SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SONY PICTURES’ NEW FILM SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
When you’ve got an eleven-year-old son who is hugely into Spider-Man, it doesn’t really matter if the trailers for the new animated Spider-Man movie appeal to you or not. Unless you’re an asshole, you’re going to see it.
Fortunately for me, I was very excited by the trailers for Into the Spider-Verse.
I love the wave of comic book inspired films we’ve been getting for the past decade, but no matter how much you’re enjoying it, there’s no denying the fact that there’s a certain safe sameness about most of the movies. Even with the seemingly huge differences between Marvel and DC films, if we’re being honest they’re all playing the same game.
Sony’s newest Spider-Man film, on the other hand, looked to be trying something very different. It’s animated, but didn’t seem to be marketed towards children as specifically as, say, The LEGO Movies. Its focus is on a younger protagonist that fans have been clamoring for, but that might be unfamiliar to most audiences.
Before you argue that point with me, remember that there are still many people out there who think of every Batman movie from 1989 to now as being connected. These people have never heard of Miles Morales. The idea of there being more than one Spider-Man is foreign. At best they might know that Peter Parker has worn multiple suits or that there has been a Spider-Woman at some point.
Fans might complain about Sony’s past treatment of Spider-Man, but it seemed they were attempting something new and, quite frankly brave, with Into the Spider-Verse.
Did the seeming risks – unique animation style, new character, unconnected universe – pay off or should they have played it safe? Read on and find out!
1 – The Look – The animation in this film is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We watched a standard version – 3D was not available for any of the early screenings I saw listed – but it was still an immersive experience. There are layers upon layers of rich detail and personality, for lack of a better word. The filmmakers have created not just a unique world, but a completely new method of visual storytelling. It’s kinetic and fluid and deep.
Miles’ world is full of life in a way that no other animated feature has accomplished and it is a joy to watch.
Many, many different art styles come together to tell this story, and not just amongst the various Spider-People. The primary world – Miles’ world – has elements of comics, traditional animation, rendered animation, hip-hop expression, and probably many others that I didn’t notice or recognize. But it all blends together seamlessly to create a new kind of visual experience. This meshing of styles could have been a complete disaster, but instead it feels like a vital new medium.
2 – The Sounds – Hip-hop and rap (whatever distinctions you may assign the two terms) have become constants in family-oriented film; particularly in the past decade or so. Almost every non-Pixar animated project features a current “hit” as an anchor for the soundtrack. Just look at the way Tyler the Creator was shoehorned into The Grinch (not that I was bothered by it).
Into the Spider-Verse, however, thrives on hip-hop new and old. It’s not just present as ambiance, it’s vital to the storytelling.
As of this writing I can’t seem to find a complete track listing, so bear with me as I attempt to describe the powerful way in which music is vital to this film.
Miles has a couple of touchstone songs. One is an R&B ballad that plays an important role in how he centers himself and uses the powers he gains. Another is most definitely an “action theme”.
The city of New York also has its themes. At various points I heard Black Sheep, Run DMC, and, of course, Notorious B.I.G. You simply can’t visit Brooklyn in a film like this without some Biggie. Or you shouldn’t, anyway.
The music isn’t just incidental – it’s a statement about where the story is, what the story is, and how we should feel about what’s happening. Not even Quentin Tarantino has used music as effectively as these filmmakers. I felt like I was experiencing an entirely new interaction of music and film.
3 – Our Hero – Miles Morales is going to be the superhero of a generation.
Shameik Moore plays Miles as gentle but strong.
While his journey is very much The Hero’s Journey™, it feels like a whole new experience through the eyes of this young man. We feel what he feels, we see how hard his road is, and in the end, his triumph is ours because of the level of care that was taken in telling his story.
To a new audience, this kid is going to have to earn the name Spider-Man. By the end of the movie he has more than done so because the writers not only took care of Miles as a character, but also respected the existing legacy of Spider-Man in the process.
Miles isn’t handed anything. He doesn’t have a “chosen one” feel. While he revels in his powers once he gets them, he struggles with the idea that he is a superhero. He wants to be a Spider-Man, he just isn’t sure he can be. It’s a much more relatable story than the guy who just steps into the role and is swept along by events. Miles makes choices every step of the way.
4 – Bring Tissues – I cried at least four times.
There’s a lot of emotion in Into the Spider-Verse. From family ties to sheer joy to the final, perhaps best appearance of an old friend. There’s a brutal one-two punch towards the end of the movie that was particularly well-crafted. There’s no doubt in my mind the filmmakers were like, “Oh, man – this is gonna destroy ‘em!”
5 – Spider-Men – We see two very different, equally valid Peter Parkers in this film.
Chris Pine opens the film with a hilarious version of Spidey’s traditional origin story that takes his superhero-dom a step further than normal. This is Peak Spider-Man – he’s a crime fighting celebrity adored by the public. He has merchandise and tech and, as we later find out, a Spider Cave. This Peter’s Aunt May (voiced by Lily Tomlin[!]) is more like the Alfred to his Batman. But definitely 1966 Batman.
The second Peter, voiced by Jake Johnson, is from a different Earth and is one that has become victim to the hard times that typically dominate Spider-Man’s life. Being divorced from Mary Jane after a disagreement about starting a family has left him at rock-bottom.
Miles interacts with both of these versions of the Wall-Crawler after gaining his powers. The first one inspires him to be a hero. The second one, while reluctantly becoming a mentor, is in turn inspired by Miles to turn his life around.
It’s a wonderful, circular story that’s quite different from anything we’ve seen before.
Pine and Johnson both do excellent jobs at their versions of Parker.
6 – Comic Origins – Plenty of artists’ styles can be seen in this film. Kirby, Romita, Pichelli, and probably some Madureira, Bachalo, and Ramos. The most surprising to me, though, was the fact that the Spider-Verse Wilson Fisk was straight out of the pages of Bill Sienkewicz’s Daredevil.
Then, as the movie progressed, I felt like I saw more and more Sienkewicz influence in the action and the backgrounds. There are whole sections – mostly surrounding the Super Collider – that seem pulled from his work.
7 – Doc Ock – Possibly my favorite part of the movie.
Kathryn Hahn voices a doctor whose real name I can’t remember (Liv or Liz something) and is absolutely fantastic. The reveal that this doctor is actually one of Spidey’s most nefarious foes is fantastic and I’m so glad it wasn’t spoiled for me prior to seeing the movie.
If it was just spoiled for you, I’m sorry, but I did warn you.
She’s one of the primary villains throughout the film – second only to the aforementioned Fisk, voiced by a nearly unrecognizable Liev Schreiber – and is delightfully, unrepentantly evil. No tragic origin here, this Doc Ock is simply a classic mad scientist type and is all the more fun for it.
8 – Kingpin – It’s weird to associate a voice that isn’t Vincent D’onofrio’s with Wilson Fisk, especially one with the thick New York accent Live Schreiber affects in Into the Spider-Verse. But I can handle both kinds of Kingpin – the criminal that never lost his roots and the businessman who speaks in slow, measured tones that might conceal any street-level heritage.
Spider-Verse’s Kingpin, unlike Doc Ock, does have tragedy in his past. His war against Spider-Man resulted in the deaths of his beloved wife and son and the entire Super Collider project – the main conflict of the film – is an attempt to bring them back in some form.
We don’t get as deep a look at Fisk as Netflix’s Daredevil (RIP) provided, but there’s enough there to get a feel for who he is and to provide an effective antagonist for our Spider-Heroes.
9 – Spider-Ham – He is everything that you want him to be. Including having a very cel-shaded appearance.
10 – Yes, That is Nicolas Cage – The Noir Spider-Man is voiced by Nicolas Cage, who did a deep dive into 20s gangster movies for his voice work. Every second that he’s on screen is entertaining, and he gets one of the best gags in the movie. It involves a Rubik’s Cube.
11 – The Girl in the Machine – Peni Parker and her robot, Sp//dr are a lot of fun, but are definitely – along with Peter Parker and Noir Spider-Man – supporting characters. They all get some cool moments and great action, but aren’t as integral to the plot as Miles and the Peters.
12 – Gwanda – Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen/Ghost Spider is Spider-Woman in this movie and she gets to have the role of the competent hero who has a little better idea of what’s going on than our other protagonists. All of the Spiders are fun, but the chemistry between Miles, Gwen, and slouch Peter is the best.
13 – Family Matters – Miles is unique among the Spiders in that he still has a family and hasn’t experienced the types of tragedies that drive the rest. Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez portray his mother and father, respectively. They each have little moments that are fun and touching, but it’s Miles’ uncle Aaron that is integral to the plot.
Mahershala Ali voices Aaron and he is the cool guy that we all wanted to be when we were kids. He’s Miles’ touchstone and his life coach, as evidenced by a scene where Aaron is trying to teach Miles how to talk to the ladies. Into the Spider-Verse does a great job with this and, really, all of the relationships in the film.
14 – Spidey Bells – From the first Spider-Man’s hit Christmas album, “Spidey Bells” is an actual song in the movie actually performed by Chris Pine. It’s amazing and had better be on the soundtrack.
15 – For Everyone – Though there are no specific holiday themes, this movie is a perfect release for the season. It’s full of heart, humor, and heavy emotion. Best of all, there’s not one second of what I would consider questionable content – jokes or dialogue meant to make things “edgy” to cover a lack of intelligence and integrity.
Go see this movie as soon as you possibly can. Take the whole family and all of your friends. Then go see it again.
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