Written by David Holland
This was my second viewing of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. I remember liking it the first time, but I didn’t remember a ton of specifics. Going into it, I expected to have fun on my rewatch and find a few things to write about when I was done.
Holy Leaping Arachnids, Spider-Man!
Most comic book movies have the goal of appealing to a broad audience and making a bunch of money. A few comic book movies push the boundary of what you can do in the medium and lead the way for others to follow in their wake. “The Dark Knight” sparked a conversation about whether comic book movies could be serious and realistic. “Deadpool” and “Logan” were mainstream comic book movies that challenged the traditional “PG-13” rating. “Spider-Verse” belongs in that conversation with comic book movies that we will look back on years from now and say “This one changed the game.”
Let me take a moment to talk about symbolism and metaphor. Name tags play an important role in this movie. Miles Morales slaps them in various places around the city as street art. They make a reappearance in Aunt May’s shed as she says “You might need these” in reference to the multiple Spider-People in their group. A name tag is the answer to a simple question: Who are you? But for Miles that question isn’t always easy. “Spider-Man” has always been an allegory for adolescence, and the question of identity is central to that stage of life – “Who am I now and who will I become?”
In the comics and Maguire/Garfield film versions, Peter Parker’s Spider-Man had to go through this identity crisis on his own, and we do see Miles struggling with his newfound powers in the hilarious “It’s just puberty!” bit. But “Spider-Verse” shows us a new way to address the identity question: Together. Peter B. Parker, while struggling through his own issues, becomes Miles’ flawed mentor. Before long, Gwen, Peni, Peter Porker, and Spider Noir are all teaching Miles in their own (still flawed) ways. But this is not just a story about Miles’ growth. Each Spider-Person has their own journey beginning with the exact same sentiment: “I thought I was the only one”. So much of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man run is about his isolation as Spider-Man, and that’s part of the adolescence metaphor. But Miles’ story isn’t Peter’s story. His entrance into the role of Spider-Man comes with the support of others. Miles purchases a classic Spider-Man costume to hide his identity. When he is worried that it won’t fit, the cashier (Stan Lee cameo) tells him “It always fits – eventually”. While he wears this costume, Miles struggles to control his powers and, more importantly, to believe that he can be Spider-Man. Only when he take’s Peter’s suit from the shed and makes it his does he fully step into the role.
That’s a lot for what is usually a pretty short section of these reviews, so let me rattle off a few more quick things that knocked my Spider-socks off in this movie. First, the animation. Miles’ art is central to his character, and the animation style contributes to this by making the entire movie look like a work of art. The upside-down fall moment became an iconic one but there are so many frames in this movie that are just pure artistic flexes. Second, the voice work. No expense was spared to bring in truly talented voice actors. Most of all, Shameik Moore absolutely crushes the role of Miles Morales. Obviously if this role didn’t work, the film wouldn’t work. But every voice actor in “Spider-Verse” kills it, which must be a testament to both the actors’ skills and the director. Third, this movie hits all of the fundamentals. Pacing, comedy, planting/payoff, emotional resonance – none of these are sacrificed.
Finally, let’s talk about representation. I love all of my live action Peter Parkers, I do. But seeing a story featuring Miles Morales as Spider-Man supported by Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman is incredibly meaningful. The absolute, unquestioned success of this film should lay to rest (again) the question of whether a comic book movie that doesn’t feature a white man can be successful.
If your suspension of disbelief in an animated movie was already dangling by a thread, then maybe Peni, Peter Porker, and Spider-Noir were a bridge too far for you. I guess I could understand that, even if I disagree.
The collider fight becomes so trippy that it gets hard to understand where everything is spatially. Other than that, this movie is poignant, fun, and thrilling. Sometimes I have to reach for things to put in the “What Didn’t Work” section, and I’m not going to bother with this movie. It’s too good.
“Spider-Verse” is near perfect. I want more movies in this series, and I want a “Spider-Verse” cinematic universe of spinoffs!