The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


Here a Spider-Man, There a Spider-Man

Shameik Moore
Shameik Moore
Columbia Pictures
 117 Minutes
Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson   
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Benjamin Franklin once noted that nothing was certain except death and taxes, but in the world of comic books, death often proves to be nothing but a minor inconvenience. Practically from their beginnings, both Marvel and DC Comics have brought characters back to life, redone backstories, invented entire new timelines, and done anything else that strikes their fancy, resulting in a mythology so complex that Wikipedia often has to devote several pages to the various iterations of a particular hero or villain over the decades. Sometimes, the writers offer an explanation for the various transformations, and sometimes they just ignore the past and start from scratch. Fans rarely seem to mind, as long as the new versions of their favorite characters are entertaining. And that’s certainly the case with the latest reshuffling of the Spider-Man mythos, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a full-length animated feature that works considerably more often than it doesn’t.


While both Marvel and DC have made full-length animated films before, these have usually been relatively cheap, direct-to-video efforts, intended for kids and hard-core fans. But Sony Entertainment, which holds the rights to Spider-Man, has spared no expense in assembling a top-notch animation team and some A-list vocal talents for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. And, since Sony has a somewhat limited stable of heroes to work with, unlike Disney, which has the rights to the Avengers, the powers-that-be at Sony are doing their best to maximize their assets by turning one Spider-Man into seven Spider-something-or-others.


In the beginning, in the dimension in which Spider-Verse takes place, there is only one Spider-Man, good old Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine), who has been saving New York and winning adoring fans for years. One of those fans is high schooler Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), whose talent with a spray paint can that he uses to create graffiti outshines his schoolwork, much to the dismay of his cop dad, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry). Miles would rather spend his time with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), whose nightly forays into shady parts of town give Miles an opportunity for some after-midnight artwork.


During one of those escapades deep in the subway system, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and, the next day starts to feel quite funny. He also finds out that his body is working in ways it never worked before. An understandably concerned Miles returns to the tunnel where he was bitten and stumbles onto a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin (which, in this version of the story, is a large green ogre-type creature, not a person). Spider-Man takes time out during the fight to help Miles, but, eventually, the battle doesn’t go well for him, and he is killed by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) as Miles watches. Miles learns that the Kingpin was working on a device called a Super Collider, which could break down the barrier between dimensions with potentially world-shattering consequences (in other words, the pseudo-scientific explanation behind the Spider-Verse). Before he dies, Spider-Man gives Miles a flash drive that can shut down the Collider.


Miles decides to stop the Kingpin and his partner-in-crime, the erstwhile Doctor Octopus, who is a woman (Kathryn Hahn) in this dimension. But before he does, he gets some help from some other spider-creatures, who were transported here when the Kingpin used the Collider. Miles’s helpers include an older, burned out Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), a Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), an anime Spider-Person, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), and Spider-Ham, aka Peter Porker (John Mulaney), a super-powered pig.


In reviewing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I’d like to start with the good first, because there is considerably more of it, and some of it is very good indeed. The animation here is first-rate, and directors Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, in keeping with the multitude of Spider-Somethings in the movie, adopt a variety of visual styles. Spider-Man Noir is depicted in black and white, while scenes involving Peni Parker are done in an anime style. Also, during some of the scenes, dialogue and narration appear in comic-strip balloons above the characters. The transition from one style to the next is flawless, making the large-scale fighting scenes quite eye-catching.


As usually happens in superhero movies, especially those with multiple heroes and villains doing battle onscreen at the same time, the action does go somewhat overboard in Spider-Verse, but it’s less distracting in an animated film. When people see a live-action movie, even one making extensive use of CGI, they subconsciously expect at least some amount of plausibility from the standpoint of the laws of physics. They have no similar expectations regarding animated films, so characters and actions that would never be accepted in a live-action film work well here. It’s no coincidence that Spider-Verse and Incredibles 2 are the two best superhero films of the year.


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is more than just a gimmicky superhero extravaganza, however. In showing the origins of Miles and his eventually becoming a full-fledged Spider-Man in much the same way Peter Parker did decades earlier, the film takes the familiar elements of the Spider-Man legend and redoes them in a way that’s unique yet similar and, more important, just as powerful emotionally. Miles’s personal story has humor as well, and the result is worthy of the best moments in the various live-action Spider-Man films.


Unfortunately, some aspects of the Spider-Verse humor don’t work as well, specifically the addition of several downright silly members of the League of Spider-Entities. The addition of Spider-Ham, Peni Parker, and Spider-Man Noir turn a film that successfully walks the line between humor and seriousness into something that’s a flat-out, silly spoof. That’s understandable in a way, since the directors previously worked on The LEGO Movie, a film that was very funny in places but also made no attempt at any sort of dramatic credibility. Spider-Verse never becomes quite that silly (fortunately, Spider-Ham stays on the sidelines most of the time), but it also never quite rises to the level of animated classics.


When I first learned that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was being made, I thought it was a desperate attempt by Sony to wring every last dollar that it could get out of the property by unleashing a feature-length version of a TV cartoon on the public. But the movie has proved to be much more. It’s a mix of effective comic-book action and real-life drama, albeit animated, with an at-times stunning visual style. At times, it goes too far (which has also been the case in a lot of live-action superhero movies), most particularly in its overuse of the multiple-Spider-Man gimmick, but it always entertains and actually makes me interested in seeing a sequel that further develops Miles’s character. And, finally, it pays tribute to the late Stan Lee with a cameo that’s an integral part of the movie and a fitting tribute to the genius behind Marvel Comics. The best tribute I can pay is by saying that Stan would have been very proud of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

In this clip, an older Peter Parker talks about his version of Spider-Men.

Read other reviews of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) on IMDb