Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the second Spiderverse film this year after Venom and the second film to feature a web crawler after Avengers Infinity War. That’s on top of a critically acclaimed game that released on the PS4 this fall. So we’ve had plenty of web-slinging action this year. But if you’re feeling a bit of superhero fatigue by the end of 2018 and feel you may want to skip Spider-Verse and wait for Netflix, don’t. Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse is one of the year’s best films and one of the best superhero films ever.
Any fan of Marvel comic books will know that there are multiple continuities which allows for the writers to tell new stories with beloved characters that won’t interfere with the main story, which for Marvel is known as Earth-616. The film takes this idea and mashes a few Spider people from other universes together into one bonkers film. Unlike Spider-Man films of old though, this one doesn’t have Peter Parker as the protagonist. Instead, we follow teenager Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s an instantly likeable teenager with a messy room who has a bright personality. He recently did a test and won a lottery to transfer to a fancy private high school and Miles is having trouble adapting to his new environment, to the point where he may be actively seeking to throw himself out. Instead of trying to do the best school work he can do, he seeks out inspiration from his Uncle Aaron, the black sheep of the family – at least in the eyes of his brother and Miles’ police officer dad. Aaron encourages Miles’ passion for street art and gets him to practice some graffiti in an abandoned subway station. Of course, this is where Miles’ life will change forever as he’s-yup you guessed it-bitten by a radioactive spider.
The film is very aware you’ve seen other Spider-Man films and actively references the tropes and beloved moments from the films. But Miles and Peter aren’t the only web slingers around. Each one of the many Spider-people from other dimensions have their own origin story and they get a cool comic-book inspired introduction sequence that shows how similar- and different, each character is. Personal stand out is Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir, who comes from a world where everything is always black and white and it’s the 1930s. Cage even gives this Spider-Man a hockey 1930s film star accent and can’t understand a Rubix cube due to his dimension being black and white. Love it. Other Spider-People include Gwen Stacey, the Looney Tunes-inspired Spider-Ham and the anime-inspired Penny Parker and SP//dr. They all arrived when Kingpin (Lief Schrieber) used a particle accelerator to open a rift in the space-time continuum to bring back his wife and son from other reality into his reality, as they both died in his universe. Like Netflix’s Daredevil, Kingpin deeply cares about Vanessa and will do anything for Vanessa but that’s about where his characterization ends. He’s there more as a foil and a plot device and for a movie like this, that’s ok because the movie is so awesome and that’s thanks to a great script from Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and great directing from Rothman, Peter Ramsay and Bob Persichetti. The film is co-produced by Lord and Christopher Miller, known for their work on Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon.
Penny, Gwen, Ham, Miles, Peter and Noir [Credit: Sony]Unlike the previous three iterations of Spider-Man, Miles doesn’t master his newfound abilities right away. In fact, he struggles with his new powers for most of the film. And the movie is all the better for it. It takes Miles quite a while to even learn how to unstick himself from the walls, nevermind learning how to control his active camouflage. His doubts and uncertainty, combined with an impending deadline make Miles question his abilities as he searches for what it truly means to be a hero. But as we learn in the film, having superpowers and a mask isn’t the only thing that makes you a hero, nor are supervillains the only threat they can face. Miles is struggling with school life, despite being smart and being overwhelmed with superpowers that he can’t fully understand makes him very anxious. A scene where he freaks out due to stress is illustrated wonderfully with multiple comic book panels flying on screen. But unlike Peter Parker of old, Miles actually has people he can talk to about his problems as the other Spider-People have similar problems, including mastering their powers, adapting to their new lives and how to deal with loss. Helping Miles the most is the most unlikely of heroes: Peter Parker.
The Peter Parker in this film is unlike any version of Parker we’ve seen before. He has a similar origin story, but from there, it’s uncharted territory. He’s out of shape and loves fast food, down on his luck financially, jaded, suffering from depression and has divorced his marriage with Mary Jane Watson. He’s definitely not the hero from movies of old and the film makes a funny point illustrating that. Jake Johnson voices the new Peter Parker and gives us such an interesting take on such a familiar character. We may never have his powers, but Parker has always been a relatable character to many fans and this midlife crisis iteration is no exception. You sympathize with him and root for him at the same time. This may be Miles’ movie, but there is plenty of growth for Parker as well. This version of Peter has to somehow rediscover what it means to be a hero and learn how to be a mentor and an inspiring figure to a teenager who only just discovered his powers a few hours ago.
One of my favourite aspects of the film is the animation style. Holy moly, I love it. The whole movie feels like a moving comic book. And I don’t just mean that from the excellent character animation and world design. When Miles is having doubts, we see his inner monologue pop up on screen in yellow boxes that you’d find on a comic page, or perhaps a thought bubble will appear over Miles’ head. Likewise, when characters interact with the world, such as the webs leaving the slingers or someone knocking on a door, an appropriate word associated with said sound subtly appears near the source of the sound. The film is also incredibly colourful and the final action sequence is essentially a comic acid trip. It’s glorious and it’s a credit to the 142 animators Sony had working on the film. The film appears both CGI and hand drawn and times, giving it an incredibly unique feel. A close up of Miles’ eyes, for instance, will show that the colouring of his eyes bypass the line barrier, making the character model feel like a walking drawing. It’s incredibly fresh, although at times the background can appear a bit fuzzy which can come off as a bit weird looking. That aside though, this film looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen and if you’re a fan of comic book art, you’re going to absolutely love it. For future Spider-Man films, I’d love to more of them with this particular style version the live action stuff.
This is the most comic book movie you’ll ever see. I don’t just mean that in terms of the visuals, but just how bonkers the story can get sometimes. Parallel universes are right at home for someone familiar with the source material but may seem wacky to those who just follow the films. But it works, as do the visuals and the characters. The voice acting is top notch and we care about who these characters are. There is a great story here and a compelling lead that helps make this one of the best Marvel films and one of the best films of the year. But what did you think of the movie? Let us know and check out what we think of The Last Jedi one year later and 10 Anti-Christmas movies to watch before the 25th.
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