Boldly original with captivating storytelling
By: Peter Kosanovich
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): Teen Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man of his reality, crossing his path with five counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities.
Let me start right off the bat by saying that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie that has ever been made to this point. And it rightfully deserves all of the accolades and attention it is getting! Sony took a huge risk even greenlighting this movie. They had Sam Raimi’s trilogy with Tobey Maguire, which gave two strong films, and then a catastrophic dud. I will admit, I enjoy those first two movies more than most people. But regardless of your opinions on them, they are well made. Sony followed those up with Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man movies. I thought the first movie was fine, but very unoriginal and uninspired. They just tried to make Peter Parker too cool and "edgy." The second movie was a mess from start to finish, so I will not even address it any further.
Sony was able to negotiate a partnership with Marvel Studios to breathe some new life into the character with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tom Holland is incredibly charming as Peter Parker, and the audience was not forced to suffer through yet another origin story. Not to mention, the MCU finally sawa good villain in Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture. All-in-all, it was a solid outing, and well worse the praise. But that still pales in comparison to Spider-Verse.
Sony worked on Spider-Verse in relative secret. While everyone else was focused on Homecoming and the Marvel partnership, Sony was working on this. And wow did it pay off. In December 2017, they released a teaser trailer to show off the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and the insane animation they were attempting. I will never forget watching that teaser the first time. I was flying home for a wedding and Christmas from Canada, and I was in a painfully long layover in the Detroit Airport. I opened Facebook minutes after the teaser dropped and promptly had my mind blown! The visuals were stunning; the music, “Home” by Vince Staples (Vince was also featured in the first teaser for Black Panther the previous year), was on point; and the decision to use Miles Morales as the lead character had me practically yelling in joy in the middle of the Detroit airport.
For those of you who do not know Miles Morales, let me give you a quick rundown. In the 2000s Marvel comics decided to spice up their comics by introducing the Ultimate Universe, an alternate universe of Marvel characters that existed outside of the traditional continuity. In this alternate universe they introduced Miles Morales, a 13-year-old Afro-Latino boy from Brooklyn, who, having also been bitten by a radioactive spider, takes up the mantel of Spider-Man after the death of Peter Parker. If you are worried about spoilers for the comics, you are about 10 years too late, but I will do my best to avoid them going forward.
So, now into the actual review portion: From the trailers and various promotional material you may have noticed multiple Spider-persons. This may be overwhelming, but trust me, this is Miles’ story through-and-through. And even though I bashed on origin stories earlier, this includes a fresh take on the origin story. So you will not feel lost if you are new, but you will get some goods laughs if you understand all the references to other Spider-Man movies and history. On that note, the movie is hilarious! There are laughs to be had at every turn. Jokes about Spider-Man, about New York City, about Marvel and the Avengers, about rival studio Warner Bros (Spider-Ham is very self-aware of his likeness to Porky Pig). They even manage to make puberty a running joke throughout the film, without being malicious toward an age group that clearly needs no one throwing punches at them. It is incredibly smart and clever. But, like the puberty joke, none of the humor is malicious or mean in any way. It is charming and endearing, sweet and wholesome, and easily relatable across demographics.
With that, the movie is highly relatable! Sure, it is about superheroes and super-powered Spider-people, but it genuinely has heart to it. Miles has loving parents who want the best for him, even if he does not always see it. His family is complex and messy: his dad is a cop, while his uncle Aaron is a career criminal. Yet both care deeply for Miles. He has friends and struggles to fit in at his new school, a place that is clearly designed to be a little classist. He is one of the very few non-white students there, along with his roommate, an Asian student who barely says a word at all. He struggles to talk with his crush, it is very sweet. As fantastical and complex as the movie is bringing multiple Spider-people from multiple universes together, you can still feel genuine heart and down-to-earth struggles that make this a highly relatable film.
Yes, it is very complex, but Spider-Verse takes care to make sure it does not feel overly complex. When it does get more complex, or you wonder “wait, ANOTHER Spider-person?” they make a joke to help guide the audience along. Each Spider-person gets an individual origin story, but they are mostly boiled down to a minute or less, just so you know, “Okay, it’s a Spider-person. They are similar to Peter Parker, but here is how they are different.”
There is of course Miles Morales, the lead protagonist. There is Peter Parker, dragged in from another universe. There is Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (Spider-Gwen to the fans). In mainstream comics Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s first love, and he was unable to save her from a tragic death. In her alternate universe, she was bitten by a spider, and was unable to save Peter Parker from a tragic death. There is Peni Parker (aka SP//dr), a futuristic, anime-inspired spider-person who co-pilots a biomechanical suit with a radioactive spider. There is Peter Porker (aka Spider-Ham), who was a spider bitten by a radioactive pig (very self-aware), and is designed to look like Looney Tunes cartoons. And finally there is Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man Noir), with the truly inspired voice-casting of Nicolas Cage, in a monochromatic, hard-boiled, noir-esque Spider-Man that wears a trench coat and fedora like old detective films.
What's remarkable is that, even though the standard animation throughout the film is incredible, each of these individual Spider-people have added unique visuals to help truly distinguish them, bringing added individuality and flare to them. Peni Parker is inspired by anime, so her character is Japanese-American and has large, slightly exaggerated features common to anime. For instance, her eyes are massive and tend to twinkle when she is happy or swell up when she is sad. Her movements are also slightly exaggerated to sell the over-the-top nature of some anime series. Peter Porker has a flatter style of animation. He looks almost hand-drawn, and his movements are very rounded and fluid. His arms and legs tend to move simply in motion blurs, much like Looney Tunes characters, especially Roadrunner, when he runs or moves about. His shape is also imperfect, and had odd proportions that help sell the Looney Tunes connection. And Spider-Man Noir is completely monochromatic, black-and-white, even when interacting with color objects.
The colors throughout this movie are astounding. They really use colors to compliment and highlight every aspect of the city. This is shown especially through Miles’ love to graffiti and street art. And Miles’ love of pop-culture is shown through his love of music, which is mirrored in the film’s soundtrack. Like Black Panther earlier in the year, Spider-Verse has a killer soundtrack. It is a love-letter to east coast rap/hip-hop, new and old. This bleeds into Miles’ character too, who uses music to relax and inspire him. The song “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee is Miles’ go to relax and feel good song, and it is used a few times throughout the film. “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway and Black Caviar is a thumping, adrenaline-pumping track that builds hype and excitement every time it is used or sampled. And “Star a Riot” by Duckwrth and Shaboozey should be the most hard-hitting rager on the soundtrack, but is instead used for a hilarious joke.
Not only is the curated soundtrack excellent, the original score is also astounding. The orchestration feels both inspiring and reminiscent of traditional scores, but also infuses the feel of the curated soundtrack at points. It uses bits of “What’s Up Danger” throughout to build hype, while using “Sunflower” to relax and let us remember the kind of kid Miles is. The best track on the score though is “The Prowler,” the theme that plays for one of the primary villains of the film. Prowler is a truly intimidating villain, as you learn early on, and the theme that accompanies him is impressively unsettling. From my understanding the composer took an elephants calls, re-pitched it, then made it pulse. Honestly, words do not accurately describe it. Just listen to it.
But, behind all that, like I have mentioned a few times, this movie has so much heart to it. You feel the love for Spider-Man, whichever version you want. You feel Miles’ struggles and the love his family gives him. You feel the excitement in the music. And you can see the dedication the animators put into this, and how much fun they had. The story shines in every respect, and you just feel so good after watching it. This was easily one of, if not my favorite movie of the year. I have been struggling to keep up this year (grad school), but even if I were more caught up I think this might take the cake. It feels even throughout, well-paced, and the story never goes off the rails. The voice-acting is excellent. I have already gushed over the beautiful animation and the characters and the music. There really is nothing I do not like about this movie. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
My Number: 10/10
JOSEPH: There isn't a whole lot here that Peter hasn't already said. I wasn't QUITE as high on it as Peter, (the ending was rather stereotypical for how unique the rest of the film was) but the sheer originality and creative risk taken on such a high-profile franchise is very refreshing to see. Well done, Sony! It's certainly got my vote for Best Animated Feature of 2018! Also, Peter Porker FOR LIFE. What a performance from John Mulaney. That man can do no wrong!
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