Review: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' is the Best Superhero Movie of 2018
by Adam Frazier
December 10, 2018
Based on characters created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, the new Sony Pictures Animation movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, offers an entirely different take on Marvel's beloved web-slinging superhero, which was first introduced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962. Produced by the filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of 21/22 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie series), the story centers on African-American/Puerto Rican teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore of Dope and Netflix's "The Get Down") as he tries to fit in at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Miles' father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry of Widows and If Beale Street Could Talk), is a straight-laced police officer and his mother (Luna Lauren Velez) is a hard-working nurse — both loving parents who are proud of their son's achievements, and really want to see him succeed studying at the school for gifted students.
Adjusting to a new school proves to be tough on Miles who would rather hang out with friends or visit his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali of Moonlight and Green Book), who encourages his talent as a graffiti artist. Although Miles idolizes Aaron, his street-smart uncle has had troubles with the law in the past, something Miles' father has not lost sight of. The Brooklyn teen's life becomes even more complicated when he's bitten by a radioactive spider and develops strange, spider-like abilities. Meanwhile, criminal mastermind Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has constructed a supercollider that opens a portal to other universes, pulling different versions of Spidey, including an older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese-American middle school student who pilots a psychically-powered mech suit, into Miles' world.
Co-written by Lord and co-director Rodney Rothman (a screenwriter on 22 Jump Street), Spider-Verse uses state-of-the-art CG animation combined with hand-drawn animation techniques to tell a multilayered narrative that is unlike any of the previous cinematic interpretations of the character. It's a post-modern take on the wall-crawler, exploring different dimensions and playing with all the various incarnations of the hero while delivering a thoughtful and refreshing origin for Miles Morales — potentially the best origin story since Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Miles' culture and upbringing make him a different kind of hero, and while he's the first African-American/Latino Spider-Man, he's going through things that every person can relate to. He's trying to fit in, juggle responsibilities, and meet exceptionally high expectations, all while trying to figure out his place in the world. He is every bit as relatable as Peter Parker, and the dynamic between the two, as well as the aspects they share with the other Spider-People, is lovely to watch.
In regard to the film's unique visual style, there are moments when the frame is literally broken into panels — the style perfectly captures the tactile, granular feeling of a comic, even going as far as recreating the dot-printing process used in older books. If you were to freeze any part of the movie, it would look like a hand-drawn illustration. Production designer Justin K. Thompson, who worked on the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies —as well as TV shows like Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars — and art director Dean Gordon push the visuals in ways that live-action movies can't. It's one of the few superhero movies where you feel like you are actually inside a comic book, and because of the free-wheeling spirit of it all, you completely buy into the idea that an anime character can co-exist with Peter Porker, aka "Spider-Ham", a wisecracking pig straight out of a slapstick cartoon, and Nic Cage's Spider-Man Noir, a hard-boiled, black-and-white private eye complete with a Humphrey Bogart fedora and trench coat.
The animation enhances the emotional thrust of the film by accentuating the rich characters within — we immediately understand that these heroes, while driven by the same sense of purpose, are from wildly different worlds. Spider-Verse is the first film that acknowledges just how iconic the character is, and how — like Batman and Superman — every generation has their own version of Spidey. Jake Johnson's Peter Parker Spidey is one of my personal favorites, a 40-year-old whose experiences have left him world-weary and cynical. He's lost everything, but training Miles helps him to reclaim the spirit of selflessness that Spider-Man exemplifies. Another standout is Hailee Steinfeld's Spider-Gwen. For those who are unfamiliar with the character created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, Spider-Gwen comes from a universe where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker, forcing her to become the "Spider-Woman" of her world. She's easily the coolest, smartest, and most capable Spider-Person in the movie and I can't wait to see more of Spider-Gwen in subsequent animated, and hopefully live-action, films.
As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is something of a miracle. It pays homage to the iconic character while delivering a compelling standalone story that doesn't sacrifice narrative for world-building. It's up there with Spider-Man: Homecoming as my favorite film adaptation featuring the friendly neighborhood web-head. Everyone involved has such a strong, intimate understanding of the character and what makes him work. Shameik Moore and the rest of the ensemble are fantastic and the post-credits scene is absolutely hysterical. In a year with great superhero flicks like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant-Man & The Wasp, it's kind of crazy that Sony's animated Spider-Man movie, which isn't connected to the MCU in any way, could actually be the best of the bunch. But here we are, with Into the Spider-Verse as not only my favorite animated film of 2018, but my favorite comic book movie as well.
Adam's Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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