‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is one of the best superhero movies ever: Review
To say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse feels like a comic book come to life may sound like faint praise, seeing as we’re two decades into a superhero movie boom that the original Spider-Man helped jump start.
But few recent films have embraced the comic book style and sensibility — its visual quirks and anything-goes openness — as wholeheartedly as Spider-Verse has, or enjoyed as fully the potential in combining the two mediums.
Right off the bat, Spider-Verse acknowledges that it’s probably the 700th Spider-Man story you’ve seen in the past few years. A voiceover “yada yadas” the basics of Peter Parker’s origin story, while winking at almost every iteration of it; even the much-maligned Spider-Man 3 gets a rueful shoutout. This movie isn’t afraid of a laugh at its own expense, though the knowing humor is more affectionate than biting.
Spider-Verse has a distinct feel unlike any other Spider-Man movie before.
When that montage ends with Peter telling us “there’s only one Spider-Man,” it plays like another joke, because we’ve seen so many Peters over so many years. And becomes even more of one once we meet Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore).
Though Miles has been a fan favorite in the comics since 2011, Spider-Verse marks his first time on the big screen. Accordingly, Spider-Verse has a distinct feel unlike any other Spider-Man movie before it.
Spider-Verse eschews both the slick three-dimensional look of most modern studio animated movies (think Pixar or Illumination) and the gritty “realism” of most live-action superhero movies, in favor of a flatter, sketchier aesthetic bursting with poppy colors, Ben-Day dots, and motion lines. It’s an obvious nod to Spidey’s ink-and-paper history, but it’s also an expression of how Miles, himself a character who’s grown up admiring Spidey and reading Spidey books, might view his own superhero saga.
Like his predecessor, Miles is a slightly nerdy teenager who gains superhero powers after a spider bite. Unlike his predecessor, Miles is an Afro-Latino kid from Brooklyn with two living parents, a talent for graffiti art, and a taste for pop and hip-hop. The biggest difference, however, may be that Miles has never been the only Spider-Man, since he takes up the mantle after Peter Parker dies.
Into that fraught situation enter five more spider-people, from five other realities: an older Peter (Jake Johnson), the hard-boiled Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the young Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), the tough Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and the literally porcine Spider-Ham (a perfectly cast John Mulaney). Something something something, a villain, a portal, the end of the world — as Peter puts it, “it’s pretty standard Spider-Man stakes.”
What is not standard, at least for Spider-Man movies, is how bananas it all is. Spider-Verse takes full advantage of the fact that animation can do things live-action can’t, or not as easily, or not as beautifully. When Miles is arcing through the air or soaring toward a baddie, it’s hard not to notice how much prettier and cooler the action is here than in most live-action superhero flicks.
Spider-Verse not only returns Spider-Man to his comic-book roots, but reinstates the idea that it could be anyone behind the mask.
But even as Spider-Verse expands into ever-wackier territory, and pulls in ever-flashier characters, it never loses sight of its leading man, or his defining relationships with his straight-arrow father (Brian Tyree Henry, deep and tender) and roguish uncle (Mahershala Ali, charming as hell). As Miles, Moore finds the right combination of heroic determination and first-day-of-school nervousness.
All those other Spider-Men, then, become not just a way to celebrate the weirdness and variety of the comics, but a reaffirmation of the notion that it could be anyone behind that mask.
It’s a nice sentiment, and one that’s key to the character’s enduring appeal. It’s also one that’s felt less and less true with each recent movie, as Spider-Man keeps ripping off his mask to reveal yet another variation on Peter Parker — a handsome (if dorky) young white man with his dead uncle’s words about power and responsibility still ringing in his ears.
Spider-Verse not only returns Spider-Man to his comic-book roots, but reinstates that fundamental idea. In this telling of the story, it truly could be anyone behind that mask — a little girl, a grizzled detective, a middle-aged sad sack, maybe even another unassuming New York kid — and all the people wearing it are better together than they are apart.
(P.S. Yes, you should stick around through the very end of the credits.)