Drop what you are doing and cancel the rest of your plans. You need to go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a wonderfully original, whimsical, touching piece of art. From it’s well-developed characters to its outstanding soundtrack, all the way down to the stylized animation, this film is a must see. Spider-Man fan or not – comic book fan or not – Into the Spider-Verse is a hilarious and uplifting story about how, truly, anybody can be the hero under Spidey’s mask.
Leap of Faith
When Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) was announced as the main character in Into the Spider-Verse, there was both enormous cheer and total confusion. The cheer came from fans of the Ultimate Marvel comic line from the mid 2000s where Miles was originally created by writer Brian Michel Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli. The confusion came from the general audiences who had no concept of an alternate Spider-Man to the original and beloved Peter Parker. Not to mention that Into the Spider-Verse would mark the fourth on-screen iteration of a separate Spider-Man mythos in only 16 years.
Fans of Miles gave been clamoring for his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for some time, but Marvel and Sony knew that introducing the world to a new Spider-Man, especially one that looks and acts nothing like the original, would be possible only through very spectacular storytelling. Creating Into the Spider-Verse was a leap of faith. Fortunately, every last element of Into the Spider-Verse came together seamlessly and Miles’s story was perhaps the best Spider-Man origin in film yet.
The original inception of Miles came in 2008 as Barack Obama was just about to be elected and actor/rapper/renaissance man Donald Glover was campaigning to be allowed an audition for Amazing Spider-Man. The idea was to introduce a character who would take over the mantle of Spider-Man (in the Ultimate Universe so Peter Parker would still remain Spider-Man in Marvel’s flagship series) who reflected the New York City of the time it was being written. Thus, in 2011, the Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn was born.
It Always Fits Eventually
The biggest part of what makes Into the Spider-Verse work so well is how remarkably well it reflects the Spider-Man origin everybody already knows while being completely unique to the character and his background. Just like Peter, Miles does not especially get along well in school. However, while for Peter it was because he was bullied for being a nerd, for Miles, it is because he has to go to a private boarding school in a different neighborhood from his friends and his comfort. Not to mention the tension it causes with his loving but overbearing and misunderstanding father (Mahershala Ali). Miles’s school experience is not unique. It reflects, at the least, a common trope, if not, a familiar reality for teens who have the privilege to go to private schools at the cost of leaving their peers and the familiarity and culture of the public schools nearer to home.
Peter and Miles both feeling like outcasts led them to closeness with the people that loved them unconditionally: their uncles. When both Ben Parker and Aaron Morales are killed and their respective Spider-Men blame themselves for their deaths, it becomes a call to action. From those moments in, the two characters can never stop fighting for good again. In Into the Spider-Verse, this connection is almost forgotten because of how different Ben and Aaron are from one another as people. Aaron though, again, reflects at least a trope, if not a common reality for a lot of people. Aaron may be the villain the Prowler (Brian Tyree Henry), but he isn’t a bad person. At least not on the Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) level. He refuses to kill Miles when he finds out he is Spider-Man, leading audiences to believe that Aaron, like so many others, fell into criminal life more out of desperation, poor choices, or need than out of a desire to do evil.
Miles’s opening sequence illustrating his full heritage as he daps up all his friends and speaks Spanish with his mother (Lauren Vélez) is not just meant to pander to certain audiences. As amazing as it is to see none of Miles’s backgrounds erased, the reason why Miles shines is that they make him a completely believable and personable character who still fills all of the molds Spider-Man is expected to.
Stan Lee put it best in his first posthumous cameo: anybody can wear the Spider-Man mask, it’s just a matter of growing into it. Miles Morales grew into the mask and then some in Into the Spider-Verse. His origin story took the one audiences have been told over and over and pushed it to a new level of meaning and salience.
Thoughts So Loud
As bold as the choice was to star Miles Morales in a Spider-Man feature film, the artistic direction in Into the Spider-Verse was perhaps even bolder. The film was easier the most “comic book-esque” of any comic book film to date. This is because it was made to practically look like a comic book. For starters, the drawing itself was done with swatching that is a common coloring technique in comics. The beautiful animation though blends numerous artistic styles, much like how every artist gives their own style to the same character and world in their respective works. From the first moment when the Colombia Pictures logo starts glitching out, the psychedelic and extremely modern drawing that seamlessly blends together with the swatch work made a panoply of colors and textures never before seen in a feature film.
The decision to have Miles’s thoughts spoken out loud after he is bitten by the spider was critical not just to the comedy, but to the comic book-ing effect as well. It gave Into the Spider-Verse unquestionable permission to use classic lettering styles and set up shots as if they were comic book panels, both overtly and more subtly. This combination led to some of the most fun and most gorgeous art ever seen in a comic book movie.
You’re Like Me
While Miles could so easily have carried an entire movie on his own, Into the Spider-Verse launched itself into a whole ‘nother lever with its supporting cast. It was important to start off with a perfect Spidey (Chris Pine) for Miles to admire. That Spider-Man represented everything every Spidey lover wishes they could be. When the downtrodden and disheveled Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) stumbles into Miles’s universe, he is much more like what Spider-Man is really like and was always meant to be: a real person. The lovable fool is not for everybody though. Fortunately, the Into the Spider-Verse has characters for everybody to love. In the bad-ass, totally awesome in every way, punk rockers category Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) can be found. If slapstick and cartoon humor is in order, Peter Porker (John Mulaney) the Spider-Ham has it covered. Sarcastic, brooding, self-referential humor? None other than Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir could fill that role as he does. In the adorable category is anime-inspired Peni Parker aka Sp//dr (Kimiko Glenn) while in the aunts-who-will-kick-everyone’s-butts slot is the incredible Aunt May (Lily Tomlin).
The smorgasbord of characters in Into the Spider-Verse perfectly illustrates the running theme that anybody can be the hero. Each character is remarkably similar in origin. The gag of taking each new character’s origin from the top creatively show this (they also touchingly showcase the original creators of each character on the front covers of the comics in those sequences). While this was a fun way to quickly introduce the audience to each character’s origins, it also culminated in something spectacular. The notion of a multi-verse is complex, but the beauty in it is that it shows everybody has the potential to be a hero. For example, in Gwen’s universe, Peter is not the hero, she is. But if circumstances had been different like in Mile’s universe, perhaps her Peter would have been the one bitten instead of her. It is complex, but it shows that truly, anybody can wind up being the hero.
Aunt May also deserves an entire paragraph dedicated to her for her role in this film. Over Spider-Man’s many renditions, in comics and on screen, she has come to learn about Peter’s double life here and there. Sometimes she learns outright and has to cope with it, only to have that memory wiped out eventually. Other times, like in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, it is implied she knows Peter’s secret and just keeps it quiet. In fact, in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Aunt May sees Peter in the suite in his room at the very end of the movie. Never before though, has Aunt May been an active and integral part of Spider-Man’s cadre of crime-fighting partners. And wow, was this rendition of the character fun. Since the role of Spider-Man who can never let his family find out who is his is passed onto Miles in this movie, and the doting old Aunt May trope is getting trite, this characterization was so absolutely welcome. Married with the over-the-top and show-offy nature of that universe’s Spider-Man, everything about the May Parker scenes were great and completely welcome back again.
Into the Spider-Verse hit every single mark. It was an impeccable tribute to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko who created the character in 1962. The movie proved that box office audiences can not only embrace alternate renditions of their favorite characters, but those characters can become new favorites. Into the Spider-Verse was so amazing because it neither erased Peter Parker from the story nor softened Miles’s origin and ability to be impactful. Into the Spider-Verse also has shown, once again, that superhero and comic book films can do more than just the standard action flick that most had been until the past few years.
Jason wants to tell you about his current job, but he’s afraid that it might be more trouble than it’s worth. When not writing, Jason works on food justice and sharing music with communities throughout the region. Or he’s unlocking Xbox achievements.