Warning: Minor spoilers follow for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
As previously mentioned, Spider-Man had a fantastic 2018. The year started off with “Avengers: Infinity War,” and in the fall we were gifted “Marvel’s Spider-Man” and “Venom.”
But it seems that the best was saved for last, when in December “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was released.
If you told me that we would get another Spidey offering from Sony in 2018 that would tell a story using seven different spider-people, I wouldn’t have wanted it.
I was skeptical. “Hey look, Sony’s attempting to cash in on those Spider-Man rights again,” I thought. “And how would they be able to juggle so many different characters and timelines?”
However, I was proven wrong and this turned out to be a fantastic journey into Spider-Man lore that told the harrowing and emotional story of Miles Morales.
He is the center of this film, as he is a youth living in Brooklyn starting his first day at a prestigious boarding school downtown (something he feels guilty for, having only attained entry to the school as a result of a lottery).
His parents Rio, a nurse, and Jefferson, a police officer, have huge expectations for him and push him to be his best.
Yet all Miles wants to do is be a normal guy and let his creative mind shine. He feels immense pressure to succeed and he looks to his Uncle Aaron to help him relieve this stress.
From there he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and struggles to control his newfound powers.
Then the Kingpin unleashes all hell, turning on a machine that brings several different Spider-people into his dimension, and kills this universe’s blonde version of Peter Parker.
From there, Miles has to work with a colorful cast of characters and try to figure out how his own powers work to stop Kingpin and bring balance back to the universe.
Meet the Spider-Folks
So before I talk more about the plot, let’s take a look at all the characters and what they bring to the table.
We have Miles, a Brooklyn youth who is pretty fresh into being Spider-Man. Miles has all the usual spider powers, with two extra ones unique to him. He can turn invisible in different situations and is able to unleash a venom strike that is incredibly powerful.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to control these powers and can never seem to use them when the time is right.
Through the film, he feels immense pressure; first from his parent’s expectations for him to excel at his new school, and then from the other Spideys, who don’t believe he has what it takes to save the day.
He is the heart and soul of this film, and watching his journey from bumbling Spider-Boi to someone who can go toe to toe with the Kingpin is something to see.
Then there’s Peter B. Parker. He’s a pretty experienced Spider-Man, but not all of those experiences were good. His Aunt May died and Mary Jane Watson divorced him. He has a lazy demeanor (best demonstrated by him wearing sweatpants over his suit) and seems pretty jaded at the world.
After a lot of persuasion, he’s goaded into teaching Miles how to control his powers, with minimal success. He has some solid lines in the movie, especially when he meets that universe’s MJ.
Spider-Gwen comes from a universe where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider and later fails to save her best friend, Peter Parker. She and Miles meet at school and the two of them have nice chemistry.
She also plays in a band and is fearless in everything she does, which doesn’t help Miles in the confidence department.
Spider-Noir is a crime fighter from the 1930s and is a loose cannon. Donned in all black and carrying a gun he uses stealth to his advantage. Nicholas Cage voices him and while he doesn’t have a whole lot of lines, he makes them count and steals the show in my mind.
John Mulaney portrays Spider-Ham, a character who was originally a joke one off in the comics and then became his own “Looney Toons” esque cartoon that hits people with a large mallet. Ham is consistently funny in this film.
Rounding out the cast is Peni Parker, a Japanese-American teenager who co-pilots a biomechanical suit with a radioactive spider that she shares a telepathic link with. Sounds awesome, right? She doesn’t do a whole lot in the movie and left me wanting more.
Each character is truly unique and brings something different to create a hell of a team. While Gwen, Peter and Miles are the main focus, the other three do get some time to shine and they make the most of the lines they’re given.
A Real-Time Comic Book
Now, this might sound cliche or silly, but “Into the Spider-Verse” captures the comic book aesthetic incredibly well. This is a breathtaking movie to look at.
You can tell that the best of the best of Sony Pictures Animation (famous, or infamous for making “Open Season,” “The Smurfs,” “Hotel Transylvania” and the freaking “Emoji Movie”) to work on this film.
The goal from the beginning was for the team to make this look like a comic book, and it was such a massive undertaking that by production’s end there were 140 animators on board.
Each spider-person is animated in a different style as well. Spider-Gwen didn’t have a lot of harsh lines drawn in, matching the style of her comic book. Spider-Noir is shrouded in shadow and Spider-Ham is drawn in the most over the top, cartoony way possible.
The texture and style of this film is incredibly unique. The work put in by the design team show the ability the studio has, and “Into the Spider-Verse” stands out as a project that looks very special.
Walking a Mile in His Shoes
There will be some minor story spoilers in this section.
A colorful cast of characters and a gripping visual style can only do so much. For a movie like this to succeed, the story has to do the difficult job of balancing introducing six different heroes, establishing a universe destroying conflict with several villains and keep the focus on our central character, Miles.
It manages to do this and then some. Kingpin is given an emotional motive for crossing through dimensions, the time is balanced properly between all the spider-people and we see these events unfold through Miles’ eyes.
The script also manages to really make Miles stand out as a well developed character. We get a feel for what is important to him: his family, his creative spark and his desire to stay true to himself and where he came from.
This is undoubtedly Miles’ movie, and there are a few moments within that nearly brought me to tears.
One moment in particular, when his father tries to reach out to him and painfully breaks down and give him words of encouragement, all while Miles is unable to respond, broke my heart.
Throughout all the chaotic action, great one-liners and funny jokes the film never fails to keep Miles’ perspective in focus.
His journey from a shy teenager who has his whole world turned upside down, to someone with the confidence and inner strength necessary to control his spider powers and go toe to toe with incredible danger is so engrossing and holds “Into the Spider-Verse” together.
Hit the Music
Another crucial part of this film is the music. It is anchored by Post Malone and Swae Lee’s hit single “Sunflower,” a song Miles’ sings in the movie.
Other songs such as “What’s Up Danger” and “Scared of the Dark” are used as phenomenal cues to accent important parts of the film.
It has a perfect mix of pop and rap tracks. It all fits in well with the context of the movie while being fun listens on their own. I definitely recommend you listen to the soundtrack.
A Labor of Love
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” stands on its own merits as a great comic book adaptation.
And in addition to everything else I’ve pointed to, the film includes so many callbacks and easter eggs to other Spider-Man games, tv shows and films that makes it feels like a true love letter to the character.
There is such an abundance of secrets hidden throughout the film, and these include but are not limited to:
Several scenes and plot points from the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy are referenced, some c-list villains such as Tombstone and Scorpion are The Kingpin’s minions and the fact that the film’s version of the Green Goblin is based on the Ultimate Comics version, which is more of a hulking beast than a crazy guy on a glider.
Stan Lee also makes his usual cameo appearance, which I won’t spoil here. Apparently, the directors have stated Lee is hidden in almost every crowd shot in the film.
As this was the first Marvel film released after Lee’s passing, the mid-credits scene includes a classy tribute to both Lee and Steve Ditko, co-creators of the Spider-Man character.
Yet perhaps my favorite reference is the post-credits scene, which pokes fun at one of the oldest and funniest Spider-Man memes.
I don’t want to spoil too much for you, but if you have any knowledge of Spider-Man history, there’s a nifty callback for you. However, if you just want to see a fun superhero movie, “Into the Spider-Verse” has you covered.
I know I’ll be watching this movie again to find all of the great easter eggs I’ve missed.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I love this movie. It is a carefully crafted chaotic look at what makes a superhero a true superhero. As MJ said in the film, “Anyone can be Spider-Man.”
Six different spider-people are faithfully introduced to cinema, and all of them bring something worthwhile to the table, with funny one liners and exciting action setpieces.
The animation style and soundtrack are unique and it gives the project a fantastic atmosphere.
All in all, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is an incredible film that offers exciting action, some great characters, callbacks and secrets related to other Spider-Man media and a whole lot of heart.
It might be my favorite Spider-Man movie of all time. It is so dynamic, heartfelt and funny, while not skimping out on the action and lore.
However, it is hard to compare it to “Spider-Man 2” or “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” as they are completely different kinds of movies.
Either way, this is one film you should check out if you have even a passive interest in it.