“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” swings with furious confidence, energy, and heart, and reminds us how powerful and unique superhero stories can be
Written By: Victor DeBonis
Writer’s Note: At the time that this review is being published on this website, the review that I wrote for this was released on a previous site about a year ago. I’ve made a few minor tweaks here, but my original thoughts remain (more or less) the same.
“Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse” is an exhilarating mix of animation, great writing, and a heartfelt tribute to one of the world’s most beloved superheroes. Hearing that this was helmed by Sony Pictures Animation, a company that has endured more strike-outs than hits with its animated movies and several of their films in general, I wasn’t certain how great this would turn out, especially given how much time has passed since we’ve gotten a great Spider-Man movie that didn’t feel as though the studio was struggling to grapple with how to handle their property. It brings me immense satisfaction that, here, we not only have one of the best Spider Man movies in years but probably the best superhero film that I’ve seen since Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2.” Through great portions of this movie, I felt that I was on this vast sugar rush, whisked along from the whirlwind speed and energy of the story and action but still engaged with every character and scene every step of the way.
Much credit for this great experience goes to those that brought this incredible animation on display here. Tons of bright colors pepper splash across the screen in ways that compliment New York City, and all of them evoke the vibrant look and rush that one would feel when flipping through a comic book. The movie looks gorgeous and maintains this vast scope and impressive speed with its animation that practically makes you feel that you’re following along the pages of the latest issue talking about Spidey. In fact, the speed of this film alone is worth writing about by itself. No other film that I’d seen in 2018, including the decent “Incredibles 2” that already has great-looking animation, can compete with the sheer energy and tightness that this movie’s animation moves with. It practically leaves you feeling as hyper as this movie does.
Yet, for as fast as this film can be, the direction by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman works in allowing its audience to take a breath when necessary and absorb when an emotionally significant scene happens and needs a break from the speedy humor and funny one-liners.
In short, this film is up there with “Coco” as one of the most stunning looking animated films that I’ve seen in recent years. “Into the Spiderverse” is one of those movies that, if this film returns to an IMAX theater at some point in the future, do yourself a favor, and watch it because it just feels like one massive comic-book that has transformed beautifully to life.
The characters in this are great, too, coming across as fully realized, distinct, and leaving you wanting to know more about their own backstory from which they came. From the first few minutes that the main one, Miles Morales (voiced well by Shameik Moore), showed up on-screen, I got a sense of what this character’s passions were, what his personality was like, and how fun and relatable he was. I was impressed with how funny, charming, and caring this kid was, and I feel that plenty of teenagers will be able to identify with this character in some sense, whether it’s through his snarky humor or his understandable dilemma of wanting to find out what path is best ahead for him.
I was also completely invested in the relationships between him and his father and with him and his uncle, too. Both Miles’ father and his uncle appear as likable figures who genuinely want Miles to be happy and find success but have different ways of doing it, and listening to the initial conversations between them and how they interacted only made me more eager to see them work out and tugged at my heart when the rest of the film progressed with their storylines continuing, too.
The other spider characters in this are a blast to get to know, too, with each of them having unique backstories and personalities that only made me want to know more about them. Trying to choose which one of the alternate Spideys that I liked the most is tough, but I was especially intrigued by Peni Parker and Gwen Stacy and wouldn’t mind seeing movies, or, at the least, comics that explore their origins and life stories further. For a movie that tosses a vast number of characters in my direction, it succeeded in making me care about each one because it gave each one a different story that followed them and a different way of talking and motivation that defined them, and it made seeing them in action and working off of each other a delight to witness.
Voice acting is excellent here with all of the main actors and actresses bringing the right life and personality to these characters. Shameik Moore plays Morales just right with being funny and a bit cocky but still being incredibly sincere and serious when he knows that something serious is about to happen or needs to. Here’s a character who could’ve been written generically or just been turned into a catch-phrase spewing machine and little else, but he wasn’t. He fails time and time again after he gains his powers and tries to learn how to use them, but he’s smart enough to learn to take his time more and encourage his mentor, Peter B. Parker, to show him more about his duties, so he can be a better protector. Miles is no clumsy fool; he’s a truly smart kid. Jake Johnson excels as Peter Benjamin Parker, thanks to his charisma and echoing the conflicted battle of someone who’s worn from what he’s had to do in his previous life but keeps his sense of humor strong and his heart where it needs to be (as many would expect from the great Web Slinger).
Hailee Steinfeld continues to amaze me with her talent as Spider-Woman. She carries a fun mix of playfulness and spunkiness that reminds me a touch of some of Jennifer Lawrence’s past characters, and her fun voice only made me more eager to discover more about her character. And then, there’s Nicolas Cage as Spider Man Noir. If there’s any role that shows why he’s so much fun to see in several movies in spite of whether they’re great flicks or total trainwrecks, it’s this one. Even in many projects that don’t work, Cage brings an over-the-top demeanor and insanity that only he can be defined by, and, in this awesome film, he’s in full form. Cage is dark and hilarious and completely gobbling up this delightfully weird character that he’s given and, in all likelihood, loving every second of it. Knowing what a comic book junkie Cage is in real life only adds to the fun, and, between this and “Mandy” (which I hope to see for myself), I’m happy to see Cage having a banner year in 2018.
I also want to take a moment and express how great it is to see a different Peter Parker than what we’ve seen in previous films. The previous incarnations weren’t bad by any means. Tobey Maguire excelled at representing the vulnerability and awkwardness of Parker, and Tom Holland was good at showing the humorous, weird alter ego, too. Also, as hard as it was for me to see the nerdy side of Garfield’s otherwise stellar performance, I nevertheless saw the human and quick-thinking scientist of Parker. Here, with Peter B. Parker, we see a Parker who’s definitely more laidback and admittedly pretty untidy and caring a bit less than he should about where he is right now. However, this version works partly because he still holds the snarky humor that many associate with Spidey and holds charm to spare. Yet, I also embrace this version of Parker because the story is great at explaining how he’s reached this particular point in how he acts. He’s worn from all of the sacrifice that his superhero duties have forced him to endure on top of having to split from Mary Jane, and he’s at the point where he wonders if he can keep doing what he’s been doing as Spider Man if he returns to his dimension.
This version of Parker is great at illustrating one of the most interesting parts about the character, namely the everyman that struggles to balance between being a hero to the city and being who he is when he’s not wearing the mask. This is the identifiable conflict that’s drawn many Spider fans to the character, including myself, and it’s great to not only see that dilemma in full view here but see a Parker that’s different from the awkward nerd (as much as we liked and related to him) and feels fresh and new. Yet, it also helps that Johnson greatly sells the funny lines that Parker says and has no issue at poking fun at himself and his superhero alter ego, thus making it more fun to see him reach from being a bit of a slobby guy who almost seems reluctant to be a superhero again to a guy who sees how valued he and his alter ego are to others in spite of the risks and flaws that come with that lifestyle.
It’s not too hard to hear several funny lines in this movie, though, because the humor in this film is spot-on and caused me to laugh and chuckle countless times. The comedy in this movie works like a charm and is not unlike the type found in “The Lego Movie.” Hilarious one-liners, funny observations that playfully end the seriousness of some moments, and lighthearted poking at one’s self are peppered heartily through this film, and most of them fly by at a speed that matches perfectly with the quick animation without missing a beat. This is a small wonder because the directors of “The Lego Movie,” Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, played huge roles in the making of this film, working on the story and producing the project. Lord and Miller’s fingerprints run all over this film, and, between the strong heart and comedy that thrives from their creative minds in this movie and “The Lego Movie,” it only makes me more wistful to know what their take on “Solo” was like.
Additionally, there are plenty of genuinely heart-tugging moments in this movie. For instance, there’s one scene where all of the Spider characters meet up in Miles’ room and speak briefly about what each of them has lost in their lives. Later on, something happens with Peni Parker towards the end that doesn’t last long or even affect the plot in general, but I felt bad for her and genuinely sympathized with what happened. Although these moments aren’t long, they work because they concern characters that I’m completely invested in and even want to see more of.
One of them is, of course, the main character of the film, Miles Morales, who goes through relatable issues that teenagers, in particular, will recognize in a heartbeat, such as trying to find out what he needs to do with his life and wanting to impress parents that he knows care about him but hold pretty high expectations and can appear judgmental at times. Everything that happens to him feels real, so the trials and heartbreaks that he experiences as he slowly learns more about being a web-slinging crime fighter feel all the more powerful, too. Without giving away too much, one of my favorite scenes involves his father talking to him later in the movie, and it’s done in a way that appears different from how you would normally see this conversation play out, but everything from the writing to the terrific voice acting hits sincerely, and I nearly teared up by the end of it. We sympathize with Miles learning to be a new Spider Man and we sympathize with Peter B. Parker whose life and actions have inspired countless people and who needs someone to teach him that his alter ego has done much greater tasks than he could possibly fathom. It’s almost as though Miles is teaching Peter to work on improving himself and be proud of all that his superhero figure has done for others, and I find that incredibly touching, so, of course, I’m going to care about all that happens to both of these memorable heroes, good or ill.
In essence, this film tells two stories. One revolves around Miles using his newfound powers to the best of his abilities and hoping to fulfill the expectations that others have for him as well as learning to believe in himself . The other story revolves around Peter B. Parker about the impact that Spider Man has had and helping the person behind the mask find his way again by mentoring a fan who is now expected to take up his responsibilities in his place and time. Both stories are beautifully told and pass on the theme of inspiring others to do good in ways that you didn’t expect and, in Peter’s case, trying to find yourself again in the process.
Peter’s story especially works, since the movie, as a whole, appears to be one sincere tribute or love letter to Spider Man. Another of my favorite scenes captures that in ways that still stun me. Something happens early on to the main Spider Man, and, without diving into details, everything feels appropriate and real for what immediately follows, and the weight of what happens, particularly the reactions from everyone in this scene to what happens to him, is crushing but also uplifting in a sense from helping others understand what a real impact a hero can bring. It’s a sad but beautiful scene that shows where this movie’s heart is in a nutshell. As a longtime Spider Man fan, this scene hit me to my core, and I’d love to see this film in theaters again for numerous reasons but for this moment, in particular. While Batman will always hold a special place in my heart from the world of DC, Spider Man will always earn my respect and admiration from Marvel. He always has been since I watched the first two Raimi movies on the big screen growing up, experiences that were so important to developing my sense of how grand and emotional and entertaining movies could be, and watched the cartoon reruns several times in my junior high years. When you break it down, Peter Parker is an everyman trying to make the best with what he’s been given and try to make up for past sins, so nobody else has to suffer or lost what he has. To me, Spider Man’s story has been about trying to learn from your mistakes and always trying to be better by fighting for what’s good and right in a world that only seems to get more complicated and chaotic. He’s every bit inspiring to me and others now as he was back then, and this scene and movie, in general, understands that without a shred of a doubt.
We see so many superhero movies nowadays that the conflict of what they’re going through and what they’re up against can sometimes feel routine. “Into the Spiderverse” boldly reminds us of why these characters are so great and the impact that they can have on helping us find meaning in our lives and make our paths for another day. It’s funny, wonderful, sincere, and heartfelt in all the right ways, and it is a movie that truly knows what makes Spider Man great and what makes superheroes so special and resonate so well with us. If you ask me, this is right up there with Raimi’s aforementioned second “Spider-Man” film, “The Dark Knight,” and, even the original “Superman” film from 1978 as one of the gold-standard superhero films. Do yourself a favor, and see it now if you haven’t already.