Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Rated PG : 117 min : Released December 14, 2018
With great power . . .
Hello, dear reader.
When I first heard of the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I was beyond skeptical. Without a doubt, I thought, there was nothing more to say about our favorite web-slinger – especially not with Tom Holland assuming the role of Peter Parker back in 2015.
Holland’s solo-outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming, was a perfectly serviceable movie. It entertained, had all the charm and requisite one-liners one would expect from a Marvel film, and offered a fairly nuanced relationship between Holland’s Parker and Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. It was good, not great, and at the time it felt like Homecoming was as good as we were going to get.
I was wrong.
Not only is Into the Spider-Verse a superior Spider-Man film, it’s a better film period. It’s easily as fine a piece of entertainment as Spider-Man 2 was back in 2004 – if not better – and, as I see it, probably the best comic-book movie ever made.
That’s high praise, I know, but as far as replicating the feel, exuberance, and artistic chaos of a comic book – no modern superhero film has done it better. And that’s only the beginning.
Without divulging much of the plot, I’ll say this: Spider-Verse is whip-smart. In a world full of derivative origin stories and fan-service, Spider-Verse offers a fresh and fun self-examination of the Spider-Man narrative, while adhering strongly to the themes and morals presented in the very first issue of the comic. That’s thanks in large part to the stellar direction by collaborators Bob Perichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, but almost entirely to another superb script by Phil Lord.
Easily the smartest decision Lord made when crafting the script was to focus on Miles Morales as our new web-slinger. He’s immediately endearing, relatable, funny, and full of the type of charisma and vulnerability that makes for a great underdog. Sure, Peter Parker is there, but he acts more as Miles’ mentor (begrudgingly) than as the hero of this story.
Dialogue is fresh, quick, witty, and so saturated with easter-eggs and asides that the film warrants multiple viewings if just to catch them all.
No character feels out of place, no motivation unclear, and no potential catharsis left untapped.
Yeah, it’s sort of a kid’s movie, but it doesn’t behave like one. You’ll see a few sight gags here and there, but none too juvenile to dissuade parents from enjoying every minute of the film.
More than anything, it’s a script that allows its characters to fail and to feel. Even once the multi-verse splits open and all the different iterations of Spider-Men (and woman and pig) come tumbling out. All of whom are brought to life by a stellar voice cast, lead by Shameik Moore and Jake Johnson as Miles and Peter respectively. Characterizations are brief, at times, but ultimately effective.
If there’s one deficiency, it would be the film’s several villains. The narrative assumes viewers possess a casual knowledge of some of the more obscure members of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. That the film has so many Spideys to contend with, the motivations (and even names) of the villains are left simple and, at times, underdeveloped. But, the villains aren’t really the point here.
At the core of the story is the fundamental understanding of what makes Spider-Man such a beloved character. Beyond exploring the memes and pop-culture legacy of the character itself, the film brings to light the more universally applicable set of morals that have been apparent from the very first issue of the comic: That if one possesses the ability to do good – they should. And that the good fight is worth fighting, over and over again.
It’s a film that believes in its characters, and wants them to believe in themselves. It’s difficult to overstate exactly how much of an impact that makes as the narrative progresses to its more emotional moments – of which there are many. That the film balances moments of levity, action, and emotion while indulging in a sort of sly, playful self-examination without ever devolving into the sort of sardonic hi-jinks of say, Deadpool, is a testament to the type of storytelling on display here.
It’s a film that recognizes the potential for heroism in all people. “Anyone can wear the mask.”
If there’s one thing I must commend the film for, it’s a distinct lack of corporate schlock. This does not feel like a Disney film, and it’s better for it. Rather than ham-fistedly promoting a progressive agenda in press junkets or through cringe-inducing dialogue – the film embodies such ideals in its very presentation. There are no women stuck in refrigerators, no insufferable romantic entanglements, or any of the other stale, self-congratulatory committee-approved audience hand-holding. This is a film that puts its people of color and its women front and center, and treats their problems with respect, and allows them to fail and grow as characters rather than as talking points. Its respectful not only to its characters and the story its trying to tell, but to the intelligence of the audience – while never forgetting the best-interests of said audience.
I’ve said all of this without mentioning the stellar animation or character designs. The film’s adherence to comic-book stylings is seamlessly integrated into its 3D animation. It’s immediately the most aesthetically intuitive film to Marvel’s name.
If I can gush for just a moment. Each iteration of Spidey, be they man or woman or pig, has their own unique power and art-style. They each have their own personality and embody the same selfless heroism.
Look at these.
To say much more of the world and characters would not only be an injustice to you, dear reader, but would fail to adequately describe just how vibrant – how wonderfully expressive – this film is. It’s the complete package.
I’ll end with this:
This film get’s Spider-Man right. It just does. And it does so with such a love of the character, in its many forms, and of the many things that make the character so universally beloved. The quirks, the witticisms, the heart, the energy, and the morals.
Swing over to the theater and check this out as soon as you can. Enjoy this bookend to a wonderful year for Spider-Man.
Thank you for stopping by the blog today.
Please enjoy your holiday season safely and respectfully.
Until next time.