon-to-be heroes including other incarnations of Spider-Man. Miles is a genuinely likable guy. It helps that, also unlike many other heroes, it’s clear he likes himself. He’s not an egomaniac like the way the MCU portrays Tony Stark or Doctor Strange, either. He’s just a nice kid with normal teen issues. Shameik Moore voices the role and always strikes the right tone. Early on, he’s agitated but not destroyed by his problems. When crazy things start happening to Miles, Moore emanates both wide-eyed amazement and fear. By the end of the film, we understand the massive amount of growth that this character has done.

While the most important parts of Miles’s development is done by him alone, he has plenty of help for the task at hand. How well you take to that help might make or break the movie for you. Case in point: my brother who knows infinitely more about comics than I, didn’t much care for it, largely due to the other Spider-folks. He was fine with Miles and old, broken own Peter, but the rest were a step or two too far for him. The only character who had that effect on me was Spider-Ham, a literal pig named Peter Porker. I loved all the others. He had a few funny lines, but they could’ve kept him. The rest were all brilliant incarnations. I can’t say which one was my favorite. Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir is the most fun. The anime inspired Peni Parker (Glenn) is wonderfully conceptualized, and fun in her own right. Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Gwen (Steinfeld) is the one we get to know best, aside from alternate Peter. Hailee Steinfeld gives us her best world-weary teenager. She never feels like an adult, but she’s clearly seen more than Miles. The chemistry and differences between them propel the film in the right direction.

What carries Into the Spider-Verse to great heights are the themes it explores. Historically, Spider-Man’s origin is a metaphor for puberty. The movie digs into the emotional side of this. He must face his fears and gain a more mature perspective. He also grapples with the importance of family and the things they can and cannot help with. Miles must learn some things for himself, but he also must learn to value what others provide for him in both is biological family and in his newfound spider-powered one. The film does this in a way that never feels forced. The affable nature of Miles and the organic way it happens makes it an exhilarating experience for both him and us.

I’ve been so focused on Miles I’ve thus far neglected to mention the bad guys. While I stand by my belief that they aren’t the driving force they might be in other superhero flicks, these are some great villains, nonetheless. Mostly. The character design for Green Goblin is a sight to behold. However, he’s used only to set the plot in motion. Doctor Octopus (Hahn) is also fantastically designed, has more to do, but is ultimately generic. The other two villains more than make up for any slack. Kingpin (Schreiber) has the weakest design, but he is something only the great villains are - ruthless and still, somehow, sympathetic. We understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. We’re just mortified by his methods. Finally, Kingpin has a henchman named Prowler. I’ll just say this guy really packs the emotional punch.

The visuals are also a real treat. There is some new technology at work. I won’t go into details on how it does what it does, just know that it looks great. The film’s perfect use of music brings it all together. Each song is a snug fit for the scene in which it appears, amplifying the intended mood. This makes our rollercoaster ride a smooth one. We experience myriad feelings, but never get the whiplash that some movies give us. The last major accomplishment of this film is that despite how much is going on, and how many characters that must have their moment to shine, it never feels crowded. True, some characters do make us want more of them – Green Goblin (Bell), Aunt May (Tomlin), and especially Miles’s mother Rio (Velez). But I’m not complaining about what they give us. They all work in concert to make Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse arguably the best Spider-Man movie of them all.


  1. I was in shock in how awesome it was as I didn't expect it to be enthralling not just visually but also in the story. I would love to see Miles Morales become part of the MCU in the future with Peter Parker in the mentor role. I also loved the fact that the film allowed Miles to speak Spanish in some parts of the film as he's half-Hispanic which I think gave the film more diversity and I was able to connect with Miles on a personal level as I'm Hispanic. I would totally be on board for a sequel.

    1. Oh, I've got my fingers and toes crossed for a sequel. This movie is pure magic.

  2. Screw the trailer for that awful Banana Splits movie!

  3. Fingers crossed for a shout out in your Spider-Man: Far From Home review.

  4. I will forever kick myself for missing this at the cinema. It's my favourite Spider-Man movie ever - perhaps my favourite superhero movie ever! I thought the extra Spidey characters would annoy me but they fit in so well. Great review!

    1. How they fit all those characters in was the big surprise for me, too. They did a fantastic job with them. Thanks!

  5. I wish I was as into this movie as most people are. I liked it but didn't love it. For me the best parts were early on especially between Miles and his family. Personally I wanted so much more of that. Didn't really buy into the reveal either. Still, I would be into another one of these films.

    1. Aww man. I guess nobody's perfect, lol. The reveal worked for me, not because I was particularly surprised, but because I knew and felt the emotional impact it would have on Miles. I'm so ready for a sequel.