REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Reminds Audiences of How Great Spider-Man Can Be
If Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse is as trend-setting as I want it to be, we are in for a new wave of superhero movies. We can only hope.
This movie does so much right that it’s not hard to see why it’s currently sitting at that 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s fresh, fun and at the same time dark and intense. It balances its tones masterfully, something that pretty much all Lord and Miller films are excellent at. What may seem on surface level as a film about a group of Spider-men coming together and laughing at the fact that one of them just so happens to be a pig is in fact much deeper, darker and thematic.
The film really taps in to what it means to be Spider-Man. With the recent passing of Stan Lee, that message has never been more important: the idea that one person can change the world, no matter who they are. Well, the “who” in this case is the teenage Miles Morales, who suddenly finds himself getting bitten by a radioactive spider and blah blah blah. You’ve heard it all before. Well, that is also a common feature of any film Lord and Miller have a hand in. They are, including this one, all remarkably self-aware.
Into the Spider-verse knows exactly how many times you’ve seen the same old origin story told in comics, movies and whatnot. The film uses this potential weakness to its strength and turns each origin-story sequence into a chance to make a joke. As an audience member, this feeling of being caught off guard is exhilarating when done right. It should be gimmicky, some might find it so, but it gives the film a kinetic energy, a feeling that it is always moving forward and you don’t know where it’s going to go next.
The film’s stunning animation contributes to the kinetic energy. It’s full of life: vibrant colours, smooth and fluid movements. The action sequences are a delight to behold: bold, dynamic and eye popping. I won’t spoil any of them, despite my desire to discuss them, but I can assure you that there are too many highlights to list. They all, most importantly, feel like scenes impossible to put into any live-action films, making this film feel like one that can only exist in animation. This is an exciting idea to think about and one I am a huge fan of. I hope this movie launches a new wave of animated superhero movies, and not the numerous ones that just go straight to DVD.
One of the best features, animation-wise, is the different animation techniques used to bring the different Spider-people to life. Spider-Ham is drawn and animated just like a classic looney tune, complete with hammers that fit in his invisible pockets and just casually floating through the air when he catches the scent of a delicious apple pie. Peni Parker is a tiny, anime-art-style schoolgirl with a giant robot titled Sp//dr, complete with animated emoji-esque faces. It’s a nice little bit of dynamic animation that makes the film feel more alive, seeing all of these characters look so different yet occupy the same space, the ridiculous dialogue that they share. It really makes use of animation, as a medium, which is a big plus. As opposed to making it feel as if this film was just made with animation to save money, it embraces the medium and the painstaking details put into the visual aesthetic are only one indicator of this, amongst many.
Plot-wise, the movie is nothing special. It’s a fairly by the numbers story, nothing ground-breaking. The execution of the story is what makes it all worth-while and thankfully that is on point throughout. The air tight script and the strong lead characters make sure every joke lands, and every emotional beat is more than emotional enough. You’re going to feel some stuff when you watch this movie, trust me. More so than I thought I would. If you’ve read Miles Morales’s comic book origin, or are aware for it, you’ll know what I’m on about.
The voice cast is another highlight. They aren’t exactly A-list actors, but they’ve got talent and each of them does a great job. Hailee Steinfeld is perhaps the biggest name. She’s remarkably talented, she totally blew me away in Edge of Seventeen and her voice was a welcome addition. Spider-Gwen was one of the lead Spider-people and while she was good, she did feel a little stale at times. She worked well bouncing off of Miles Morales, the dialogue they shared was natural and not at all cringy, something shocking in a Sony animated superhero movie starring teenagers.
Nicolas Cage does wonders as Spider-man Noir, the hilarious, overly tough and gritty Spider-man wearing a trench coat and fedora. It’s a role his voice was born for and he gives it his all. John Mulaney is Spider-ham, his time as a voice on Netflix’s Big Mouth and his comedy chops help him bring this goofy little toon character to life. He doesn’t do a whole lot, as a character, but he’s a cool visual gag. This will, at least, always be the first and so far only film to feature Peter Porker, so there’s that.
Kimiko Glenn is good as Peni Parker, yet she really doesn’t have many lines. I can’t think of a signature joke or quote from her. I quite like the “relationship” that she shares with her giant robot, yet it’s not exactly a close one and when it is, inevitably, played for an emotional beat, it doesn’t really achieve anything. I respect the movie for utilizing her as a character, as she’s perhaps the most obscure Spider-person amongst the crew. But, ultimately, she did nothing for me, although this didn’t detract from the film.
Peter Parker is quite different in this movie. He’s 40, at least, overweight, greying. Things haven’t gone right in this personal life, yet he’s still fighting the good fight as Spider-Man. He’s jaded and, honestly, Jake Johnson gives one of my favorite vocal performances in the film. He captures the deadbeat nature of this incarnation of the character perfectly, he sounds very much like a man who is passed his prime and trying to hold on to his youth. The relationship that him and Miles form is that of a deadbeat dad coming to appreciate his adopted son, and one of the highlights of the film.
The film’s portrayal of Spider-Man also does a lot to reinforce some of the values instilled in Spider-man during his very conception back in the 1960’s. Spider-Man is a regular guy, with regular problems. He just so happens to also be a superhero, having to also deal with superhero problems as well. This is what makes Spider-Man so relatable, the fact he can deal with his human problems (to varying degrees of effectiveness) while performing his superhuman duties is inspiring to all of us, and maybe a reminder that our problems are pretty small in comparison. Peter B. Parker is a character who has largely given up and accepted his fate, and he’s accepted everything that has happened to him. He’s become passive, lazy, yet the spark in his eyes is re-awakened by his relationship with his young protégé. He’s still Spider-Man throughout, but towards the end, when he gets the fire in his eyes back…it’s exciting.
Miles is a spunky yet anxious, suave yet strangely awkward teenager from Brooklyn. He listens to catchy rap songs, is a kick-ass artist yet can’t speak to girls without breaking out in a sweat. Shameik Moore lends his voice wonderfully and captures the different sides of Miles extremely well. Miles’s authenticity as a character is one of the films highlights and without it the film would not have anywhere near as strong of a driving force. Miles is, of course, a black teenager. A Spider-Man of colour is perhaps something general audiences at large are unused too. Yet, it’s a good precedent to set. Spider-Man should be able to come from any background and to be a half black, half Puerto-rican kid. This is one of those movies that kids who may have never felt truly represented in the superhero genre will finally be able to look too and see a superhero that looks like them. That warms my heart and I hope people take their kids to see this movie. For all the dark moments, the messages and overall positivity the film inspires is more than worth it.
Overall, this film is dynamic, emotional and hilarious. Pretty much all the best qualities of Spider-Man as a character are encapsulated in the film. It’s a shot of adrenaline, the reminder we all needed as to why Spider-man has lasted the test of time and why he is one of the best, if not the best, superheroes out there. I hope this film is lucrative enough to spawn the cinematic franchise it deserves. If every future film in said cinematic universe is as good as this, then it’s truly the best time to be a Spider-Man fan.