Do you remember Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham? Well, if you’re not a kid from the 80s there is a good chance you don’t, but now Sony Pictures brings a new Spider-Man movie that will gleefully fill that hole in your soul that you didn’t even know you had. Loosely based on the multiple-title Marvel cross-over, where a family of interplanetary vampires hunted “Spider-Men” across dimensions, Sony Pictures distills that idea into Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a brilliant animated film — in fact, possibly the best animated film this year. I’m not kidding; it’s that good.
Average moviegoers will most likely not have a clue as to who in the hell Miles Morales is, having probably only experienced Spider-Man’s adventure through the Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland film versions, but with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman give the viewer a beautiful crash-course with a wonderful origin story — which is a nice break from seeing Uncle Ben die over and over again. In this movie we meet young Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Black/Latino teenager who isn’t eager to attend an elite boarding school, and would rather spend time with his cool Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), and it’s while hanging with his uncle that he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. The interesting thing here is that Miles’ learning curve is not the smoothest in the world: he’s not calmly swinging through the streets of New York on day two, in fact, he’s repeatedly face-planting instead, but an even bigger wrinkle is that his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) hate’s the vigilante known as Spider-Man (Chris Pine), and after a pretty traumatic event — one not dealing with the death of Uncle Ben — Miles finds himself thrust into a situation where it is either swing or die.
Can Miles Morales fill the webbed shoes of Spider-Man? He already knows the “With great power comes great responsibility” mantra, but is that enough to take on The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) — a hulking and monstrous figure in this version — who has had a particle accelerator constructed below Fisk Tower, in an attempt to breach the multiverse for his own selfish ends? It’s when this machine creates ruptures among various parallel universes, that our story kicks into overdrive, as Miles finds himself under the reluctant wing of a different Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), a jaded and somewhat flabby Spidey whose life had taken a bit of a downturn, but things look up when they encounter four more dimensional refugees; Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), from a world where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider and not Peter; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a black and white 1930s Nazi-smasher; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a young girl with a robot spider and they are clearly from an anime-style universe; and finally Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a Warner Brothers-style cartoon character that tries his best to steal the movie.
There is everything a Spider-Man fan could want and more in this movie, while also keeping the character info concise and entertaining so as not to lose newbies, and the blend of drama and comedy is executed with a deft touch that dances close to perfection. Miles having to work with an Oscar Goldman version of Peter Parker is a pure delight, and the moments with Spider-Ham are simply brilliant. But it’s the stuff with Miles’ dad and his burgeoning friendship with alternate universe Gwen Stacy that is the heart of this film. And all of this is illustrated through a psychedelic romp, resulting in some of the most stunning visuals ever put to film — stuff that can only truly be achieved with animation — but without for once sacrificing important story beats and character moments for the sake of some cool eye-candy. This film is a great achievement in every aspect, and almost has me forgiving Sony for The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first movie that fully captures the kinetic fury that is Spider-Man; when we see Spidey — doesn’t matter which parallel-dimensional version — leaping, swinging, and jumping through the canyons of New York City, it’s clear that this is a movie made by people who truly “get” Spider-Man, and when our favourite web-crawler lays the smack down with various villains (The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Tombstone, and The Prowler), we finally get a look at how Spider-Man is supposed to operate. The use of word bubbles, speed lines, and varying styles of animation, literally left me gobsmacked at several points in this movie.
Now his appearances in such films as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War have given us some admirable attempts at bringing Spider-Man to life, but it seems like the medium of animation is still the best way to fully realize the character outside the pages of a comic book — as has been illustrated in such great cartoons like 2008’s The Spectacular Spider-Man — but to see such feats on the big screen shows us that we are truly living in a golden age of comic book adaptations.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a visual treat of a film, with comic and dramatic elements in flawless balance, a pitch perfect voice cast, which all come together to achieve one of the best versions of Spider-Man, in any format.