Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse is an animated film about Miles Morales learning to become Spider-Man, aided by some inter-dimensional refugees, after a genetically altered spider gives him superpowers and an evil Kingpin tries to break into the multiverse. It is directed by Bob Persichetti, Bob Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. The voice cast includes Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, and Lily Tomlin.

"With great power, comes great responsibility." It's been a cultural touchstone since 2002 when the first modern conception of Spider-Man hit the big screen. Two sequels followed, then the franchise rebooted itself with two new films with a new cast and creative team. Then, the mighty, powerful, all encompassing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) caught a hold of the story and weaved Spider-Man into their ethos with a supporting role, then his own film.

I have to admit by 2017, I was spidered out, especially as they just kept up the same story ad nauseam. Peter is a nerd who gets powers, loves Mary Jane, fights evil while trying to be a normal person, fails, then triumphs.

Yet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, takes that baggage and turns it into something truly incredible. It acknowledges the story that came before, the legends, the myths about Peter Parker and of that origin story and plays with it to great affect.

I love that this film centers on the origin story of Miles Morales, a Spider-Man from another universe, because his story is compelling and in a year where we've already been treated to the excellence of Black Panther, having another prominent superhero of color leading his own film is icing on the cake. Miles is another complicated, strong, resourceful character for any kid, and especially kids not used to seeing themselves on the screen, to look up to.

The film also features my other favorite inter-dimensional spider, Spider-Woman, or as she's more affectionately known, Spider-Gwen. She comes swinging in as a dance trained, badass, rock drummer. What I love about Spider-Gwen is that the shadow that hangs over the Gwen Stacys of the previous movies has been averted only to be the thing that isolates her from her peers. It's as if the tragic events that ripple through time and space had the same effect as if she had died like her counterparts.

The prevailing theme of the whole film is that the spiders, before they were sucked out of their worlds, thought they had to go through what they're going through all alone, that they could only exist as we have always known Spider-Man to try and exist, as apart from everyone so he can keep those he loves safe. This film opens up that world and challenges the idea of heroism as a solitary pursuit. It pushes the mythos of Spider-Man into teaching us much better about that line I mentioned before. They may be alone in their own worlds, but there are people out there who know exactly what they're going through and that found family can give them a strength and support they never had.

The animation for the film is astounding. The colors and movements and unrestricted abilities of the medium only serve to enhance the story. It allows for the movement of the characters to be as fluid as a spider can be and it allows for the dimension hoppers to keep the sense of style that exists in their own universes. Peni Parker and SP//dr are analogs for anime and manga style, Spider-Man Noir represents the hard-boiled grittiness of the black and white media of the 1930s, and Spider-Ham is the manic, reality stretching ideal of a cartoon character. The rendering of the animation incorporates these styles and has such a realistic feel to the surroundings and the faces of the characters. It also adds in beautiful elements of the comics style and lovingly pays homage to the creators of these characters.

The writing is whip smart, the dialogue and action often hilarious, but it never skimps on the pathos, or the real hard nitty gritty of life as a superhero. Miles loses, he almost loses everything as he fights without understanding how he can fight through. He keeps losing, but he learns to get up in the end. He learns to understand how to keep people close to him without putting them in danger.

Which brings me to the MVP of the film, and the MVP actor of this fall's movie slate, Miles' father Jeff Davis, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry. Davis is like all fathers, a source of embarrassment, discipline, and unconditional love, but what truly makes him special is the way he does everything he can to save his relationship with his son after a few too many authoritarian moves on his part. He comes to Miles and lets him into his mind, how he's always seen his son and that he knows he needs to tell him more, to be there more, to let Miles be Miles with his gentle hand on his shoulder for support. Every line reading Henry has he knocks out of the park, imbuing it with the kind of emotion that adds depth to a character and brings out the humanity in them. It's an incredible performance.

I'm on board for more of this world. I'm on board for Miles' further adventures and how his mentor Peter Parker can push past his own insecurities. I'm on board with this movie and I really hope you will be too. It's well worth the full theater experience and the depth of this one corner of a grand design that's far more character focused and gives very real depth to all the characters more than you expect.

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