Wow. Ok, it’s been a little while. Life happens. But you know what doesn’t change? Well, two things: my unabashed love of superhero movies, and Hollywood’s ability to test my love by releasing them faster than I can keep up. Especially Spider-Man. There’ve been what, six films since the Sam Raimi films started, this one making… Seven Spider-Man films since the turn of the millenium? Yeah, I thought they were getting out of hand. (Out of web?) It seemed… Unnecessary, to add an animated universe on top of the MCU and the Sony-verse.
Enter Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Right there in the middle is why this film is just so much better than I’d expected: it’s not about Peter Parker. As much as I love Tom Holland’s approach, the kid’s been done to death. We all know the gist—genius kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider, Uncle Ben, “with great power” etc etc. It’s not new. Miles Morales, though, is new. And so is the entire tone of this film.
See, what makes this film so incredible is everything that makes it different. It’s an ensemble film that still works as an origin story for Miles. It’s animated and uses that to the best of its abilities to showcase superhero movies in all their colorful, bombastic glory (none of that ugly MCU muddy color grading here). And New York City? She’s a character unto herself, wrapped up in all the little details of the film that make it feel so realistic despite its comic book-esque styling.
And those little touches of realism are tied up in one of the most important parts of this film: diversity. Miles Morales is the son of an African-American policeman and a Latino nurse. The play between race and class in the movie is subtle—it’s not a movie about race, which is inherently a step forward. But it’s there. The movie opens with Miles walking past his old school, the neighborhood public school, on his way to what looks an awful lot like a specialized high school—according to his father, he passed some sort of entrance test, a phrase familiar to any NYC teen. But he feels out of place there, in a prep school uniform, weighed down with advanced textbooks. A perfect candidate for Spidey-fication. See, Peter Parker, a white teenage boy with a fondness for “geeky” interests like Star Wars and science, isn’t really a social outcast in 2018. But a teenage boy of color who feels like an outsider in a specialized high school, an environment notoriously lacking in black and Hispanic students? Now that’s a modern-day underdog.
However, as I said, it’s not a film about race. It’s a film about superheroes, and it goes all in on this one. The wormhole opened up by Kingpin in his efforts to reunite his family sucks in Spidey denizens from across the multiverse, creating a hodgepodge of styles and characterizations that really shouldn’t coexist. I mean, emo Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir wisecracking in black-and-white next to John Mulaney’s Spider-Ham, a Looney Tunes talking pig who pulls his weapons from Hammerspace and drops anvils on his enemies, and or Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), whose anime eyes lend a touch of kawaii to her mecha suit. That’s breaking like, rule number one of crossovers—don’t mix together too many art styles.
And oh, what an art style it is. The film reminds me of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World at times, with floating text boxes and visible sound effects to punctuate the action. But it goes beyond that to really and truly capture the comic book environment on film. Characters squash and stretch for maximum movement effect, backgrounds are rendered with halftones and hatching loosely overlaid above the coloring, and poses are sharply angled in positions that would be difficult to achieve with live actors. It feels aggressive and, frankly, awesome. Really, you have to see this movie in theatres. You just have to.
Above all else, the film feels like an honest homage to Spider-Man as New York City’s hero. The little details—trash scattered around the subway platform, mud spattered onto the base of taxicab chassis—ground it in reality, as do Miles’ interactions with the city, such as jumping up when he descends a stairwell to slap the doorway or running through a subway station to the mechanical tones of “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” It’s true to everyday life, not just the slick, shiny skyscrapers he swings and dives between. That the filmmakers were able to pack all of this—the city, the Spideys, an origin story, and a self-contained villain story—into a single movie is a testament to their skill. And with a sequel in the works, as well as a spinoff devoted to the lady breakout, Spider-Gwen, and two other female webslingers (including my personal favorite, Silk!), I’m wholeheartedly pumped to jump headlong into the Spider-verse, no holds barred.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: 5/5 (link to Letterboxd rating)