The Amazing Spider...Collective
It’s no surprise that in the years Spider-Man has been in the spotlight he’s gained infinite fame and popularity on his own- but what happens when you throw five more alternate versions of the web-slinger into the mix? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse explores this idea in a unique and flashy way as Spider-Woman, Noir, Spider-Ham, Peni Parker, Miles Morales, and Mr. Peter Parker himself come together to thwart a bold scheme orchestrated by the villainous Wilson Fisk. The genuine character development and banter between them, beautiful animation style, and excellent pacing make for a thrilling tale that will leave viewers crawling up the walls for more.
Pulling together more than one or two heroes in a single film is no easy task, arguably only ever done well by Marvel Studios with their critically acclaimed Avengers films. Such a large-scale undertaking requires a deft touch and despite a rocky history with the brand, Sony Animation Pictures accomplishes it surprisingly well. The story largely follows Miles Morales, a young teen struggling with day-to-day life and normal “kid” problems. After moving to a new school, he feels estranged and misunderstood – most notably from his father who works for the NYPD and makes it very well known that he doesn’t approve of Miles’ role model, the vigilante known as Spider-Man. In a strange, but inevitable, turn of events, Miles is bitten by the trademark radioactive spider and flung into the superhero life with no knowledge of what to do or how to act.
After some high-concept, interdimensional hijinks, Miles is united with Peter B. Parker and the other Spidey variants, who act as active support to Miles while still holding their own as full and dynamic characters. Each one has their own motivations and personalities to boot, all of which function without taking the spotlight from Miles. They all possess unique and silly quirks that brighten and draw out the best in not only Miles but also in Spider-Man as a universal character. The casting choices are near perfection- with masterful writing and storytelling blended in to create a playful and endearing experience. That’s not to say the film is too lighthearted, however, as the stakes always seem high for the Spidey gang as a whole and as individual parts. I do wish that some of the alternate web slingers had a bit more fleshed out stories as to what happened after they came to Miles’ universe, but the screenwriters did a wonderful job with what they were given. It isn’t easy to bring six full characters to life in the same movie, so I can’t really knock them for that.
Leading up to its release, the animation style of Into the Spider-Verse is undeniably what garnered the most attention. Seeing the first teaser trailer in theaters, my immediate reaction within the first few seconds was “Yeah, I definitely want to see that”. The animation is dark and gritty at times but can also pop with bright and vibrant colors- the textures often have a “bubbly” appearance as if the film was popping in the style of older comic books. The colors often seem shifted and distorted to give the film a comic-like tone, and it keeps the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen throughout the entire film. Action scenes feel fast and exciting, but all of the characters pop and can be accurately followed without blurring into the background- even with multiple characters fighting in the same sequence. Coupled with amazing audio and voice acting, the film is a phenomenal sensory experience.
Into the Spider-Verse’s pace starts off a little sluggish in the first ten or fifteen minutes as the plot sets into motion a chain of events that gives Miles his powers and brings all the Spideys together, but the villains really take the cake in the first act. Kingpin is harsh and ruthless- his own motives pushing him to brutally crush anyone getting in his way, even going as far as to recruit many different super villains to his cause. The first encounter we see is between a young and enthusiastic Peter Parker and the towering Green Goblin. The green meanie is at least ten times the size of Spidey, but it doesn’t stop him from being his quippy self as he single-handedly deals with him. This sets a theme that continues throughout most of the film- size doesn’t matter. Miles is not exactly the almost six-foot muscular hero type, and it’s something he has to come to terms with before he takes on the mantle of Spider-Man. This narrative is actually pretty dark, which surprised me after seeing the rating and previous trailers of the movie and I was pleased to find out that the plethora of trailers actually didn’t spoil all that much of the final product. It was full of twists and exciting revelations that really made me enjoy the experience that much more, and watching Miles learn to be a hero with the help of his colorful, alternate dimension pals was a blast.
Since the release of the first Avengers film, the bar for superhero movies has been set extraordinarily high. In the subsequent half-decade, we’ve seen many movies reach for that bar and fail. I came out of Into the Spider-Verse feeling like I just saw the best comic book movie released in that time (excluding the exceptional Infinity War) – the writing is sharp, the animation crisp and it’s underlying messages are sorely needed heading into 2019.