How many times are we going to get a new Spider-Man series? Probably a few more as long as Sony and Marvel hold joint rights to the characters, I guess. Going into this weekend I’ll admit I was fully prepared to despise Sony Animation’s latest take on the webslinger, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. After seeing the character so many times and experiencing how well Tom Holland portrays Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe I thought there was no way Sony could make a movie, even an animated one, that could add anything interesting, fun or new to the series and stand out on its own. Then I saw the early reviews and it peaked my interest. Could this movie actually be good? I had to find out for myself. So, is it really one of the best animated flicks of the year or is “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” the train wreck I expected all along? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” introduces audiences to a new world of the webslinger by exploring the origins of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a young black teenager who finds himself endowed with special powers after getting bitten by a radioactive spider. In Miles’ world there’s already a Spider-Man, a perfect version of Peter Parker who falls victim to a plot by the evil Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) to break the barriers between worlds thus opening up Miles’ version of New York to a slew of Spider-People from other dimensions including Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), a lazier Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who has lost his luster, a noir-themed Spiderman (Nick Cage), the cartoon-themed Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) and the anime-themed Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn). Together all of the Spider-People from different worlds come together to try to stop the Kingpin from destroying their collective dimensions facing off against alternate takes on familiar Spider-Man enemies along the way. As the newest Spider-Man, Miles must come to grips with his newfound powers if he wants to succeed as a hero in the Spider-Verse.
Alright so I’m just going to come out and say it. I had this movie ALL wrong by first impressions alone. Now don’t get me wrong I actually wanted to see Miles Morales, the first black Spider-Man, get his dues but even as a big fan of Marvel I’ve been seeing the Spider-Man over-saturation for a long time now. Thankfully this animated offering is not only very entertaining and very good, it justifies its own existence and proves why this superhero is just so endearing. “Into the Spider-Verse” leans heavily on typical superhero clichés much of the time and yet is feels so fresh. The humor is genuine, the characters (even the ridiculous Spider-Ham) are actually very entertaining and each well defined, and the story moves at a brisk pace without sacrificing heart or substance. This is an animated movie that works for kids and adults and is surprisingly heavy with some of its content for a family picture. “Into the Spider-Verse” is surprisingly engaging and engrossing and isn’t afraid to mix familiarity with a little bit of something new.
But possibly the biggest chance the filmmakers took was the animation style. “Into the Spider-Verse” has a few select problems in this area, and I’ll touch on those issues later on, but it’s definitely unique and eye-catching. The entire film is animated to look and feel like you’d jumped into the pages of a comic book and it’s so cool! I had a lot of fun watching this film just from a visual perspective alone. The colors are vibrant and this animated version of New York City that we’re thrust into looks so detailed and unique compared to anything else we’ve seen before. It’s a design choice that could have easily blown up in the creators’ faces but in the end it not only works but it helps “Into the Spider-Verse” separate itself from other animated films of the time as well as other superhero films, giving it it’s own unique look and identity in the process. Nothing else looks like this and I’m not going to lie I kind of hope this becomes a trend and we see more movies take a similar approach because it did work so well in this film.
The character designs were also pretty neat even if one particular character rubbed me the wrong way, but again more on that later. We get alternate takes on popular villains like Scorpion and Dr. Octopus which I found to be really cool and unique to any version of these characters I’ve ever seen in the past. We also get a neat version of Spider-Man frenemy Prowler which fits right in with the character’s lore in the Miles Morales comic books. The actual Spider-People are the stars of the show though with the likes of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld and others bringing these different characters to life with plenty of personality to spare. Each Spider-Person’s design helps them stand out with most of them featuring comic-accurate costumes. What’s even cooler is that these alternate Spider-People actually make the traditional Spider-Man look bland in comparison but Peter Parker and Miles Morales still end up being the central focus of the story by the end of it all.
Overall though even without the fun characters, great voice work and unique and fresh visual style “Into the Spider-Verse” is just plain fun. Despite how convoluted and maybe overwritten the plot might be this was a very entertaining superhero flick that had me completely engrossed for the duration of its near-two-hour run time. There’s not a whole lot of time to breath even when the action settles for a bit to focus more on story and character development and yet nothing feels rushed or drawn out. There’s plenty of comedy and levity, significant emotional depth even if those emotions are driven by the same old conflicts we’re used to from a Spider-Man story, and the action scenes take full advantage of the animation to present us with a smooth flow and some really cool battles that all feel like they were actually pulled straight out of the comics themselves. On top of that, like DC’s “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” as well as Marvel’s own “Deadpool”, “Into the Spider-Verse” also tends to crack jokes at the webslinger’s past and break the fourth wall without ever feeling like a true parody of itself which gives the film a certain amount of self-awareness without compromising the viewers’ ability to take the experience seriously. It all plays out as both a tribute and a greatest hits of everything that makes “Spider Man as a character so charming. When you consider everything this film has to offer this may very well be the most well-rounded and complete Spider-Man film that has been released so far.
As much as I did love “Into the Spider-Verse” there were a few aspects of it that I still didn’t like even after seeing it for myself on the big screen although I’ll admit they’re few and far between. Most of this movie’s issues are little problems that the younger audience will overlook and most fans will probably ignore in favor of all the positives. While I complimented the visuals and character designs not everything turned out so smooth in my book. For one I feel like Kingpin’s character design is completely exaggerated. We all know Kingpin. He’s supposed to be a man of massive size and stature whose main ability is brute strength. He’s also a character that has received exaggerated designs in the past including the 90s television show that I grew up on. Here though this is just too much. Kingpin looks more like X-Men’s the Blob than the Kingpin I know and love to hate. Kingpin needs to be imposing, but he also needs to look, well, normal I guess. I say that because while many of the villains like Scorpion and Dr. Octopus have designs that still make them look pretty normal, Kingpin looks nothing like the rest of the characters. He looks inhuman beside them when he’s actually the one person with no real powers or gimmick outside of his God-given brutality. Also the character of Kingpin here as the antagonist just felt forgettable. The other villains, especially Dr. Octopus and Prowler, actually stood out more than Kingpin by the end of it all. Overall, I just did not like this take on one of the webslinger’s most iconic enemies.
There was also one thing about the overall visual aesthetic of the movie that rubbed me the wrong way. At times the visuals would split off into different colors, like red and blue. It essentially gives the effect that you’re watching a 3D movie without the glasses on, which was an odd sensation at random parts in the film. You can actually see what I’m talking about if you look at Miles in the bottom left corner of the above photo. That’s not an error in the screenshot, that’s how he actually looks in that scene. Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often and it’s likely done partially to disorient the viewer and play off the “melding dimensions” concept that drives the plot. But it also took me out of the film a few times and even once had me second guess myself that maybe I forgot to grab my 3D glasses on the way in. It was distracting and just didn’t mesh with the smooth and eye-catching visuals that make up the rest of the film. It happens so infrequently though it doesn’t dampen the whole experience but because the rest of the film is so smooth and so fun to look at these little spots where the animation doesn’t jive stand out like a sore thumb.
I also can’t move on without commenting on something I feel is being tremendously downplayed by other critics and that’s the familiarity of it all. Do not get me wrong. As I stated in the positives I actually liked how this movie leaned on the same old concepts as previous Spider-Man films but still manage to feel fresh and new. Hell, even the other Spider-People comment on how each of them follow the same path: they receive powers, experience a tremendous personal loss and then use their powers for good. But that’s the thing, this story can only be told so many times before you realize how predictable and formulaic it all is. I was hoping that maybe “Into the Spider-Verse” would offer a different spin on the origin story we’ve all heard so many times before and it kind of starts off that way but still comes around to the same destination and thus the same motivation for Morales as every other Spider-Man out there. We’ve seen that a Spider-Man movie can work without that origin story. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was awesome even without the Uncle Ben callback because we already knew the path, we wanted to see the destination. For a film about the different varieties of Spider-People it’s ironic that once again we see a cinematic story that leans so heavily on the same old song and dance. That is part of the reason why I judged this film before I even watched it in the first place. I knew what was going to happen, I’ve seen it over and over again, I just didn’t know how it was going to happen. I could settle for never seeing a Spider-Man origin again because, let’s be honest, if you don’t know it by now nothing will get you on this hype train so why keep replaying it like we need a refresher?
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is one of the most surprisingly enjoyably films I’ve seen in 2018. Most of my preconceived opinions on this film were smashed with awesome and unique animation and visuals, memorable characters with plenty of personality and style, and an engaging story filled with action, drama, comedy and a few life lessons typical of a Spider-Man adventure. While it does stick to the conventions of the Spider-Man lore maybe a bit too closely and not every visual choice hits (I don’t think I’ll ever warm up to how they designed Kingpin) “Into the Spider-Verse” hits a lot more than it misses and kept be invested from the first scene to the last. Most of all though, and I don’t say this lightly, this might be the most well-rounded and enjoyable Spider-Man movie I’ve seen yet. It captures the personality, morals and charm of the entire Spider-Man franchise all in one two-hour adventure and I can’t wait to see more from the universe this new animated take on the webslinger promises to produce. Spider-Man may be everywhere nowadays, and this isn’t the first time the hero has been done right, but if I had to pick a single movie that I feel truly captures everything that I personally find great and entertaining about Spider-Man “Into the Spider-Verse” is a frontrunner and maybe, just maybe, the ultimate cinematic version of one of Marvel’s most popular properties. That’s a huge upgrade compared to what I ever expected to get from this film.