As much as I love the last 10 years of Marvel films, great pains have been made to remove uniquely comic book elements of our heroes and stories in order to tell a grounded tale that appeals to the masses. One example is comic book costumes versus cinematic costumes. Take, for instance, the spandex yellow and black of the comic book Wolverine compared to the cooler black uniform of movie Wolverine. I could also bring up Spider-man’s mechanical web-shooters vs. organic shooters.
Costumes and weapons aside, no film has ever truly dared to incorporate some of the more over-the-top superhero storylines until Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In order to keep its characters fresh, Marvel Comics has told and re-told the story of Spider-Man on numerous occasions. So, what if every incarnation of Spider-Man converged in an all-star cinematic team-up? You have a film makes the pages of Spider-Man come to life before your very eyes.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse focuses on two of the most popular Spider-Men. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) from the Ultimate Universe and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) from a variation of 616…sort of, as this Peter Parker, has a gut and wears sweatpants.
The film opens with Ultimate Peter Parker enjoying life as Spider-Man, fighting crime and putting the baddies away. Meanwhile, young Miles Morales has an opportunity to make something of his life as he heads off to a prestigious New York boarding school leaving his mother (Luna Lauren Velez) and cop father Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) behind. Feeling a little out-of-place at school, Miles runs out to hang out with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who unbeknownst to Miles is a criminal.
“…he somehow dragged several versions of Spider-People from different dimensions into this one…”
Uncle Aaron takes Miles to his underground lair for a spraypaint art session, where Miles is bitten by a chemically altered spider. Here begins the origin story of Miles Morales as Spider-Man. The next morning Miles slowly discovers there’s something different about him. He has spider-senses, and everything sticks to his hands (papers, other people, brick walls), which causes all sorts of troublesome chaos, specifically with his classmate Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld).
Unsure of what happened, Miles returns underground to find the spider that bit him. It is here that he stumbles across a massively huge, multi-dimensional device constructed by the Kingpin Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) and Peter Parker as well. Peter and Miles fail in stopping Fisk from activating the machine but damage it enough to set Fisk back a few days. Pinned under the wreckage, Peter gives Miles a thumb drive that can destroy the device. Fisk sees the crippled Peter Parker and murders him on the spot.
When Fisk had activated the device, he somehow dragged several versions of Spider-People from different dimensions into this one, including the aforementioned “616” Peter Parker, Spider-Woman (who is Gwen Stacy), the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) from the 30’s, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her Spider-Robot, and lastly Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). All the spiders converge on Aunt May’s (Lily Tomlin) home to hatch a plan of getting everyone back to his/her dimension and destroying Fisk’s machine.
This battle serves only as a sub-plot to the film’s main story of Miles Morales of becoming the new Spider-Man. With the death of the Ultimate Spider-Man, the newly arrived 616 Spider-Man. with gut and sweatpants in tow (I’m getting confused too), takes on the task of mentoring Miles, who is new to the super-hero gig and lacks confidence. Parker is not necessarily the best teacher either after becoming something of a slob and has given up the superhero business since his divorce from Mary Jane. Both Miles and Peter must rely on one another to become, respectively, the hero he’s meant to be and the hero he once was.
This is the most comic-booky of the Marvel movies to date. The multi-dimensional story, where different versions of heroes meet and become trapped in the wrong dimension or time has been an overused device in comics since the invention of science-fiction. Not my favorite storyline to be honest and it may not be for the casual fan either.
What sets Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse apart of every other Marvel or DC animated feature is its animation style. Most prominent is how characters move in the old 12 frames-per-second (fps) rate but converted to 24 fps by essentially doubling each individual frame to make up the difference (animators will understand this). The effect gives a stop-animation feel to movement, which somehow works, but takes getting used to. Character designs are pretty cool including Kingpin is massively huge has his head hangs two-thirds up his fat body.
“…the best-animated superhero tale to do justice to the pulp comic book fan both in style and content.”
Comic book elements are also used to illustrate Miles’ struggle as he struggles to master to his new powers. His inner-monologue appear in thought bubbles and captions on the screen and as sound-effects appear as onomatopoeia on big comic book letters on the screen. The film’s art direction is the real star of this film. Your eye will be drawn all over the screen, and its inconsistent art style is consistently fascinating.
Fans have been begging for Miles Morales to finally come to life on the big screen and Miles’ introduction does not disappoint. He is younger than Peter Parker was when he got his powers. The story of a child with powers made a fantastic story in the original comic run by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli. Go out and get a copy!
We have heart and action. Now all we need is humor, which comes from the appearance of the other “Spidey’s,” and particularly from John Mulaney’s hilarious performance as Peter Porker’s Spider-Ham. Speaking of heart, Stan Lee makes a post-humous cameo with a small speech serving as a farewell tribute to Spider-Man’s co-creator. And stay for the ending.
The only real negative is how long the first act drags out when the story focuses on Mile’s homelife. Once the superhero stuff kicks in, we’re off to the races as thrills, excitement, and laughter ensue. Also, you’ll go nuts trying to figure out all the celebrity voices. Best check the credits at the end of this review before seeing the film.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is probably the best-animated superhero tale to do justice to the pulp comic book fan both in style and content. It upholds the spirit of Marvel Comics by juxtaposing the humanity of each hero and villain against the prerequisite kick-ass action sequences. At let’s face facts, the art direction is the true star of the film.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman. Written by Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman. Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicholas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Live Schreiber, Chris Pine, Stan Lee.
8 out of 10 stars