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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

December 14, 2018 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review  

Directed By: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman
Written By: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman; Based on the Marvel comics and characters created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli
Runtime: 117 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language

Shameik Moore – Miles Morales/Spider-Man
Jake Johnson – Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man
Hailee Steinfeld – Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman
Liev Schreiber – Wilson Fisk/Kingpin
Kathryn Hahn – Dr. Olivia Octavius/Doc Ock
Brian Tyree Henry – Jefferson Davis
Mahershala Ali – Aaron Davis
John Mulaney – Peter Porker/Spider-Ham
Nicholas Cage – Spider-Man Noir
Kimiko Glenn – Peni Parker
Lily Tomlin – Aunt May
Zoë Kravitz – Mary Jane
Luna Lauren Velez – Rio Morales
Lake Bell – Vanessa Fisk
Jorma Taccone – Green Goblin
Joaquín Cosio – Scorpion
Marvin Jones III – Tombstone
Chris Pine – Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse marks the first big screen animated feature into the world of the legendary Wall-Crawler. It’s a highly stylized, unique action-adventure romp that captures the feeling of becoming Spider-Man and offers up a fresh story involving Miles Morales, who later donned the mantle of Spider-Man in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man.

Young Miles Morales (Moore) is a budding artist who is transferring over to an upper-class private school in Brooklyn, much to his chagrin. His police officer father, Jefferson (Henry), is a stern but reasonable man who is trying to push his son further, but Miles is more interested creating his graffiti art design and wanting to go back to his old school.

One night, Miles meets up with his family’s estranged uncle, Aaron Davis (Ali), and they go where Miles can tag a wall in an underground, secluded area of Brooklyn. It is here where Miles has an unwitting encounter with an Alchemax spider, which bites Miles eventually granting him similar powers to Spider-Man, along with some other unique abilities.

After Miles’ spider powers start manifesting, he attempts to return to the scene of the spider bite only to discover the area is not far from a massive battle between Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and the Prowler. This Spider-Man is Peter Parker. It’s a Peter Parker in his 20s who has been on the job for about a decade and is still in the prime of his life. Things are going well for him until this one slip-up. Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) is attempting to activate a SuperCollider to open other dimensions. After being gravely injured by the fallout from the device, Peter gives Miles a special kill key to disable the device as reactivating it could destroy the entire city. Unfortunately, this is the one battle Spider-Man was not able to walk away from, and Miles now feels its his duty to pick up where Peter Parker left off and assume the role of Spider-Man.

However, Kingpin’s SuperCollider had some strange side effects as it pulls in denizens from other dimensions, including another Spider-Man. This is Peter B. Parker (Johnson), who is the Spider-Man in his dimension, except while Chris Pine’s Peter was like the idyllic version of the webhead, Jake Johnson’s Peter has been whacked over a lot more with that “Typical Parker Luck.” This version of Peter Parker is older, more jaded and cynical than the one who died, but he is still Spider-Ma. After a rather painful meet cute between the alternate Peter and Miles at the other Peter’s grave, they then form a reluctant mentor-student partnership in order to destroy the SuperCollider and return Peter back to his dimension.

Co-directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman have created an impressive, rousing animated adventure with Spider-Verse. The film has imbued with a unique style all of its own. There has never been a CG animated feature that looks quite like this before. The animation looks like a mix of comic book and pop graffiti art brought to life onscreen.

Considering Miles’ love for graffiti art mixed with a classic, iconic comic book style, this makes Spider-Verse a more thrilling, unique visualization that’s usually never utilized by CG animated features. The appearance of the other Spider heroes later in the film also allows the animators to showcase different animated visual styles. Peni Parker (Glenn) resembles a 2D anime style, Spider-Ham (Mulaney) is reminiscent of classic Warner Bros. cartoons and Noir (Cage) is drawn all in black-and-white and visualized in a 1930s hard-boiled, pulp style.

The main drawback to the animation for Spider-Verse that, at times, the look is visually jarring. Sometimes the character movement looks a bit choppy and less fluid. Additionally, the visual looks is akin to that effect of looking at magazine or comic book art with a magnifying glass. So, the screen is filled with Ben-Day dots, and the edges of models are doubled over. This makes the film experience similar to watching a 3D film without the 3D glasses.

Where the style excels is the use of comic book-esque panels, word balloons and sound effect text to really underscore amazing, kinetic action scenes or the backstory interludes. The filmmakers use a comic book editing style that’s way more effective for Spider-Verse than say the Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie. That style backfired there because the editing didn’t really match what was happening onscreen. They were at odds. In Spider-Verse, the comic book editing is completely in-sync with the story.

Sadly, one thing that Spider-Verse emphasizes is how much of a tragedy it is that Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk will likely never meet Tom Holland’s Peter Parker on film or have Kingpin in a live-action Spidey movie in the foreseeable future. That said, one of the greatest aspects for Spider-Verse is the ability to once again showcase Kingpin as a rogue for Spider-Man.

Kingpin, who originated as a Spider-Man rogue, finally returns as a heavy for the Wall-Crawler. Liev Schreiber puts in a great vocal performance for Wilson Fisk, who is given an appropriate, unique and larger-than-life design for the story. Fortunately, if this is the one time Kingpin gets to appear as a villain in a Spidey film, the directors and writers definitely made it count.

The main drawback to the story is that due to the nature of the narrative, everything has to happen and change rather quickly, as there is a ticking clock at work. Everything happens and changes for Miles rather quickly. There isn’t very much time to let the plot breathe a little. It seems like there could’ve been a little more time to underscore Peter and Miles’ relationship as that’s the central bond and relationship.

As entertaining as it is to have the other Spider heroes in the story, their appearance takes a lot of focus away from Miles and Peter. While Miles emerging as a hero and carrying on the legacy of Spider-Man is the main point, the second and third acts get a bit mired in establishing subplots for the likes of Spider-Woman, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir and Pani Parker.

While Spider-Ham, Pani and Noir are incredibly entertaining and visually interesting to watch, they are very much tertiary, borderline background characters. They are little more than comic relief, mostly one-note gags and easily could’ve been cut from this story. Gwen Stacy (Steinfeld) at least seemed to have some actual agency and a place within the story throughout the entire runtime.

The humor in Spider-Verse works really well. Since this is a hyper-stylized animated film, writers co-writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman are able to get away with quite a bit in terms of lots of fourth wall-breaking humor and meta-jokes. This is a universe that’s very much aware of the Spider-Man mythos and plays around with that, such as a pointed poke at one of the more infamous scenes from Spider-Man 3. Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller imbued a similar post-modern self-referential style found in The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman movie, but it’s dialed down a few degrees and works very well.

Spider-Verse does a really great job of pushing the everyman, coming-of-age story through Miles. This is an origin story, but mixing in the other Spider Heroes, along with an older and more jaded Peter as his mentor, really do a good job of underscoring Miles’ journey as upholding the legacy of Spider-Man. Frankly, Spider-Verse even manages to hit certain emotional notes even better than Marvel Studios’ own Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an exceptional, rousing and heroic adventure that will likely satisfy fans of the legendary Wall-Crawler both young and old. The film works as a refreshing type of origin story for Miles Morales and the filmmakers have offered a visual style that's never really been seen before with a CG animated picture. All viewers are highly recommended to stay through the entire credits.