Friday, December 14, 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


Ever since Tobey Maguire, we've seen plenty of silver screen iterations of Peter Parker. Time to give Miles Morales a place in the spotlight. He sure does make it shine.

In a movie that could easily be overstuffed and distracted, it all serves to help him along his way.

Plot, premise -- whatever. It's a tale as old as time, really, and you know it already. There's Miles. (Shameik Moore) He becomes Spider-Man. Through related circumstances, other Spider-Men/Women/Beings accidentally get pulled into and trapped in his universe. They need to get back. Spider-Man is the only one who can get them back. And Miles Morales is the one-and-only Spider-Man!

Somehow I didn't expect this to be an origin story. Not sure why, as in retrospect it's obvious. But while it is an origin story for Miles in the sense that when the movie begins he's not Spider-Man and when it ends he is, it does away with the dragging feeling of a typical origin tale by doing away with one thing. See, the main restriction of origins like Spidey is that they're lonely. The hero randomly obtains these incredible powers, and has no one to tell. No one to confide in. No one to give clear advice. So, he flounders by himself. It's natural, and it's not like it doesn't work as a story. It can be and has been compelling. Many, many, many times. Time for a fresh angle.

Like a super strange mentor situation maybe...

Enter Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn). It may sound complicated but no worries. The first is the classic Spidey, just older and a bit washed up. Then, naturally, Spider-Woman. The noir one exists in edgy black and white newsprint and wears a fedora, the next is a cartoon pig (self-explanatory if you ask me), and finally the anime version with a cute little girl and her pet spider. They're what drive Miles to truly becoming Spider-Man -- in that if he doesn't, they can't get home, and they're there to instruct and advise. There is still floundering, and loneliness to deal with too, but it all hits so much harder when it's sudden, and not par-for-the-course.

It only felt like an origin it the obligatory power-manifestation scene (which was unusually funny; it's usually just cringe to me) and then near the end for a moment. In between it could've any other day of the week, of missions and plots and action/adventuring. Miles spends a lot of time sans webslingers. A great choice because the lessened ability made for higher stakes. And he wears a Spider-Man Halloween costume. No, I'm not kidding. There were moments I wished he'd get a real suit already, but once he did, I understood why they delayed it so long. Well, besides thematically. The personality comes through so much better in the pieced-together, home-spun suit, it really does. And Miles is not a character you want to hide.

Plus, the long-awaited suit reveal moment was spectacular. (Or should I say "ultimate"?)

Anyway, the movie very respectfully but very firmly sidelines the side-Spider-Beings. If you're worried the movie might be crowded with them, don't be. They appear when they're useful and don't hog the scenery. If Spider-Ham isn't doing something worth looking at, you don't see him. Plain and simple. And there's a definite hierarchy of importance with these characters. Miles is number one. Always and forever, and the movie never forgets it. Peter is next, then Gwen. They have arcs. The rest get solid moments to shine. The temptation to overuse Spider-Ham had to be huge, but they never do. This is Miles' movie, and boy is it Miles' movie.

He's instantly established as the every-kid type, with his own passions (street art and music), his own issues that would seem big for a normal kid (being transferred to a boarding prep school) and complex relationships. He has no annoying-level problems with his dad (Brian Tyree Henry), but there's enough tension between them to be important as the plot rolls on. And he admires his maybe-not-so-great-but-definitely-very-cool uncle (Mahershala Ali). He's also enough of a dork to consider the friend-zone a fine place to be, and I think that's just too cute. Fact is, you care about this kid from the get-go, and from there it's only up.

Gwen is so extra. She has ballet shoes, and they're teal, AND they're point shoes, AND she USES them!

The voice performance by Shameik Moore is infused with teenage innocence and pathos to remarkable levels. To the point where I was shocked at how relatively inexperienced an actor he is. I took him for a long-time professional voice actor. Jake Johnson also is remarkable. He hits the comedy and the genuine drama equally well. Zoƫ Kravitz is Mary Jane. Liev Schreiber plays Kingpin. Chris Pine is there for a hot second. I mean -- Nicholas Cage! As a hard-boiled Spider-detective! There's not a bad performance in the lot -- whether for pitch-perfect comic delivery, or heart-breaking drama, or both together -- and since I don't have space to individually praise everyone who left an impression, I'll have to leave it at that.

Animation style is the big thing that sets this film apart. Without it, it would feel fairly typical, and even cheesy if they kept the filming style. It was a risk -- the thing that had most potential to put off viewers. Its goal was to maintain a comic-book look. There are print dots and hashing in the bright, comic-y colors. The motion is sometimes visibly choppy, like the movie's running at a slow frame-rate. (Much like The Lego Movie, for comparison.) And there's sometimes panels and split-screens. Miles' thoughts even translate to thought boxes for one sequence. In my opinion, it not only works -- it's the thing that makes the movie. I'm a firm believer in a movie's style matching the style of it's main character, and they nailed it here.

Even without the stylistic flair the animation is wonderful. Those expressions and character designs!

I couldn't ask for more. Grand, colorful, peppy and powerful in turn, uproariously hilarious beyond expectation, with gleefully involving characters and a plot line that doesn't feel stretched thin in this comic-book-movie world. Yes, this movie may be one of many, but like it's new-to-the-team hero, it plays it like it's the one-and-only. I could have happily existed in that crisp, splashy, and moving little universe for another adventure, or two, or five. So, welcome to the team, one-and-only Spider-Man!


  1. I have been dying to see this movie since I read all the incredible reviews like this one. hopefully I'll be able to see it soon. the animation style itself is enough to make me interested.

    great review :)

    1. I hope you can see it soon too, it's an absolute blast! Worth it for the cool animation alone but I'm sure you'll love more than that. :) Thanks Faith!