INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Outslings Most of Its Predecessors

Contrary to what some writers on this site believe, the best Spider-man film is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. People forget what a bombshell that movie was. Warm, charming, and full of emotion, Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies were game changers in a world before Christopher Nolan‘s gritty realism squeezed the joy out of everything for an entire frickin’ decade. In the fourteen years since Spider-Man 2, we’ve seen Marc Webb’s reboot fizzle and fade away, and we’ve seen Spidey return to the MCU, showing up in his own film as well as two others. But nothing has been a contender… until Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse Review

A Story Ripped From the Comics

Into the Spider-verse follows the story of Miles Morales, a half black/half latino teenager living in Brooklyn. Things are tough for Miles. He’s going through puberty. He’s about to attend an unfamiliar school. He feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere. Even at home, things are rocky between him and his stern but loving father, police officer Jefferson Davis. Miles’ parents are trying to give him a bright future but Miles believes his place is on the streets, with his cool uncle Aaron practicing his true passion, graffiti, or maybe in the skies with his hero, Spider-Man.

All that changes when Miles is bitten by a familiar arachnid and suddenly gains the abilities of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man! To Miles’ surprise, he soon comes face-to-face with his hero, before coming face-to-face-to-face-to-face-to-face with even more heroes as a rift in the dimensional plane is opened and out pours a swarm of Spider-men, women, and porcines.

No sooner has Miles begun to learn about his own abilities that he’s met with seasoned pros from all over time and space: the cool and confident Spider-Gwen, the dark and depressed Spider-Man Noir, the literal anime girl Peni Parker & telepathic robotic sidekick Sp//dr, the Looney Tunes-inspired Spider-Pig, and an alternate dimension, depressed and schlubby Peter Parker.

The group quickly realize that the villainous KINGPIN is trying to open doorways to other dimensions that could destroy New York and its up to them to find a way to shut it down before every one of them is blown to glitchy smithereens.

With the help of these newfound Spider-characters and a Peter Parker who simply does NOT have it together, Miles will grow into a man, save the city, and just maybe become his own dimension’s Spider-Man.

New but not New New

If the plot that I’ve laid out sounds familiar, that’s because its the polar opposite of the plot for The Lego Movie, and that makes sense because The Lego Movie was co-directed and co-written by Spider-Verse co-writer Phil Lord. Indeed, it’s easy to compare the random collection of Spider-friends with the equally random collection of Master BuildersEven their plans are similar, only instead of having to stop someone from binding universes together, here, they’re trying to stop someone from tearing them apart.

Still, while the story may feel familiar, in much the same way as Jupiter Ascending felt all too familiar to The Matrix, here Lord and co-writer/co-director Rodney Rothman turn Spidey into something we’ve never really seen in a Spider-man movie, a comic book.

Not since Ang Lee’s disastrous HULK or Edgar Wright’s masterpiece Scott Pilgrim vs the World has a movie been so aware of its comic book origins as Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. And I’m including the two perfectly fine Deadpool movies. Come at me, 13-year-olds or grown-ups with the sense of humor of a 13-year-old!

Utilizing an ingenious combination of pop-art aesthetic and 3D modeling, Spider-verse sports a look that is so inherently comic book that you wonder why no one has tried it before. We’ve had our Sin City(s) in the past but this is an all-new level of animation. It does for CG what Toy Story did for animation in ’95.

It’s exciting to watch and I fully expect this to be many people’s favorite superhero movie for the visuals alone. I can tell you the moment in the trailer when I fell in love with this movie. It was right here! The animated world that SONY (the people who gave us The Emoji Movie for Christ’s sake) has created is so vibrant and alive, yet so unique and familiar, that they are considering copyrighting the effect!

Very early on in the movie, I thought I was losing my mind. The film was making dynamic choices, and every single decision felt exciting and strong. This movie has a confidence I haven’t seen since the previously mentioned Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and even though we are living through what some would call a golden age of live-action superhero movies, Spider-verse makes a strong case for a switch to animation.

Animation is the Future

You have to ask yourself why the most well-known animated superhero movie is The Incredibles. Surely superheroism lends itself to the animated form, where the only limitation is budget. Fun fact: The reason Superman can fly instead of “leaping buildings in a single bound” is that it was cheaper for Fleischer and company to make him fly than to constantly draw him bouncing. In many ways, directors are still chasing the Rob Fleischer Superman shorts of the 1940s, and many people would agree that the Batman Animated Series from the 90s is the definitive take on the Caped Crusader.

The first Spider-man movie came out almost 20 years ago, a mystical time when directors seemed to understand the limitation of the computer. Long gone are the days when Peter Parker holding onto the ceiling was a “great effect.” The game has changed. Now we can do anything for better or worse.

The original X-Men movie had a handful of scenes where a character might get to use their powers. Three years later, X2: X-Men United wowed audiences with a bevy of new mutant abilities and special effects, but fifteen years later, we no longer take the time to think about how a character might use their abilities in everyday life. Now, its so much lasers shooting other lasers.

Into the Spider-verse doesn’t fall into this hole, however. The filmmakers seem acutely aware that the laws of gravity do not affect their characters the way it affects we cursed mortals, so we get sequences in this film that are absolutely incredible. In Spider-Man (2002), Peter learns about his wall-clinging abilities when his hand sticks to paper. In this movie, Miles’ hands stick to walls and ceilings. In Spider-Man, Peter crawls up walls in a private alley somewhere. In this, Miles runs on the sides of buildings like The Wrong Trousers. 

Subtlety is out the door. Your imagination is the only limitation.

So if animation was the key to Superman and Batman, is Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse the definitive Spider-Man?


Reinterpretation and What is Lost

Spider-Man has reached a point that only Batman and maybe James Bond have reached before. It is no longer about interpretation of the source material but reinterpretation. We’ve done Peter Parker, the costume, Uncle Ben dying (twice). We’ve seen The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Mary Jane, and Gwen Stacy. We’ve seen Aunt May old, slightly less old, and hot. It’s time for something new. It’s time to shake things up. But what do we lose in the process?

Miles Morales is a refreshing change of pace, since we’ve had three different Peter Parkers appearing in at least eight different films. But Miles Morales is not Peter Parker. And I don’t mean that he’s not a white boy from Queens. I mean that he doesn’t carry the message of Peter Parker.

Ask anyone on the street what they know about Spider-Man and you’ll get the same answers.

  1. The suit.
  2. Crawls on Walls/Spins a web, any size/Catches thieves just like flies.
  3. “With great power comes great responsibility.”

That last point is crucial to Spider-Man as a character, and while that may be the theme of most of the movies, it certainly isn’t the theme here. In fact, its almost a snarky quip in the movie that Peter Parker can’t stand to hear that phrase anymore. But that’s just the point. Into the Spider-Verse chooses to say that “you are special. The things that make you you are what make you Spider-Man.” And that is a welcome point, especially following the Webb franchise that made Peter genetically predisposed to be Spider-Man (wtf?).

While “be yourself” is an important message for today, it’s not Spider-Man’s message. That’s why Spider-Man 2 remains king of the hill, top of the heap. Raimi’s Spider-Man movies (the good ones anyway) understand that Spider-Man is about sacrifice. The curse of Peter Parker is that he’s just a good enough guy to know that he’s not good enough. He might want to see the girl he loves in a Broadway show, he may have promised to go, but if one person nearby is being carjacked, he has to put his desires aside.

That’s not what we get here, and that’s fine. But to my eyes, that stops Miles Morales from being the definitive Spider-Man.

Last Word on Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’m not above nit-picking. Spider-Ham was overhyped and overpraised, even if he is played by the wonderful John Mulaney. All of his good jokes have been revealed in trailers. Spider-Man Noir is soulfully and morosely brought to life by Nicolas Cage but everyone who says he should get his own movie needs to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels again. Finally, Kimiko Glenn’s Peni Parker, an anime-inspired preteen girl with a robotic mech suit was the weak link of the bunch, and the emotional scene she gets in the climax fell completely flat for me. I won’t spoil it for you but you’ll know it when you see it. And I bet you won’t feel a thing.

And still, this movie is outstanding. It’s alive in the way so many other superhero movies feel complacent. It’s active and engaged, with every scene angling for its spin. And that is something to behold!

This is not Raimi’s Spider-Man, which captured the feeling of the first 150 or so issues. Nor is it the Webb version, which tried to capture the feeling of the Ultimate Spider-Man. Nor is it the current Spider-Man of the MCU, which is going for The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, I guess? This isn’t even a Spider-Man for millennials. This is a Spider-Man for what comes next.

Into the Spider-Verse represents an interesting turning point in superhero filmmaking. This is not what I want in a traditional Spider-man movie. I don’t need the Spider-Man equivalent to the Bat Cave. I don’t need Aunt May to be kickass. I don’t need other Spider-people or a Peter Parker who’s a jerk. I don’t want that in my average Spider-Man movie, and yet it all works here.

If you think you’re played out with Spider-Man, Marvel, or superhero films in general, I still recommend that you see this movie. I’ve seen it. I’ll see it again. It’s the real deal.

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