Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN: Into The Spider-Verse (Sony)

“Approved by the Comics Code Authority” ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, the Sony Pictures animated film directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, and written by Phil Lord and […]

“Approved by the Comics Code Authority”

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, the Sony Pictures animated film directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, and written by Phil Lord and Rothman, is simply a spectacular spider-movie.

The film is focused on Miles Morales, the Spider-Man of the Marvel Ultimates universe, created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sarah Pichelli in 2011. If you’re familiar with the Morales Spider-Man, you’ll understand the movie’s conceit. If not, it takes a while to figure out that you’re not in Kansas anymore and, in fact, you’re pretty far from it.

The plot is very loosely based on the 2014 comic, ‘Spider-Verse’, though the trappings are slimmed and simplified, featuring just seven Spider-Man incarnations instead of dozens.

The first usage of the term, ‘multiverse’ was by the British author, Michael Moorcock in his “Eternal Champion” sequence first published in 1970. The concept, however, is drawn from The Flash #123 in 1961. Written by Gardner Fox, that issue introduces Earth 2 and lays down the foundations and framework that would lead to DC’s infamous Infinite Earths.

The Eternal Champions are one of the inspirations for the adventures of Marvel’s own dimension-spanning Captain Britain Corps, in which it is established that the adventures in the mainstream Marvel universe take place on earth 616.

Set on Earth 712, the perrenial Avengers antagonists, the Squadron Supreme, sprang to life in 1971. Marvel continued to constantly tinker with its continuity in the comic title, “What If?”  that ran in two volumes, ‘77-‘84 and ’89-’98. Marvel was then off to the races, and all manner of realities were attempted, from new universes, negative-universes, and  micro-verses, to more alternate futures than you could shake a stick at, leading up to the Marvel Ultimates project.

The Ultimates universe was an attempt to modernize the Marvel cast of characters. The hope was to attract newer readers who might have been daunted by the opaque and convoluted mainline continuity, albeit set in yet another alternate reality. That way, books set in 616 featuring the classic characters could still be sold to older fans.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is incredibly sly and subtle about its multiversity, until it just isn’t, and then the universe cracks open like an egg. In perhaps a dig at the myriad reboots and retellings the on-screen Spider-Man has suffered through in recent years, this film is an orgy of origin stories, and yet doesn’t feel overstuffed at all.

Miles Morales  (Shemiek Moore) is a black, bilingual, Puerto Rican kid from Brooklyn, who is forced by his parents Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (Luna Veléz) to straddle two very different worlds when they enroll him in the  Vision Academy boarding school. He finds himself in an alien academic environment, far from the hardscrabble neighborhood he hails from, where he had hoped to make his mark with his artwork, graffiti tags, and stickers (much to the consternation of his father, a PDNY officer). Morales struggles with issues of inadequacy and integration. This disconnect troubles him to the point of at times trying to fail out deliberately in hopes of returning to his old public school. The movie is so on the nose sometimes, it should be called ‘Into the Meta-Verse.’ 

His one respite is tagging with his uncle Aaron, (Mahershala Ali) who appreciates Miles’ talents, and encourages his work, showing him hidden places in the city to graffiti without his father finding out. One fateful eve, painting in the bowels of Brooklyn, he gets THE bite. That infamous radioactive spider gets around a lot, and sure as night turns to day, Morales develops spider-powers.

Tasked with no small matter by the fallen Peter Parker (just, you know, saving the world), Miles struggles to prove himself worthy of the mantle of Spider-Man, when an interdimensional incident triggered by the Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) breaks the sky.

In a slow-burn sequence with a great payoff, Miles becomes aware of the existence of a quasi-spider-corps featuring Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen), Spider-Ham (John Mulvaney) and Spider-Noir (Nic Cage) and learns that while his problems may be unique, he is not alone. Together, they must find a way to stop the Kingpin and his henchmen from destroying all of existence and ultimately make their way to their respective homes.

Though the various members of the Spider-Corps have disparate personalities, backstories, and travails, it is where they do overlap that you get the perfect Venn diagram of distilled Spider-Manity. It is the primal essence of the character, beyond ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’. When you get down to brass tacks, the beating heart of Spider-Man is a never-say-die everyman (or woman) who just will not quit the good fight.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ takes quite a few visual cues from the 1966 Batman show, slyly dropping atmospheric onomatopoeia for added effect, and having many scenes shot caddy-corner, in a vibrant panoply of color. The prolific use of a texture simulating zip-a-tone, thought bubbles, caption text, the aforementioned hallucinogenic color scheme and an improvement to the in-screen page-panel technique pioneered by Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’ (’03) add to it being a near-perfect embodiment of a comic book in film form.

Done with an eye-popping touch, the backgrounds and environments are almost photo-realistic, while the characters have much simpler designs, hearkening back to their two-dimensional origins.

Though the various Spider-People have similar spider-powers and poses, the slick, breathtaking action sequences that are choreographed to a ‘T’ highlight their individual body languages. Spider-Woman dances through her fights, whereas Spider-Noir wades into his brawls like a monochrome tank.

The screenplay is quite sharp, with some heavy emotional beats you wouldn’t expect from animated fare. Those moments tug hard on the heart-strings. You might need a tissue. However, it’s also rollicking and funny, abounding with visual gags and a tight script full of the kind of smart-mouth quips you would expect from Spider-Man, let alone seven of them. Stay for the PCS. Seriously.

If you love Spider-Man, you’re going to love this movie. It does your boy proud. If you like comic book movies, you’re going to like this movie. It’s an excellent adaptation and a fitting feature film debut for Miles Morales. Hell, if you just like cool movies with innovative visual stylings, you’re going to like this movie.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ opens December 14th.
Go see it. It’s the good stuff.

Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.


About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.