Movie Review – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man has had its ups and downs on the silver screen these last sixteen years. For every Spider-Man 2 or Spider-Man: Homecoming, there’s been a Spider-Man 3 or an Amazing Spider-Man 2. The quality of each release has been so inconsistent that fans have never been able to predict with any confidence if the next one will actually be any good.
The character has been on a good run since it returned to the warm embrace of Marvel Studios and away from the often meddling and incompetent hands of Sony Pictures. When Sony announced that they were making an animated film based on the Spider-Verse, fans met the news with cautious optimism. It was an ambitious and interesting premise to be sure, but we had no idea how it would turn out. Would Into the Spider-Verse be one of the good movies, or one of the bad ones?
Well thankfully, it’s one of the good ones. In fact, it’s well up there with the likes of Spider-Man 2 and Homecoming and there’s a debate to be had to see if it isn’t actually the best of the bunch. This really might be the best Spider-Man film we’ve ever had.
Any film that can get you belly laughing one moment and have you on the verge of tears the next is on to something good. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is written so well that I found myself in both of those places often in short periods of time. The characters are so likeable that you easily empathise with them when they find themselves in a dark place, and there are so many moments when that dramatic tension is perfectly broken by a well-timed joke.
It’s a credit to the writing that the heroes are so damn affable, and that’s really one of the core strengths of this film. In true Spider-Man fashion, Miles Morales is a hero who everyone can relate to at some point in their life. A teenager from Brooklyn who’s just moved to a preppy new school, Miles feels out of place in this world and is unsure of the man he wants to be. On one hand, his father is a good cop who wears his heart on his sleeve, constantly trying to push Miles to seize his own greatness. On the other, his uncle is a much cooler, easy going dude who he can turn to when life’s pressures start getting a little bit too much. He’s also not afraid to break the odd law here and there.
It’s this relationship between Miles and his mentor figures that is the crux of this film. That only gets more complicated when he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and runs into Spider-Man himself. His interactions with a older, jaded Peter Parker make up some of the film’s best moments, as this overweight and nonplussed Peter reluctantly agrees to teach Miles how to make use of his cool new powers. Watching him cut every possible corner on their journey makes for a strange viewing experience, as this isn’t the attitude we expect from Peter Parker, but he’s just as quippy as we’d expect of our hero from Queens. However, their dynamic betrays Peter’s heart of gold and leads to some emotional moments that really feel earned.
The other Spideys are also fantastic in their own right, but this film isn’t really about them. Gwen Stacey gets some great moments and has a sweet friendship with Miles, but Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham and Peni Parker are really only there to get some laughs and make up the numbers. After all, if the only heroes in this film were Miles, Peter and Gwen, it wouldn’t really be a Spider-Verse movie.
It made me wish that the other three hadn’t been teased at all in the trailers, as I would have much more fun if I didn’t already know these heroes would be involved beforehand. As it was, I ended up being a tad disappointed at how little impact they actually had on the story rather than being wowed at the fact they were present at all. That said, I was impressed at how quickly the film got me caring about the bond between Peni Parker and her robot SP//dr suit despite their limited screen time.
This was how most of the villains in this film were treated and I definitely appreciated the ‘less is more’ approach taken in the film’s marketing material. There are six classic Spider-Man villains in this film, but I only saw two of them in trailers and TV spots so I was grinning like a little kid when some of the surprises burst on to the screen. Prowler was one of the villains revealed early on in trailers, and while I was looking forward to seeing him in a film, I wasn’t that buzzed about it. I definitely didn’t expect the film to handle the character in such an badass way.
Prowler is frequently portrayed as a terrifyingly dangerous enemy, especially to a Spider-Man who’s yet to really get a grip on his own powers. Watching Miles scramble away from him through city streets and abandoned subway tunnels isn’t just creepy, it’s borderline terrifying. The film’s main villain even gets fleshed out a little bit, and Marvel fans in particular will appreciate the attention to detail put in as you sympathise with his motives, if not his methods.
It should also be noted that the animation style is like nothing ever seen before. The film’s art directors clearly wanted to pay homage to the comic book style, but there’s also an effort to integrate it with real life New York to bring a sense of realism with it as well. It really is a beautiful art style at times, unlike anything seen with Pixar or Dreamworks. And that’s before you even get to some of the trippy shit going on with the Spider-Verse crossover starts happening. The animation in the film can get straight up weird at points, like someone took that one scene from Doctor Strange and just ran with it. But even someone with no knowledge of the source material can still appreciate how cool it looks.
When Sony decided to do this film, they knew they had to get it right. This film could have easily become an overly complicated and confusing mess, but somehow director Bob Perischetti and writer Phil Lord managed to navigate the webbed maze with aplomb. These films have been all too eager over the years to tell people that ‘With great power, comes great responsibility.” It’s only until now that it feels like Sony have learned that lesson themselves.