It’s been a great couple years to be a fan of Spider-Man. The comics have been in pretty rare form, what with Dan Slott ending his stories tenure as the primary writer of our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Chip Zdarsky pushing Spider-Man and his interpersonal relationships into weird and fun new directions. But, outside of the increasingly niche world of comics, Spider-Man has been having a great time in popular culture. He’s always been a big character, but the alliance between Sony and Disney has led to some really fascinating stuff. I’ve been a huge fan of the portrayal of Spider-Man in the MCU films, between Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, we’ve been given some incredibly great Peter Parker content. And, with the news that Disney would be taking over the live-action versions of Peter Parker, it left a very weird hole for Sony to try and fill. They had the film-rights to several ancillary characters, primarily taking the form of this year’s dreadful Venom, but there was also another strange loophole. They could make an animated movie. So, they quickly announced that an animated Spider-Man movie was in the works, partially designed by the creative partnership of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It was a weird idea, but Lord and Miller have proven to be able to pull off weird ideas. And, any hesitation was wiped away when we started to see what this movie was actually going to be. It was to be a Miles Morales story, but full of several popular variations of Spider-Man, giving us a story full of multiple-dimensions and a full celebration of the history of Spider-Man, all being propped up by some absolutely wonderful and ground-breaking animation. I know that some people are still put off a little by the movie, thinking that it was too much a kids thing. But, to my pleasant surprise, this film is not only one of the best Spider-Man stories I’ve ever seen on the big screen, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.
Into the Spider-Verse is primarily the story of Miles Morales, a young boy living in New York with his parents Rio and Jeff, and attending an elite boarding school. He’s struggling to find his way in the world, trying to figure out who he is. And, after a particularly stressful day, he decides to blow off some steam with his uncle Aaron, the coolest guy he knows. Miles and Aaron hang out in Aaron’s bachelor pad, before Aaron decides to take Miles somewhere special. The two head to a hidden subway tunnel where Miles will be able to spray-paint a design he’s been working on. The two have a good time, and while Miles is hard at work a strange spider crawls up his arm, and bites his hand. He doesn’t think much of it, but the next day Miles starts to develop some strange powers. He has increased strength, the ability to cling to walls, and a special sense that alerts him to danger. Which immediately makes him think he’s gained the powers of Spider-Man, because in his world Spider-Man is the greatest hero around. So, to confirm his suspensions, Miles returns to that subway to examine the dead spider, realizing that it isn’t normal. And, while he starts to panic about the idea he’s been given spider powers, he stumbles upon a secret laboratory hidden in these abandoned subway tunnels. And, inside that laboratory is the Amazing Spider-Man, doing battle with a monstrous Green Goblin. Miles watches at the two fight, and slowly make their way into a massive room with a particle accelerator. It’s a project being run by Kingpin, attempting to open a void into new dimensions, and Spider-Man has arrived to destroy it. Miles watches as Spider-Man attempts to save the day, causing an explosion that almost destroys the whole accelerator. Miles attempts to save Spider-Man, who is gravely wounded. He realizes Miles has powers like him, and gives Miles a drive that will permanently destroy the accelerator, tasking him with saving the city. Miles then watches as Kingpin kills Spider-Man.
New York mourns the death of Spider-Man, revealing his identity as Peter Parker, and Miles struggles to find how he can fulfill his promise. But, on a night when he visits Peter’s grave, he encounters something strange. An older version of Peter Parker. Apparently when Spider-Man destroyed the accelerator he brought several alternate versions of himself into this reality, including this one, a Spider-Man whose life has fallen apart. Miles and Peter decide to work together to access the accelerator and send him home before Miles destroys it. And, as a bonus, Peter will teach Miles how to be a Spider-Man. The two then infiltrate Alchamex, the company Kingpin is using to build the accelerator, and end up finding that Kingpin in trying to find alternate versions of his wife and son after they were killed in this reality, and has hired Olivia Octavius, this reality’s Doctor Octopus to make it for him. Peter and Miles steal some information to build a drive to destroy the accelerator, and in the process encounter Gwen Stacy, a woman from another dimension who is the Spider-Woman of her world. Gwen, Peter, and Miles then return to New York and track down this reality’s Aunt May, figuring she’d know of a lab Peter might have had they can use. And, sure enough, May takes them to Peter’s secret base, where three more Spider-People are hiding. Spider-Man Noir, a Peter from a black and white noir dimension, Penni Parker, a young girl from an anime universe who pilots a spider mech, and Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham, a cartoon pig with Spider-Man powers. Together the group attempt to teach Miles how to be Spider-Man, and it doesn’t go very well.
Miles decides to give up, and heads to his uncle Aaron’s house for some help. However, when he gets there, and uses a latent ability of his to turn invisible, Miles finds that Aaron is actually a villain known as the Prowler who works for Kingpin, and who has been tasked with tracking him down. So, Miles returns to Aunt May’s and the rest of the Spider-People, accidentally drawing the villains there. A huge brawl between all the Spider-People and the Kingpin’s goons breaks out, destroying the house, and ending with the Kingpin killing Aaron after he realizes who Miles is and refuses to kill him. Aaron is then found by Jeff, who is a police officer, and Miles decides he can’t do this anymore. He attempts to give up, and the rest of the Spider-People agree. They don’t think he’s ready, and go off to destroy the accelerator themselves, with Peter deciding he’ll stay behind, even though it will kill him. But, after Jeff comes by and gives an impassioned speech about family and responsibility, Miles decides he has to get himself together. He goes to Aunt May again, makes himself a real costume, gets some web-spinners, and heads out to help the fight. And he shows up just in the nick of time, as the Kingpin’s army fights off the Spider-People. But, they’re eventually able to defeat them all, and Miles is able to gain access to the accelerator, letting all the Spider-People return to their own dimensions. Miles then pushes Peter into his world, deciding he needs to take care of Kingpin himself, to prove that he can be a hero. And, he does it. He defeats Kingpin, saves the day, and introduces himself to New York as a new Spider-Man, ready to begin his new life as New York’s favorite superhero.
I was looking forward to this film. It looked interesting, it had an amazing voice cast, it was bringing several characters I loved to the big screen for the first time, and it was drop dead gorgeous. So, I was excited to go see it. But, I never would have expected I would walk away as awe-struck as I was. This film is a miracle. It’s funny, action-packed, heart-felt, and just an absolute thrill to watch. It’s everything I could ever want from a Spider-Man story. To the point where I’m almost ready to say that it’s the best Spider-Man movie I’ve ever seen, and has created a new high-bar all others must attempt to pass. It’s a perfect Spider-Man story, and it was brought to life in a way I’ve never seen before. Animation is a fascinating medium, and one that has largely been stagnant. Disney made the mold, and all other studios have been forced to play inside that box or risk being rejected by the public. Pixar kind of shook things up, but they just ended up creating second box that all others had to fit inside. So, to decide to make an animated Spider-Man movie, full of weird side-characters that the general public didn’t have much experience with was a weird idea. But to make it this innovative, this strangely animated was probably the riskiest thing they could have done. And it paid off beautifully. The movie is down-right gorgeous, teeming with life and playing with what it even means to be an animated feature. It brings the experience of reading comics to life in a way that no other superhero movie has ever even attempted, full of sound-effects, thought-bubbles, and narration boxes. Each of the Spider-People is animated in their own distinct way, just like their universes, and the fact that a cartoon pig, an anime girl, and a black and white expressionist character can all stand side by side and interact in away that made sense is a staggering achievement in the medium. The film is technical marvel, but it manages to carry all of that flash with some serious substance.
I love Spider-Man. I grew up in the nineties, when he was practically everywhere, showing up in animated series, and eventually the Sam Raimi films, and it was Spider-Man that first brought me into the world of comics. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, and he’s brought me quite a bit of joy over the years. Spider-Man is an incredibly versatile character, working pretty great in every medium I’ve ever seen him brought into. And I think the biggest part of that is that at the core, he’s just an embodiment of everything a hero should be. He’s resilient and never stops trying to do the right thing. Even though it’s almost always hard. And, over the years, a variety of new Spider-People have arisen, the best of which are in this film. And, while they don’t have the exact same characteristics of Peter Parker, they still have that base sense of right and wrong. I connect most with Peter, an awkward and shy nerd who does what he does to keep people safe, because he knows the fear of being weak, and now that he’s strong wants to make sure people don’t feel what he felt. But the other characters all have other things that make them appeal to all sorts of different people. And, at the heart of it is that sense that no matter what, Spider-Man gets back up. And this film brought that idea to life in such a powerful way for me. Things are tough in my life right now. My wife had an extremely serious surgery, and at times it’s felt like life was crumbling down around me. But, you can’t let it crush you. You need to get back up, and keep striving, with a smile on your face. Because we all have the responsibility to do the right thing, to help others, and to continue fighting, even when things seem insurmountable. That’s what Spider-Man is about to me, and that’s what this movie said so poignantly. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, or what your background is. We can all just keep getting back up.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman, and released by Sony Pictures Releasing, 2018.
Categories: Reel Talk