Film Review – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) has such an infectious spirit – both in its attitude and in its style – that it’s difficult not to watch it without getting wrapped up in the pure joy of the narrative. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman – and cowritten by Rothman and Phil Lord (one half of the “Lord and Miller” team that brought us the 21 Jump Street remake and the The Lego Movie), this is a breathless, high energy animated tale that doesn’t just give us one Spider-Man character, but six! It’s a progressive, inclusion-focused film with a central message letting us know that we can all accomplish amazing things if we set our minds to it. A straightforward theme, really, but sometimes “straightforward” is the best way to go.
We sense the Lord and Miller touch all throughout Spider-Verse. It has a great affection for the character in all of his different forms: from comic-books, to television, and to movies. It starts off with a hilarious callback to the forgettable Spider-Man 3 (2007), acknowledging it with fondness even when it pokes fun at it. But in terms of its appreciation of the character’s history, the most impressive thing that Spider-Verse brings to the table is in its visual look. The animation team took care in creating the aesthetic to resemble the art style inherent in comics, specifically the “Zip-a-tone” technique in which colors and shadows are made using a dotted, hatching style. Certain points of dialogue are presented in boxes – just like a comic – and the color palette has a bright, vibrant feel that pops right off the screen. Many superhero films have been described as “a living, breathing comic-book,” but this might come the closest to fitting that description.
But the visual feats wouldn’t matter if the narrative weren’t supported with a good story and strong character development. Here, our protagonist is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a half black/half Latino teenager from Brooklyn. With the urging of his parents, Miles attends an accelerated prep school outside of his neighborhood. While the education helps him, the fact that he must live in a dorm outside of where he grew up has put a rift between him his parents, particularly his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry). Miles is like any normal kid: trying to stay focused on his school work, awkward socially (particularly with the opposite sex), and just trying to get by.
Things take a turn when Miles somehow finds himself in the middle of a battle between Spider-Man (Chris Pine) and The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). You see, The Kingpin has developed a “Super Collider” that can open a gate between different dimensions. After a massive accident in the ensuing battle between the web-head and the crime boss, the Super Collider creative a rift between realities, creating all sorts of problems – namely the addition of five other Spider-people into Miles’ reality. We have Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) who looks like he came from a 1930s serial, the anime-styled Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) with her fully operational robot, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) who looks like Porky the Pig inside a Spider-Man suit, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) as Spider-Woman, and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) a run down, lazy, out of shape Spider-Man whose lost nearly all of his motivation for crime fighting.
Oh, and I did forget to mention that Miles has superpowers also? The writing takes a creative shortcut in explaining how he also got bit by a radioactive spider. But that allows Miles to take part in the action, even though most of his story involves Peter B. Parker trying to teach him how to handle his quickly developing powers.
The writing is quick-witted, the punchlines coming at a rapid pace. But that doesn’t hinder how each of the characters are given enough background for us to understand their motivations. Spider-Man’s origin has much to do with a personal tragedy that he believes he could have stopped, and here each one shares that same experience. Even The Kingpin, despite being our main bad guy, is given solid development for us to understand why he would try to blend different realities. It’s rare for a film that moves with such forward momentum to contain characters that are this relatable. Kids and adults will look at this and see something to take away.
If there’s one thing that Spider-Verse stumbles on, it’s that it might move a little too fast. The jokes come with such speed that you’ll laugh at one only to miss the next one coming up behind it. The action (not often, but sometimes) can get so hectic and overwhelming that it felt like we’re drowning in a cacophony of sights and sounds. The rendering of the Super Collider looks like a mish-mash of visual chaos, like a kid taking every color of paint and smearing it on paper. Anyone who is sensitive to intense light – or who are epileptic – might take some caution before walking into this one.
But despite that little quibble, I enjoyed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse immensely. Sure, its plot is a little silly, but that’s balanced with good character work and a new visual approach that allows it to stand apart from other animated films this year. It’s one of the better superhero films in a field that is overstuffed with them, and rivals only Spider-Man 2 (2004) as the best big screen version of the wallcrawler. It’s fun, thoughtful, and lively – there isn’t much more you can ask for.