REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse [2018]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


Rating: PG | Runtime: 117 minutes | Release Date: December 14th, 2018 (USA)
Studio: Sony Pictures Animation / Columbia Pictures Corporation / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
Writer(s): Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman / Steve Ditko & Stan Lee and Brian Michael Bendis
& Sara Pichelli and David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky (characters)

“It’s just puberty”

You have to hand it to Sony for thinking outside the box. Not long ago they had the number one cinematic superhero property with Tobey Maguire donning the Spidey-suit to take on the Osborns. They tried to strike gold twice with a new “Amazing” iteration starring Andrew Garfield, but the results simply couldn’t compete with the creative and financial gains Marvel proper had with their Disney-backed universe. So they buckled. They made the compromise they said they never would and allowed the Spider-Man character to become an Avenger. Sony could have simply sat back and let the money roll in while Disney did the hard work and yet they stuck with it. They realized the breadth of material the Spider-Man comics spun and took a leap of faith.

It helps having a guy like Phil Lord getting things started with a screenplay (alongside his 22 Jump Street writer Rodney Rothman) that sought to throw convention out the door much like he and partner Christopher Miller did with The LEGO Movie. Add Peter Ramsey (of underrated Rise of the Guardians fame) and long-time art department mainstay Bob Persichetti to direct alongside Rothman and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was born—a sprawling, high-concept, 2D-halftone/3D-render hybrid animated feature bringing fan-favorite Spidey secret identity Miles Morales to life after years of speculation and rumor. It was the perfect decision to set the studio onto a fresh path removed from Disney’s while still allowing for some familiarity to ease audiences towards new possibilities with a little quantum entanglement fun.

That’s the key word: fun. There’s the self-deprecating variety that allowed (the first) Peter Parker (Chris Pine) to provide us a quick historical montage with glimpses of Maguire’s wall-crawler in good times (train heroics) and bad (the dance). There’s the constant throwing of comics depicting each alternate Spider-Man onscreen to spark yet another set of origin Cliff’s Notes with tongue-in-cheek banter to accompany some inspired variations on the theme. And there’s also the casting of Jake Johnson as an aged and demoralized (second) Peter “B.” Parker with all the traits that have made the actor a film and television commodity. Who better than a selfish, disinterested, and self-pitying hero to show Miles (Shameik Moore) the ropes? Who better than Miles to jumpstart his broken man’s rejuvenation?

So how does a second Peter Parker become Miles’ “teacher” once the first is gone? That would be the work of Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn)—or at least a side effect of their work. While they try and create a bridge between alternate realities for a surprisingly poignant reason, their machine causes an earthquake-level collision that leaves remnants of buildings behind like Cubist sculptures as well as a handful of Spideys. Accompanying Parker on this impromptu journey are Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) with her jaeger-like spider-powered robot, and the merriest of slapstick melodies Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). They all need Fisk to turn the machine back on so they can escape home before glitching into oblivion.

To allow such a potential catastrophe to occur, however, means they also must have a plan to destroy the bridge. It’s simple: somebody stays behind and sacrifices him/herself for the others to survive. Or … Miles can be the one to do it since this chaos is happening on his earth. The problem there is that he literally just acquired his abilities the previous day. Not only can he not seem to disengage his sticky fingers from whatever they touch, he has powers the others have never seen and thus couldn’t begin to help him wield effectively. So it’s up to him to find the courage to make it all work in time. It’s up to Miles to embrace his inner hero and save the day.

And beneath that straightforward plot device is a core message for the misfits and outsiders out there who believe themselves to be alone. The Spideys have lived with this feeling for years as their respective Earth’s solitary guardians doing everything to honor fallen loved ones and protect those still alive. Miles on the other hand has just recently taken residence on his proverbial island thanks to testing out of the public school his friends attend and onto a private campus with a much more severe atmosphere. Add his age’s penchant for drifting away from parents (Brian Tyree Henry‘s policeman Jefferson) and towards less savory characters (Mahershala Ali‘s Uncle Aaron) and you have a teenager who thinks he’s lost his identity when really he’s just starting to find it.

It’s amazing to watch that progression without the same old spiel we’ve suffered three times already. A Spider-Man with loving parents who embarrass him with displays of affection? An Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) in the mold of a badass Alfred Pennyworth? A rejection of a strict STEM background to give the character a flair for artistic genius? Yes, yes, and yes. For too long the studio has attempted to rework an old origin tale to whatever present their film was being made despite Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli‘s Miles Morales being right there to deliver one that was wholly new. This makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse about representation beyond only race. Finally the current generation exists onscreen as more than a layer of polish atop the last.

To this point also comes an evolutionary leap in animation style lending a living comic book aesthetic to stunningly composed action sequences unafraid to play with perspective or gravity. We’re flying through the air behind Miles and gang—through cell frames and under Spidey-sense thought rectangles before stopping for shallow focus static shots using double exposure to lend a 2D feel to out-of-focus fringes. It’s simply a gorgeously wild ride of adventure, excitement, and pathos. It’s about making the sacrifices no matter how defeated you feel, getting back up after being put down not to prove them wrong but to prove yourself right. And with crazy, kaleidoscopic lava lamp intensity waiting to bust out against a contemporary soundtrack, you’ll be hard-pressed to shake the smile from your face.


photography:
[1] Peni (Kimiko Glen), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) in Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Photo By: Sony Pictures Animation © 2018 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.**ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[2] Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Photo By: Sony Pictures Animation © 2018 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.**ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[3] Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation’s SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Photo By: Sony Pictures Animation © 2018 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.**ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

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