Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Screenplay by Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Christina Steinberg
I want to let you know upfront that I do not have a background in comic books. I went to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with only the cursory background that anyone who has been around the block has. Although at this point I have seen my share of Marvel movies, that doesn’t translate into a wealth of knowledge on the storylines or multiverses covered in the comics. If you want to debate with me how closely this film followed or deviated from the comics, you’ll be sorely disappointed. That is not in my wheelhouse.
I was hesitant to go to a Marvel animated movie. In hindsight, I’m not sure why. Maybe because I have grown accustomed to the live action Marvel movies. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. What I got was a very stylized new Spider-Man story. It feels like a moving comic book. That may sound like a bad thing, but it’s not. It makes use of several comic book devices; panels, actions spelled out, and lines to indicate the Spider-sense.
Some may criticize the lack of continuity in the style. It slides in and out of the comic book look and a regular animated film look. Some parts literally have comic book panels and the action blends from one panel to the next and in other parts there are few if any comic book elements. I’m sure the creators had reasons for doing it that way. Maybe they felt that keeping the comic book look through out the film would be off putting. Personally, I liked it. I think the film could have held up using that style through out. But I wouldn’t want it to be a matter of style over story.
If you want to see an entirely new story, you’ll be disappointed. The plot is a repeat of Spider-Man stories you’ve seen before. Boy doesn’t fit in. Boy is bitten by a radioactive spider. Boy really doesn’t fit in. Boy gets the hang of his new powers. Boy has to save the city, yet again. We’ve all seen that story. What this movie does well, is to tell it with style. It finds a new slant on the story. I thoroughly enjoyed the art style. While nice art may not be a reason to go see a movie, it doesn’t hurt.
So, it’s a familiar tale for a new Spider-Man, with an acknowledgement of the stories that came before. This one is a bit different because there’s a rift in the separate Spider-Verses and several Spider-Men/Women are now stuck in one timeline. Eventually they all have to work together to save both the city and themselves. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) brings new energy to the Spider-Verse. Yes, he’s still the misunderstood teen that doesn’t fit in. I think it’s a requirement of growing through that part of development. All young adults believe that no one can possibly understand the struggle they are going through. Miles has that in common with all his peers; he just doesn’t know it. The one adult that he confides in and seems to get him, is his uncle. As far as I can tell, Miles has good parents that love him. His dad is a police officer and his mom is a nurse. They have managed to get their only child into a prestigious school. There isn’t a lot of time for him to get settled into his school routine. Shortly after arriving he is out bonding and making graffiti with his uncle, when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider.
I don’t remember Peter Parker sticking to everything like a human roll of duct tape. That’s how Miles makes literal contact with Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and how she gets her snazzy haircut. I’m not sure how or why she attends the same school as Miles. Perhaps it was a shortcut for the writers. I enjoyed the progression of Miles learning to be a Spider-Man. There’s a fun scene in which Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) teaches Miles how to swing like a Spider-Man. It helps to make Miles more human and relatable.
The voice acting is spot on. That’s not a surprise. Some of the cast members did surprise me. Nicolas Cage voices the Noir Spider-Man. His shtick is that not only is he in black and white but he only sees in black and white. Thus a Rubik’s Cube completely stumps him. (OK, they stump me as well, but I can see the colors and I understand the objective. I’ve just never been good at solving it.) Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy is one of the female Spider-Verse personalities. Hailee has been busy. She also stars in Bumblebee, which is out in theaters at the same time. I haven’t seen Bumblebee, so I won’t speculate on her performance there. As Gwen, she does a nice job of bringing the nuances of the female teen to life. A couple of famous names in the cast list are Lilly Tomlin and Chris Pine. This maybe one of the last Marvel movies to have a Stan Lee cameo. Sure, he’s animated, but still just as recognizable.
A strength about this film is that despite the fact that there are several versions of Spider-Man, each of them retains their own personality. That’s no small feat, as each of them has limited screen time. The trick is to not have their presence distract from the prime story. After all, this is the Miles Morales origin story. It wouldn’t do for him to have even equal screen time as the other Spider heroes. I don’t know all of the different Spider people, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. You get the gist of where they came from and what their worlds are like. I don’t know if it’s very realistic that such diverse characters, each of which is used to being the hero, would blend and work so well together. But, hey it’s an animated super hero story and there isn’t time for us to watch them work through too much of that.
I recommend seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. If you like previous Spider-Verse films, you’ll be familiar with the story. If you’re not, there’s enough recap and back story to bring you up to speed. The real reason to see this one is it’s a visual treat, and just plain fun.