Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie review — Inventive animation blended with engaging, relevant storytelling
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse combines the theme and thrill of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War respectively, and takes it several notches higher with its visual language.
castShameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailey Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Zoe Kravitz, Chris Pine, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Oscar Isaac And Stan Lee
directorBob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse thematically feels like a combination of what has worked the best for Marvel this year — Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War (with hints of Deadpool 2). As formulaic as that might sound, this Spider-Man spin-off is the most entertaining, visually engaging and pathbreaking one yet.
Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn-born black boy, serves at the center of this animated film. Beyond the usual drill of getting bit by a radioactive spider and discovering his superpowers, Miles is seen interacting with fellow Spideys from alternate universes and joining forces with them to fight the mighty comic book villain Kingpin. Again, as straight-jacketed as the story sounds, the film combines its unique animation design with layered storytelling to offer a Spider-Man spin-off that boasts of the range from Iron Man to Avengers: Infinity War. It is as much an origin movie as an ensemble film.
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) took its own sweet time to introduce all its Infinity War stakeholders one by one over a period of 10 years, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse achieves the same within less than two hours. Obviously, the characters here are merely different versions of the Spider-Man staple but they all stand out, owing to the detailing that makes them eligible for a spin-off each. This idea of diversity among unity is in fact the heartbeat of this film, in terms of both the quirks and the symbolism of its characters.
Morales' rise as a black superhero, unlike Black Panther, is neither destined nor set in a dystopian land like Wakanda. He goes to school in New York, where he gets bullied because of the colour of his skin. He often proposes to his parents the idea of returning to Brooklyn, but his cop-dad not only argues against for the sake of a "better life" in the metropolitan city, but also publicly humiliates him. He finds refuge in Uncle Aron (Mahershala Ali), who is not on good terms with his dad because of the different paths they took after the rise of their community.
Life soon takes a rather adventurous turn for Morales when a radioactive spider bites him, while he is busy spraying graffiti on sewer walls. Once he discovers his awkward superpowers, he lands up in the middle of a fight between Peter Parker's Spider-Man (Chris Pine) — yes, he already exists — and Kingpin & Co. In a bid to help Parker, who resists Kingpin's efforts to start a Super Collider, that connects the present universe to a multiverse, Morales ends up reuniting with his counterparts from other universes, Peter B Parker aka Spider-Man Sr (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailey Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
*Spoiler alert* Another way in which Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is similar to Infinity War is by its ability to pull the carpet from under the audience's feet. One does not even have to wait for the climax, as Peter Parker's Spider-Man gets pummeled to death by Kingpin in the first half itself. The rest of the film, thus, hinges on unfamiliar characters with familiar superpowers. It also flirts with what is being speculated as a major plot point in Avengers: Endgame — time travel. Super Collider is introduced as a possible substitute to the Time Stone. Also, in another Easter egg, the fun yet telling end credit sequence has Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Issac), a futuristic version of the superhero, appear to recreate an iconic Spider-Man meme. *spoiler alert ends*
The characteristic humour, laced with irreverence and potshots at other superhero entities, made popular by the Deadpool franchise and Thor: Ragnarok, is also a recurrent element in the film. It starts with Morales crushing the radioactive spider with a routine pat seconds after it bites him, leading up to Spider-Ham (designed as Porky Pig in Spider-Man's costume) bidding goodbye with a "That's All Folks" line, leaving other Spideys to wonder, "Can he say that, like legally?," taking a dig at the rival superhero films studio Warner Bros.
But what truly makes this one a watershed superhero film is its animation design. The tints and tones land somewhere between the cartoonish Spider-Man animated shows of those times to a modern live-action film. The characters feel real yet there exists a distance, which was bridged in the Tobey McGuire films as those invited the viewers to be a part of his head space. That does not imply that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not immersive. It uses state-of-the-art animation technology to propel its storytelling as the universes of Spider-Man Noir (black and white), Pen Parker (anime) and Spider-Ham (cartoon) come to life and blend seamlessly into a more real world of Morales. The makers consciously decide to go back to the comic books, as impact balloons (read: Pow!), along with their fonts and colours, are incorporated into the visual language. This adds both a pinch of nostalgia and cartloads of excitement to the screenplay.
Along with the comic book texture, the chief characters in abundance (all the Spideys, Mary Jane Parker, villains, and an old yet badass Aunt May) make their way into the film, turning this spin-off into a gold mine for Spider-Man comic book readers. However, most ace villains among The Green Goblin, Scorpion, Doctor (Olivia) Octopus and The Prowler are left underdeveloped. Along with Kingpin, only one more bad guy (who? spoiler!) gets the character graph they deserve.
*Spoiler alert* Spider-Man creator Stan Lee also appears in a scene (featuring his voice posthumously) to pass on the torch to Morales on behalf of his friend Parker. "He was a nice guy. I knew him," says a visibly emotional Lee, while passing on a one-size-fits-all Spider-Man costume to Morales. "No return or refund because eventually, everything fits," he says. This moment becomes all the more significant given his recent demise. It feels as if he said those words about Spider-Man from the heavens. *Spoiler alert ends*
The post-credits tribute thanks Lee for "making us believe we're not the only ones." This rings true for Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse at so many levels. While it pays tribute to the superhero's humble origins, it also consciously avoids giving us just another Spider-Man spin-off, that is tone-deaf to the needs and times of today. "With great power, comes great responsibility," Uncle Ben's wise words apply to Marvel as well.
All images from Twitter.
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