Film Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is easily my favorite Spider-Man film, one of my top superhero films, and one of my top animated films.
It’s a rare film - one that takes a lot of chances and wins. My younger daughter, aged 13, is a superhero fan, though more in the DC camp, loved it. She chose to see it a second time over an Aquaman viewing.
So what about it is so awesome? I’m going to go into some spoiler territory here, though I’ll try to keep it mild for those who haven’t seen it (go see it).
I’ll start with the animation/style. Into the Spider-Verse feels like a comic book made into a film. It features text captions, comic books, multiple panels on the screen at once, etc. With multiple Spider-beings from different universes, it gives them all their own art styles - Spider-Man Noir, from an alternate 1930s, is in black and white. He literally cannot see color. And where he goes the wind follows. And it smells like rain. Peni Parker and her SP/dr suit are presented in a quasi-anime style. Spider-Ham (yes, he is in this film) is in Loony Toons style. The city environment of New York was gorgeous. It felt like a New York.
From that paragraph you’be an idea of the chances the film took. It could have been laughable - and there were some laughs to be sure - but really it had a high chance of falling into farce and deftly avoided that.
We’ve also got Peter Parker. He breezes through his origin story - a story that is essentially the Rami Spider-Man trilogy, with upside-down kissing, stopping of trains, and emo dancing. But he goes beyond that. We see Peter Parker’s life go south. He gets married to Mary-Jane but the marriage goes south. Eventually they split up and we are treated to a going-on middle-age, getting a little chunky, depressed Peter Parker. I think this was an essential decision. The Spider-Man films struggle allowing Peter to be anything other than a high school, maybe college, student. For most of his career in the comics he has been beyond that. This Peter could have been played for laughs - and again, there are some deliberate laughs, but there’s some real genius here. Though a bit burnt out and defeated by life, this Peter Parker still has it. He’s still a genius, he’s still a hero. He’s still filled with compassion, though it may take a little poking to get to it.
We also get a Spider-Woman - Gwen Stacy, from another universe. She was an absolute joy to experience. Like the main Peter Parker, she’s taken some beatings from life and while heroic, she is distant, not wanting to get hurt by losing more people she cares about. It goes without saying, that every Spider-Being has their own “Uncle Ben” equivalent.
Finally there’s the main Spider-Person of the film, Miles Morales. In a film with over half a dozen Spider-Beings, he is never overshadowed. It is his movie. He is a young Afro-Latino boy who is attending a boarding STEM-type school. He has a good family life. He has a bit of an awkward relationship with his father (not wanting rides to school on Mondays from his dad - in a police car, with his dad a cop). He is especially close to his father’s estranged brother, his Uncle Aaron. Aaron isn’t quite on the right side of the law but the two nevertheless clearly love each other.
The film shows us Miles getting bit by his own radioactive spider and the treat of him discovering his powers (“it’s a puberty thing”).
Much of the film is spent with the Spider-Beings meeting each other. Rather than avoiding origin stories, the film gives us one for each of them - breezing through them, but not holding back.
We know that Peter’s great challenge was learning that with great power comes great responsibility. That’s not quite Miles’ challenge. Miles is plunged into a world of super-beings with no warning and is in dire circumstances. And he is, quite frankly, terrified. It doesn’t totally paralyze him - he wants to do the right thing. But he can’t quite control his powers - he has trouble unsticking to walls and can’t consciously control some powers he received beyond the traditional ones. I hope I’m not giving away anything when I write his whole arc is getting to the point where he masters those powers. But is is beautifully done. The best dialogue in the film is between Miles and Peter. Miles wants to know when he’ll be ready - when he’ll really be Spider-Man. ”You won’t. It’s all it is, Miles. A leap of faith.” That is Miles’ “with great power comes great responsibility”. And the payoff is one of the most beautifully done superhero scenes.
Gwen and Peter are the other main Spider-Beings (though all were given some great moments and felt fully realized). And they had their own arcs. Gwen needing to be able to open up again. And Peter moving past his mistakes and repairing his life. Peter is especially sad - in my opinion there’s some scenes that show him slipping towards suicidal tendencies. But mentoring Miles allows him to see he still has stuff to offer - there’s no guarantee he won’t mess things up again - for him to, moving forward will be a leap of faith.
The music was fantastic - a combination of an instrumental score and a lot of hip-hop and rap. Sometimes played together to great effect.
The voice acting was great - they made some great decisions on who they chose to do the voices and the actors delivered. It was poignant having one last speaking Stan Lee cameo - one that drives the plot (and touchingly, the film ended with a dedication to both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both of whom passed away in 2018).
The film ends with the possibility of sequels - of many sequels. Amazing Spider-Man 2 was designed for the possibility of creating a “cinematic universe” for Spider-Man. It failed pretty spectacularly. Into the Spider-Verse pulled it off fantastically. I want to see more of all of these Spider-Beings - together or separately. I especially want to see more of Miles Morales.