A little over a year ago in early December I thought to myself, "should I go see that new Spider-Man film in theatres?" I had little motivation to see it as I thought it was yet another Spider-Man film Sony was cranking out, and it also didn’t help my anticipation knowing it was marketed as an animated Christmas film with a holiday release either. Thus, even though I enjoy most things Marvel related I foolishly thought it was something along the lines of a 'kids film'. I’ve been proven wrong on the matter on many occasions after watching films like Inside Out (2015) and Zootopia (2016) that were both amazing, heartfelt masterpieces. I'm certainly guilty of dismissing things I assume won't appeal to me sometimes, and I notice that a lot of people have this similar mental attitude. We aren't as bothered or willing to commit the time to understand or appreciate different things and new experiences these days. Maybe that’s why it’s taking such a long time for subjects like the lack of diversity, on screen and off screen to improve, or even the award show panels that support this by consistently make narrow-minded nominations.
I guess my New Years resolution is to be more open minded about the things I would usually dismiss.
"Step 3: I reexamine my personal biases!" - Peter B. Parker
Anyway, as you easily deduced from the fact that you're reading my "review", I did in fact go see it, though it was because I went in with a particular mindset and motivation. Ultimately, I asked myself the simple question, “why not?”. Thank the film gods I did decide to go because I rarely use the word 'perfect' to describe how I feel about something, but it has managed to become one of my favourite films of all time. It's an understatement and no-brainer to say that I was pleasantly surprised. For such an over-familiar character I see now that the film is inspiring, and somehow beyond expectations feels original and entirely new. It's a real gem I wish I got to see growing up and literally defines art in movie form for me. Now with my previous biases set aside I’m here to tell you why you should watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Note to self: It doesn’t matter what the visuals are, the medium through which the story is told, or what "labels" define it. A good story is a good story. It should be sought out wherever it may be. - Alex
The Oscar winning film is about the one and only Spider-Man... except Into the Spider-Verse is set in a world similar to ours, but it’s not. You heard of the many worlds theory? Well, see there’s another universe where Spider-Man (Chris Pine) investigates Kingpin’s company Alchemax and discovers his latest investment, a super collider. Attempting to use it for his own desire, the quick witted hero intervenes with dire consequences. This collider gizmo opened the door to the multiverse and threatens the existence of everything. However, there’s hope and as you probably surmised from the film's title it’s in the form of multiple versions of the wall crawling hero you know and love. This film introduces a whole host of them from a literal black and white 1920’s Private Eye (Nicholas Cage), to an anime girl from the future with a spider-controlled mecha (Kimiko Glenn). However, the focal character that the story is told through is that of the young hero to be, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore).
After being forced to leave the familiarity and comforts of his old way of life behind, Miles is faced with having to overcome major changes and struggles to meet great expectations in this coming of age story. The African American Latino teenager from Brooklyn is going through a crisis of identity and self-worth when he is thrusted into a new 'elitist' school. He is constantly being tested and questioned on what he wants to do with his life and his place in it when all he wants to do is just chill, be himself, and not have to be held to or defined by any labels. On top of all this, in a similar fashion to Peter Parker’s origin story he now has to navigate his newfound powers, being put into the impossible situation of filling his world’s Spider-Man’s shoes. Even with the help of a reluctant Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) nobody seems to understand what he's going through.
Except he's essentially going through the same journey we all have had to, just with more style and action.
Part of Spider-Verse's charm derives from the fact that the portrayed elements such as the natural story beats and how the narrative unfolds, as well as each of the characters' individual quirks and personalities are all relatable in some form. From the way Miles hums his favourite track, to the way he clumsily handles what school and life have to offer him, just about everything in the film can reach and vibe with all audiences. Everything the protagonist goes through are all changes everybody has gone through at some point in their lives. Oh, that bit I mentioned about the superpowers? That’s relatable since... what I meant to actually say was... you see it's a similar situation in that... we’ll have to talk about this another time I hear my Aunt calling me.
When I heard this next Spider-Man film was going to be made by the same studio that had a bad track record of producing things like the Emoji Movie (2017) I was worried. Alarms went off and red flags were raised when I was also informed that there were numerous people in charge of making the film. It consisted of 3 directors and 5 main producers including people like Phil Lord, Amy Pascal, Chris Miller, Avi Arad... but as it turns out they all knew exactly what they were doing. Where usually too many cooks in the kitchen would be indicative of a failing formula, somehow this specific group became the perfect recipe for an all time greatest hit. The studio gave them the creative freedom to do what they wanted and thankfully everyone directly involved respected and were passionate about Spider-Man. What more can a fan of the character ask for?
The addition of other Spider-people doesn’t diminish or reduce who or what Spider-Man is, but instead raises him up as a character.
The film should be commended alone on it's diverse inclusion and representation of all their various characters and individual backgrounds. You would think that the inclusion of numerous starring characters would ruin a good thing since there isn't enough time to give the spotlight to and develop each protagonist independently. I'm looking at you Suicide Squad (2016). And yet, through the way they portrayed and handled said representation, Spider-Verse has become a breath of fresh air in a entertaining though stagnant industry making it feel all that more genuine and authentic.
Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t replace Spider-Man. Whatever your outlook on it, the film paints the wall crawling hero from the perspective that Spider-Man is like an identity or mantle of responsibility that can be taken up by any ordinary person. Even you True Believer.
Additionally, the film does itself the favour of introducing these new characters alongside Peter Parker instead of dismissing him entirely. It might be Miles' story, however the film acknowledges that Parker is the established wall crawling hero we know and love, and in essence portrays the template character in a mentor role, using him not to pass on the torch, but rather share it. Whereby, someone like Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) is no longer considered a weird intrusion or violation of the character. Well, you know what I mean. It even reminds the audience that all these Spider-people are based on him, and from a metaphorical standpoint they represent the different aspects of his core character/personality.
Personally, I believe this was a smart approach and has been effectively proven before such as in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) where in a similar fashion to Luke Skywalker, Rey was also guided along her journey with mutual friends Han Solo and Chewbacca. It also doesn’t hurt to have great casting when you have the talent of Academy Award winning Mahershala Ali and personalities that actors like Jake Johnson bring to the table. You can feel their passion for the project through the chemistry and ensuing interactions we see between the characters. The result is a moving coming of age story revolving around identity wrapped up and presented in a superhero package.
“Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask. If you didn’t know that before I hope you do now.” - Miles Morales (Spider-Man Loves You)
Marvel films are films about comic book characters; this film is a comic book that moves. It’s clearly well thought out with as much attention to detail as an artist would. Every frame feels like a lot of hard work went into it to the point where it seems like they were all hand drawn and that’s because it was... sort of.
The overall visuals are a blend of hand drawn animation and some CGI to lend itself towards this comic book style.
"They used drawing techniques like wavy lines and smeared colors to indicate motion. In some cases, they purposely slowed down frames, replicating the slight delay typical of stop-motion and anime."
"They limited their color palette and used an inker’s technique called half-toning, in which dots and patterns of color in different sizes convey shade and light."
"Visual effects supervisor Danny Dimian says that if you pause the movie at any frame you’ll see a complete, illustrated comic-book panel" which was the intended goal - Popular Mechanics
Altogether it creates the distinct creative look and style brought to us by talented artists such as Jack Kirby and their techniques like his iconic 'Kirby Dots'. The animation team have captured the life force from the comic book pages that depicted a living breathing world and transferred it 1:1 to the screen.
Speaking of bringing things to life, I also need to give a shout out to the music in this film. Music is one of those things that's hard to describe, but what I'll say is that it certainly fulfills its purpose of helping create and cement memorable moments. From a selection of talented artists like Post Malone, Juice WRLD, and Vince Staples, to Daniel Pemberton’s own score, Spider-Verse's music fits every moment perfectly and drives it home in an amazing and brilliant way that brings the film together.
Now I think I've done enough preaching to you so I'll let the rest speak for itself:
This is my favourite scene from the film. The track What’s Up Danger (Blackway, Black Caviar) combined with Pemberton’s score is incredible and really brings the montage together.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a story for everyone.
I could go on all day about the different components that make Spider-Verse clearly resonate with me, however I'll spare you from more of my babbling and get to the point about explaining why it had such an impact on me. It's simply because I'm not surprised a lot these days. I go in knowing how I’m going to feel and expecting that I will probably like it, not even including the fact that I am aware of everything that is going to happen due to the promo trailers that are put on blast everywhere. I’ve slowly come to realise that the films that made a suitable impression on me like Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), unknown creatives (at the time) such as Neil Blomkamp, and studios including Disney Pixar are the ones I thought little of or had no preconceived notions. Spider-Verse took me by surprise and woke me up to the increased standards in animation for film. It made me feel things I didn’t expect and I connected with literally everything about the film. This review is to show my appreciation for cinema in general and to say thanks to all the producers, animators, artists, actors, Sony Pictures Animation for taking a chance on it, and of course thank you Stan Lee.