Overview: Into the Spider-Verse
At one point, Sony’s animated Marvel feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse looked poised to be a mere quirky, also-ran in an era of superhero filmmaking where a well-received live-action Spider-Man (as portrayed by Tom Holland) has been popularly integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut. Instead it became a huge hit with audiences, earned some of the best reviews of the year, and launched multiple spinoffs of its own into pre-production. With the Academy Awards one week away and having thus far near-swept the year’s worth of animated film awards, it’s considered a heavy favorite to win Best Animated feature — joining Black Panther in Marvel’s double-pronged assault on the previously superhero-proof Oscar season.
With all that praise, it’s hardly surprising that as the film continues to make its way through the popular consciousness, many have suggested that it might actually be the
Could it be? Here are 10 times that Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse made its case as the best Spider-Man movie ever made (WARNING: SPOILERS).
Plenty of films and TV shows have tried, to varying degrees of success, to bring the unique feel of comics to motion; think the Adam West Batman incorporating off-kilter angles and cartoon sound-effects, or Sin City’s abstract monochrome palette. But Into the Spider-verse not only goes all the way visually — using a revolutionary mix of 2D, 3D, digital, and hand-drawn animation techniques to recreate the fusion-media feel of a modern comics page — it uses those stylized tricks to convey mood and emotion in ways a live-action film never could; from the thought balloons crowding out Miles’ post-empowerment headspace to the astonishing final battle set in a collapsing maelstrom of different styles and animation-effects representing a breakdown between realities. Nothing in the world of live-action or animation has ever looked more heroic.
It Uses the Best of Every Previous Spider-Man
Even when the change is overall for the better, there are always pieces of the prior incarnations that end up being missed whenever a superhero franchise retools or reboots: No one has yet managed to write a piece of Superman music that can supplant John Williams’ theme in the popular imagination, and the live-action Spider-Man movies can’t seem to bring themselves to even attempt re-casting J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.
But liberated from the constraints of live-action and with a Multiverse gimmick baked into its plot, Into the Spider-Verse takes full advantage (and then some) of the freedom to mix and match the best aspects of every version that’s come before: Its Miles Morales is both inspired-by the original from Ultimate Spider-Man but also new to the film, its two versions of “classic” Peter Parker freely borrow from the comics, cartoons, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland versions, it’s flashback invocation of “With great power…” samples Cliff Robertson’s reading of the line from the first Sam Raimi film (at one point having Maguire voice Peter B. Parker was discussed) while classic moments like the first-webswing “Woooooo!” to the upside-down kiss and even Spider-Man 2’s iconic train rescue combine with visuals inspired by comics, cartoon, and video-game versions to create something wholly new.
It’s the First Superhero Movie to Go Beyond (And Think Bigger Than) the MCU
The Marvel Cinematic Universe rewrote the rules for superhero movies (and made the genre bigger than it ever was before) by winning its gamble that the genre-fluid shared-universe continuity employed by comics — where sci-fi, fantasy, horror, action, and comedy storytelling break down and merge into a singular cohesive whole — could successfully translate to movies and television. But with audiences now having fully accepted, via the MCU, that what began in the semi-grounded world of the first Iron Man could grow to include wizards, Viking gods and space raccoons… where can the genre go next?
As it turns out, the answer is to begin breaking through the walls between reality, logic, and self-awareness itself, and it’s not Marvel-proper that got to this next-level first but rather a licensed side-project from Spider-Man co-owner Sony. Spider-Verse took the possibilities of superhero movies to the place genre-reshaping works like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man did for comics in the ’80s and ’90s, and one has to wonder if it’ll be a comedown to step back into the “normal” MCU after this: “Yeah, sure, this is fine… nobody’s a cartoon pig, though…”
Continue reading next
It Goes Big Without Losing the Real Story
Fans were rightly worried when it was revealed that what had initially been announced as an animated film about Miles Morales would also be a multiverse crossover featuring several other Spider-Men: Would the popular young hero’s fans be shortchanged in favor of a team-up — or, worse, would the premise itself render a character presented in comics as the successor to the Spider-Man mantle as just one of many interchangeable alternates? Incredibly, those fears turned out to be unfounded: The film balances its two-tiered story commendably, always keeping Miles’ origin and development at the center, and wisely keeping the other Spider-People as a Greek Chorus of supporting players whose presence enhance his story without ever overwhelming it. That’s hard to do, especially in a high-energy family film (not every animation studio would have the courage to cut away from introducing the wacky alt-universe Spiders in order to pick up a key plot-point about Miles and his Uncle Aaron) but Into the Spider-Verse consistently goes the right way.
Those Awesome Fresh Takes on Classic Familiar Characters
Sure, the film already has “new” material to spare in terms of how relatively unknown Miles Morales and the (living) version of Spider-Gwen are outside of loyal comic readers, but Into the Spider-Verse takes its conceit of being mainly set in a universe decidedly not identical to the “conventional” Spider-Man continuity or the real world as a free pass to try exciting new things with by now well-known characters: Two different Peter Parkers (one whose life has worked out much better than Spider-Man’s typically does, another who ended up even worse), a tech-wiz Aunt May who’s in on the secret and builds the gear, a Spanish-speaking cyborg Scorpion, some of the most intimidating versions of Kingpin, Tombstone, and the Prowler ever… and, of course, Kathryn Hahn’s Olivia Octavius — a gender-flipped Doctor Octopus whose reveal is one of the film’s best “gotcha!” moments, and who ends up being one of the most inspired versions of the character ever.
It Does Diversity Right — And That Matters
Every Hollywood studio worth its salt knows that diverse casting that reflects the evolving 21st-century face of the global audience is a smart box-office move in addition to a forward-thinking one; but not every film has pulled it off without seeming awkward or tone-deaf. But the filmmakers behind Into the Spider-Verse clearly took their mandate to make the film’s central mantra of “Anyone can wear the mask” work as a real statement to rally behind, not simply in the instantly-iconic imagery of the familiar Spider-Man mask lifting to reveal the face of a Black teenage boy but in the way its story builds on themes of identity and culture for new insight into the familiar superhero “secret identity” setup.
From the casual bilingual swapping between English and Spanish in conversation with his family and melting-pot NYC neighborhood to his unease at transferring to an upscale charter school to his internal conflict over admiration for his straight-laced policeman father and slick operator uncle (itself a micro-morality-play of competing cultural visions of Black American manhood), we’re repeatedly shown how profoundly Miles is already asked by the world around him to inhabit multiple identities even before it’s his turn to be Spider-Man — a significant but fascinating difference from other versions of the character that feels natural instead of heavy-handed.
Continue reading next
It Gives Us a Spider-Man for the 21st Century
Moreso than any other A-list superhero, Spider-Man has always connected strongly with the youth culture of each successive generation. The most popular versions of the character tend to be those that hew to the high school and college-age versions of the comic book original, which is part of why Miles Morales was so much better received conceptually than many other radically-different “inheritor” legacy heroes by notoriously change-averse fans. But while movie versions have often leaned hard on nostalgia for the teen years of grown-up filmmakers, Into the Spider-Verse feels directly in-tune with the 21st Century young audience it’s mainly aimed at: It speaks Generation Z’s language, moves at a modern speed, and (as noted previously) features a cast that actually looks like the diverse, evolving world it’s being released into.
It Showed Us What a Superhero Death Looks Like When It Counts
Let’s get real: The Infinity War “dusting” of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker (“Mr. Stark – I don’t feel good…”) was the shocker movie-meme of 2018 in large part because it’s so conceptually grim and Holland so effectively communicates the horror of the sequence — but no one thinks he’s going to stay dead, any more than they thought Henry Cavill was going to not come back in Justice League. That superhero’s deaths are hard to take seriously or be moved by has been a punchline for years — but maybe not after Into the Spider-Verse let us see what it can look like when it’s “for real.”
Sure, there’s still a bit of an “escape hatch” — the Peter Parker of Miles’ universe has only been dead for a day or so before Miles meets the older, grumpier but very much alive (if dimensionally-displaced) Peter B. Parker version. But the initial sequence of the Morales Family, along with the rest of New York, gradually receiving the news that Spider-Man has been found dead (at only 26 years old — an additional gut-punch) is one of the film’s best sequences: Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla $ign, and XXXTENTACION’s “Scared of The Dark” queuing up on the soundtrack, the nighttime montage of New Yorkers’ stopping in their tracks as their phones light up with the bad news, Mary Jane Watson delivering a eulogy whose content says “This is the real thing, not just plot-information for later”… it’s a stunning moment, maybe the best version of such a scene ever — even before the additional final bruising no one could’ve planned for.
“I’m Gonna Miss Him…”
“…We were friends, y’know.”
If the rest of the funeral sequence didn’t fully break you on first viewing, hearing the voice of the (then) just recently-deceased Stan Lee come up on above the chatter had to do it. Especially with those two lines, and the perfectly-timed reveal of what the King of the Marvel Cameo’s role this time actually was: A costume store owner, who sells Miles Morales his first Spider-Man suit. Oof.
It Has a Real Heart — And a Real Message
“Anyone can be Spider-Man. You can be Spider-Man.” It sounds a bit like a cynical marketing line, and to an extent it is — a philosophical “poptimistic” sounding justification for the Into the Spider-Verse’s gimmick of a multiversal superhero team starring different versions of a popular hero. But the film turns it into a serious statement of purpose as well, crafting a narrative of inclusivity and openness to new concepts of what a hero can be that (in the broad strokes) offers the spectacle of “Spider-Men” across multiple different ages, genders, body-types and even species — but also gets serious and specific about the personal journey and stakes for the young hero at the center of the story.
The Miles Morales of Into the Spider-Verse isn’t exactly the same character as the one who originated in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, and it’s unknown if he resembles the (hypothetical) version who’s eventual existence has already been hinted at for the live-action MCU Spider-Man films. But for most moviegoers, this will be the first introduction to the character — a young Black man who inherits the mantle of a famous white superhero and has to make it his own in a world that already alternately demands of him, fears him, dismisses him, and in general, can’t stop telling him what he can and can’t be.
Those realities hang over and inject real heart into every frame of the film, from his evolving relationship with his father to his shattering final confrontation with his uncle (revealed, as in the comics, to be The Prowler) and especially in his showdown with The Kingpin; whose stature as symbolic embodiment of blatant criminality enabled by power and privilege takes on a stark new dimension when he’s looming over a Spider-Man with the same face and voice of dozens of young men without superpowers who are (literally and figuratively) beaten down by other powerful old white men, like Wilson Fisk in real life, every day. It’s an animated film, and a very unusual one, but at heart, it’s more “real” than most live-action superhero epics can ever hope to be.