Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is having a tough time, unhappy with having been sent away to school by his cop father (Brian Tyree Henry) and only really connecting with his “bad influence” Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). But when Miles gets bitten by a radioactive spider in a subway tunnel one night, he quickly has to cope with his overwhelming new abilities and soon discovers that Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has built an interdimensional portal that could bring chaos and destruction to the city. Miles must master his newfound talents, become the new Spider-Man, and destroy Kingpin’s machine, all the while getting help from several other versions of Spider-Man that have appeared from different dimensions, including the washed up and despondent Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and the cool, confident Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld).
A major release for the end of 2018, Into the Spider-Verse has been generating a lot of positive buzz for quite a while now and early reactions have appeared to be incredibly positive – some saying that this is the best superhero film of the year and others proclaiming it to be the best Spider-Man film there’s been so far. Well, I usually look on these claims with a certain degree of cynicism, believing that “film Twitter” tends to exaggerate these things sometimes but in this case, I believe that the hype is entirely justified because Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is an absolutely incredible, amazing film that has so much going for it and it just does everything right. I may just take the plunge and say that it’s . . . perfect.
Because while, on the surface, it’s an enjoyable, fun and exciting piece of cinema entertainment, it deftly balances the thrills with plenty of humour, proper emotional stakes and the occasional dark moment, giving us a very clever and remarkably multi-layered film. The humour works perfectly as it’s never too silly or childish (even with a cartoon pig character in the mix!) and the witty dialogue works perfectly, given life by its talented cast. And in a similar vein to The Lego Batman Movie, though in a slightly subtler way, Spider-Verse immediately announces itself to be gleefully self aware and metatextual, poking fun of several incarnations of the popular hero, including the animated series and his Christmas single. All in all, this is a genuinely funny film and the humour is well placed.
It also helps that the film has an exciting and epic story that’s perfectly easy to understand and enjoy and while the plot gives the cinema audience plenty of bang for their buck, the characterisation is thankfully very strong too and the film has proper emotional stakes. Refreshingly, there’s some decent motivation for the main antagonist and as for the group of heroes, they all have to deal with loss and to “find the strength within themselves” to become who they were meant to be – even, surprisingly, Spider-Ham in an unexpectedly moving moment! Characters like Miles and Peter go on compelling journeys throughout the film – Miles has some moments with his father and uncle while Peter goes on a “redemption arc” as he gets his act together and becomes a friend and mentor to Miles – and overall, the emotional beats of the film are incredibly effective, given life by the film’s pitch perfect script without ever appearing maudlin or manipulative.
Another huge selling point of the film is the animation and, believe me, it’s worth your time. Combining computer animation with hand drawn designs (even including subtle imperfections to mimic well-worn comic books), the animation is spectacular and epic, it seems to use every colour of the spectrum, everything on screen just flows so smoothly and at the end of the day, this is a refreshing brand of animation that we haven’t really seen that much of before, managing to also blend such styles as anime, noir and Acme style cartoons together spectacularly. Setting the story in the style of a comic book was an inspired idea and the film has fun when it includes onscreen comic book style text/dialogue, paying loving homage to its roots and giving us a film which is the ideal example of a comic book come to life. Ultimately, animation is the perfect medium in which to tell this colourful and epic adventure story.
Not having done any “prep research” before the film, wanting to be surprised, I really had no idea of just which actors lent their voices to this film and as the credits started to roll, I was absolutely amazed by just how many famous faces (or “voices”, I should say) were in this film! The film does indeed have a starry cast and they all help to bring the film to life quite marvellously and in the leading role of Miles Morales, the half Latino, half African-American protagonist (2018 has been a stellar year for combating underrepresentation of minorities in film), Shameik Moore brings plenty of youthful energy to the role and utterly convinces as a troubled fifteen year old; he works well with the warm comedy and convincingly shows pain, sadness and determination throughout. Alongside, Jake Johnson (though I was SO sure it was Jonah Hill!) brings most of the laughs as the past-his-prime, sweatpants wearing Peter B. Parker, confidently acting as the swaggering wiseass most of the time but gradually maturing as he becomes the strong, caring and trustworthy mentor to young Miles. Plus, Hailee Steinfeld is ideally cast as Gwen Stacy, making her an incredibly cool, kickass heroine who we really get to like and admire.
Elsewhere, Brian Tyree Henry and Mahershala Ali are both excellent and incredibly cool as Miles’ father and uncle, giving the film those remarkably tender and emotional moments, Liev Schreiber is properly menacing and intimidating as the behemoth Wilson Fisk, Kathryn Hahn is delightfully wicked and maniacal as [I’m not going to mention who she plays – it should be a surprise!], Lily Tomlin is a great, no-nonsense Aunt May, John Mulaney has a blast channeling Mel Blanc in his role of Peter Porker/Spider-Ham, Chris Pine (seriously, NO IDEA he was in it!) is terrific as the Peter Parker of Miles’ universe – really strong and charismatic – and Nicolas Cage is a big ol’ scene stealer as Spider-Man Noir. One of his most memorable roles!
There’s also a post-credits scene – so stick around for it!
So in conclusion, the hype surrounding this film is entirely justified because Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse just gets everything right. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s funny and it seamlessly blends so many elements together with a story that is expertly written and it’s one that will entertain, make you laugh and make you cry. This is an adventure you don’t want to miss.
R.I.P. Stan Lee.