OnScreen Review: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

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Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

We are living in a period where we’ve reached peak superhero. The market is saturated with movies as well as TV series that are based on comic books. As much as I enjoy most of them, even I am starting to feel a sense of superhero fatigue at the movie theater. However, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a nice antidote to that creeping fatigue, bursting with creativity, a rich animation palette, and a willingness to get weird.

How weird? Well, this multiverse-cracking story has many variations of the webslinger appearing, with the primary focus being on young Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who lives in an alternative universe where a highly competent and effective Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine) is killed thwarting a plan of the crime lord Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). Morales, bitten by a spider, assumes the mantle of Spider-Man in this universe, but quickly finds himself surrounded by several other versions of Spider-Man that were pulled into his dimension through Kingpin’s attempt to use a particle accelerator to take alternate versions of his deceased wife and son. These variations include a slightly older and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) that is a mentor of sorts to Miles, Spider-Woman/Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Noir (Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker and SP//dr (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mulaney). So, if you’re counting at home, that’s two Peter Parker Spideys, one Miles Spidey, a Gwen-Spidey, a noir detective Spidey, an anime Spidey, and a Looney Tunes-style Spidey.

Like I said, weird, but weird in the best way possible. Spider-Noir, Peni Parker and SP//dr, and Spider-Ham all maintain their own distinct animation from that of the rest of the animation, setting up these great little diversions into their respective genres that are a lot of fun. Nicholas Cage as Spider-Noir was a genuine treat.

The film uses the technique of employing an origin story background when introducing each version of Spidey and how they became the “one and only” version of the character that they are. Spider-Man has always been a character that had a level of isolation baked into his character, unable to share his secret with the most important people in his life and coupled with the “with great power comes great responsibility” burden. The film uses their spider-sense going off to have them realize that there is someone else like them. There’s a certain kind of relief and catharsis in every single one of them saying, “I thought I was the only one” and realizing that even if they are separated dimensionally, they are not alone.

Miles and Johnson’s version of Spider-Man are the main characters, though, with Gwen’s Spider-Woman also getting a pretty robust character as well. Miles is a teenager in an advanced high school, embarrassed by his police officer dad who is outgoing in publicly displaying his love for his son. While nodding to a lot of the previous iterations of Spider-Man through various media, this film also serves as the origin story for Miles. As someone who is something of a Spider-Man traditionalist, but hasn’t read much of the comics since his childhood, I’ve never been a much of a fan of the idea of anyone other than Peter Parker being Spider-Man. However, this film completely sold me on Miles as a character and a worthy inheritor of the Spider-Man mantle.

Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker, like Pine’s Peter Parker, is a composite of other previous incarnations of the character from the movies, comic books, TV series, etc. However, their stories eventually diverge and Johnson’s Parker is more of a slobby, past-his-prime version of the superhero, something we haven’t really seen before. He’s still a superhero, but things have not gone the greatest for him personally or professionally over the years. He connects with Miles and tries to teach him how to become Spider-Man while also having to figure out how to get back to his own dimension, because being in this one is slowly killing him. His character is something of a Mr. Miyagi by way of Gordon Bombay by way of Morris Buttermaker. In fact, for most of the movie he is wearing sweatpants.

Somehow, the movie manages to do something fresh with the character that is currently on its third iteration as a live-action movie character and has had two onscreen origin stories. There is some significant creative juice behind the scenes, with three directors involved (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman) and the team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) involved as producers (Lord and Rothman co-wrote the screenplay). The animation is distinct too, full of vibrant colors and the background almost looks like seeing a 3D movie without the 3D glasses, but not in a way that is distracting. Also, there are some great visuals, like the one where Miles is jumping from a building and the camera perspective is upside down, so it looks like he’s ascending into the city instead of hurtling toward the ground. It is odd to say this, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse made me wish that there were more animated superhero films being made instead of so many that are direct to video. What works so great with comic books and animation is that the only limits are the creativity of the people making it. Obviously, we’ve come a long way with CGI, but animation still has the ability to impress and inspire visually.

There’s been a lot of talk about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being the best Spider-Man movie ever made. Even if I still have a personal affinity toward Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, it’s not hyperbole. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a great animated, Spider-Man, and superhero film. It’s funny, fast-paced, and has a universal message of finding a place to belong and fit in.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars