Miles Saves the Universe: A Review of Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse
Wow. Just… wow. A year ago, when the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse dropped, I admit I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was excited to see Miles Morales finally hit the big screen, but the early animated footage with its low frame-rate and almost stop-motion left me doubtful. But when the movie went 3D, it threw me for a loop. Now, after seeing the film not once, but twice within only a few days of each other, I can safely say that not only is Into the Spider-Verse my favorite superhero film of the year, but it could be my favorite film of 2018, period.
Now, that’s a big claim to make considering we got Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Isle of Dogs and Rampage this year, but for my money, Spider-Verse is the most entertaining out of all of them. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a triumph for three main reasons, its visuals, its story and its respect for the source material and the Spider-Men that came before it.
Into the Spider-Verse is the most visually stunning animated film I’ve seen since Loving Vincent, a film about Vincent Van Gogh’s death with every frame painted to look like one of the man’s paintings. Every time I looked away from the screen or even blinked watching that movie, I felt like I was being disrespectful to the beauty that was unfolding before me, something I’d never experienced before, and thought I never would again. Yet I was astonished to feel the exact same way during Into the Spider-Verse. Every single frame is so beautifully illustrated and constructed that you could pause any frame of it and it would be something worthy to hang framed in your home. Into the Spider-Verse is a living, breathing comic book, right down to its shading looking less real and more like the crosshatching you see on the panels in some random issue of Spider-Man.
The character designs are stylized and striking. Kingpin is a particular highlight, he’s so massive that at times he eclipses the entire massive screen, something that could only be done well in animated form. Redesigns for Doctor Octopus and Scorpion are all unique and welcoming, making Spider-Verse feel like it’s taking place in an alternate timeline from the one we’ve seen so many times in film. Last but certainly not least are the designs for the five Spider-Folk. Each one is unique and distinctive, from the way they’re drawn to the way they move. None of them look out of place in Miles’ universe, but just off enough that you know they don’t belong there. Spider-Man Noir is shaded like something pulled from 1920’s art deco, Peni Parker looks ripped right from a volume of manga and Spider-Ham looks like he stepped out of some legally distinct Looney Tunes parody. There’s so much detail in their designs that the animators even took the time to make Peni Parker’s dialogue not sync to her mouth movements, just like an anime character who’s been dubbed in English. It’s these little touches that let you know that there was clear love put into this film, love that can be seen every second the film plays in front of you.
Right behind Into the Spider-Verse’s stellar visuals is its story, which seems to have as many moving parts to it as Spider-Man 3 or The Amazing Spider-Man 2, yet thanks to the stellar writing of Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman (known for The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street) Into the Spider-Verse presents us an alternate reality where a complex, layered plot can actually WORK. At its core, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the origin of Miles Morales becoming the new Spider-Man. If you’ve read the comics, you’ll know how and why this has to happen, but if you’re like me and have never read his comics but always thought he was cool, you’ll be in for a fun ride with a lot of twists and turns you didn’t see coming. The story branches out when the other ‘Spider-People’ are introduced as we let their story arcs get introduced and worked on, but Miles is the backbone of this film, and Shameik Moore does an absolutely fantastic job of bringing this new Spider-Man to the screen. Honestly, as much as I love Donald Glover, I can’t see anyone else playing Miles Morales but Mr. Moore. Special mention should also be given to Brian Tyree Henry, who delivers a powerfully complex and emotional performance as Jefferson Davis, Miles’ father. Together they help to solidify this new wall crawler’s climb to the top.
The first alternate Spider-Man to be introduced is also the first secondary plot the movie brings up: Peter B. Parker – a seasoned, older and fatter Peter Parker than the one we know, but one I personally could have seen existing had the Sam Raimi films continued. Jake Johnson provides the voice for this haggard, tired Spider-Man (or as I took to calling him, Spider-Sad) whose marriage with Mary Jane fell apart because she wanted kids and he was too afraid to go for it, whether it was because of the sheer responsibility or the dangerous nature of his job. Throughout the film we see Spider-Sad start to grow as a person, care for others and realize that he can still fix his relationship with Mary Jane after helping Miles Morales to become his own Spider-Man. The best thing about Spider-Sad is that he never comes off as bumbling or incompetent, merely impatient and tired. He absolutely knows what he’s doing, which makes the comedy that does happen that much better.
The initial origins of Peter B. Parker feature callbacks from key moments in the Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man films, and the origins of the Spider-Man from Miles’ universe even references the infamous “Emo Peter” of Spider-Man 3. There’s also a bonus scene after the credits that is TOO GOOD to skip out on, but if you’ve been following Marvel movies, you should know never to leave the theater just because the movie is over.
The next alternate Spider-Man is actually a woman, Spider-Gwen (or Ghost Spider if you’ve been keeping up with the comics) is an alternate timeline’s Gwen Stacy, who became Spider-Gwen after being bitten by a radioactive spider and failing to save the life of her best friend, Peter Parker, who was that universe’s Lizard. As a result of her loss, Gwen distances herself from everyone, resolving never to make another friend that she could one day lose. Yet as the film progresses, Miles gets Gwen to open up, and he helps her to rely on others again.
That’s the greatest thing about the story for Into the Spider-Verse: this story would not have worked if we had had Peter Parker as our leading Spider-Man. Every single Spider-Person in the film is a hero in their own right, but none have the same heart as Miles. I truly have to praise the filmmakers for their masterful execution of his and every other character in this movie.
Finally, the last greatest thing that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does is it pays tribute to dozens of other Spider-Man incarnations, considering the multidimensional scope of the story. The environments in Spider-Gwen’s universe recreate the blurred neon style Robbi Rodriguez put on the cover of her original comics. In the introduction of Miles’ uncle, Aaron Davis, a blurred Childish Gambino music video can be seen playing on the TV, fitting since not only did Donald Glover play Aaron Davis in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but he was also the voice of Miles Morales when the character appeared in the Ultimate Spider-Man television series.
With all that said, I hope you can see why I think this film was simply spectacular. If this is the quality of film Sony will be giving Spider-Man as it desperately clings to his movie rights, I don’t mind seeing more from them. This film proves that anyone can be Spider-Man, and that anyone can do amazing things. I give Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 5 out of 5 stars. ‘Nuff said!