Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman.
Featuring the voice talents of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Kimiko Glenn, Luna Lauren Vélez, Chris Pine, Kathryn Hahn, Zoë Kravitz, Oscar Isaac, and Lake Bell.
Spider-Man crosses parallel dimensions and teams up with the Spider-Men of those dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.
Miles Morales is the future of Spider-Man, whether it’s animation or live-action. No offense at all to Tom Holland or anything going on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as wonderful stuff is also happening there, but for as much as I and many other comic book fans around the world can relate to Peter Parker (it’s also necessary to mention that the recently deceased Stan Lee did film a cameo for this project, which is unquestionably fitting as his first posthumous appearance considering there is no other one of his superhero creations that better identify with the beliefs and values the legend stood for throughout his 90+ years on this earth), there is a greater sense of excitement whenever Miles appears in another form of entertainment. Take the recently released Spider-Man video game, where he is admittedly shortchanged as far as his gameplay segments go but still adds another fascinating story layer to the proceedings; it’s a crowd-pleasing breath of fresh air.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (directed by the talented animation department trio of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, with Rodney Rothman and The LEGO Movie and 21/22Jump Street remake comedic genius Phil Lord collaborating on the screenplay) doesn’t just stop at giving Miles Morales a worthy origin story, although they probably could have since an African-American/Puerto Rican variant Spider-Man is refreshing enough even as animation (I’m sure many critics of color will have far more interesting things to say, but there is the sensation that Miles isn’t just an outsider because of his intelligence but also for the fact that he’s a mixed race student at what appears to be a snobby private school). Not to mention, this is also a version of Spider-Man that still has his birth parents. Essentially, there’s already enough differences to tweak the formula and tell the familiar bitten by a radioactive spider tale, but the filmmakers here clearly felt that with great power came great responsibility to make more than just a great Spider-Man animated movie; simply put, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is much more than one of the best films in the franchise, it’s one of the best creative license usages of the character in history.
As previously mentioned, Miles (played by Shameik Moore, star of the overlooked gem Dope) is a bright young student unenthusiastic about private school, but still has a loving relationship with his parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez), even if he and his police officer father have differing opinions regarding the heroic deeds of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man (Chris Pine). In the first of many bold decisions, something tragic happens to Peter Parker during a battle with Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) involving a massive scientific device dubbed the Collider, a project capable of bringing people and other objects into their universe from alternate dimensions. The reason for such nefarious behavior is, surprisingly, not your traditional take over the world routine but rather something almost empathetic and grounded in humanity (it’s actually a part of the overall narrative I would have liked to have seen explored more).
Enter Peter B. Parker (funnyman Jake Johnson), the version of the web-slinger that was unable to make his trying relationship with Mary Jane work (she wanted children) and gave up fighting crime out of exhaustion and depression, turning to a life of never shaving and pounding away cheeseburgers. It’s a wonder the suit even fits with his gut. More importantly, this allows for the script to go the expected mentor route with refreshing material and irreverent humor, which is Phil Lord’s forte; within the opening moments, the film finds ways to reference the best and worst of Spider-Man.
Also introduced are more variants of the superhero from alternate dimensions, including Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy as Spider-Gwen, Nicolas Cage as a noir-inspired Spider-Man naturally given some of the funniest and most bizarre jokes, an anime girl capable of controlling a Spider-Robot, and a Spider-Pig that resembles, speaks, and behaves like Porky Pig. Obviously, some of these characters are more important to the plot than others, but they all add to the overarching general Spider-Man theme of feeling different and finding a place of belonging. For some, meeting those that are similar to your own quirks can be the difference maker in finding the courage to pursue one’s dreams and act out one’s calling, effectively rendering this Spider-Verse as more than just an excuse to get really silly. Additionally, now there are protagonists across multiple genders and races, making for one of the most inclusive superhero films to date. And the playful approach doesn’t stop with the superheroes, as the villains get some welcome changes with wifely and memorable performances.
For how strong the character work is, it’s also the animation that blends computer-generated effects with hand-drawn comic book style drawings, and the strongly executed marrying of those two formats that excel at making one feel they are literally watching the pages of a comic book brought to life. Remember a few months ago how horrible the voice-in-the-head interactions were in Venom? Well, these directors know what they’re doing and how to generate intentional laughter and piece together awkward humor. The dialogue box touches further make the feature come alive in ways that feel beyond watching an animated movie; you just want to swipe your hands at the screen to turn the pages. It also helps that the action set pieces are excellently structured and are bursting with color.
On top of all that, the movie simply earns real emotion, even if it is predictable for the most part. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t just finally give audiences Miles Morales, it throws up many intriguing versions of the superhero that offer fresh takes and insight, whether it be from new emotional dynamics or a monochrome eyesight Nicolas Cage trying to figure out a Rubik’s Cube. Through irreverent humor, progressive creative choices, and emotion Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse succeeds in expressing that anyone can wear the mask. I’m sure Stan Lee loved all of the Marvel adaptations he got to see in his lifetime, but I sincerely hope he had the opportunity to see this one before his passing as it feels like the one he would be most proud of from a thematic standpoint. Excelsior!
RIP Stan Lee
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com