Note: This is a SPOILER-FREE column that celebrates Spider-Man: Intro the Spider-Verse
This past weekend I took my son (in conjunction with my brother-from-another-mother taking his son who is my son’s bff… you dig?) to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It was, to sum up succinctly, all the things. It was a visual spectacle. It was deeply diverse in the on-screen cast. It was kinetic in its action sequences. It was heavy on emotional growth. It was a nearly perfect example of what a comic book film could truly be.
As comic book films have grown from niche to the mainstream, my fear has been a dulling of the medium in the macro. Look only to the house of Mouse and Marvel’s 4 phase plan that started with plucky films like Iron Man and period-pieces like Captain America: The First Avenger, all leading to the beautifully bloated Avengers: Infinity War — which itself relies on the eighteen feeder films before it. And with Spider-Man specifically… the Spider-Verse would be (to a degree) the fourth version of the brand in less than 16 years.
But my fears scattered like Thanos-born ashes mere seconds after the glitchy-twitchy introduction of Spider-Verse’s mix-n-match animated style. Brilliantly bright colors build a stylized version of New York that took 180 animators to build. And it absolutely shows. Each of the varied Spider-People that eventually populate the film are rendered hilariously in homage to the worlds that they hail from. Be it the Manga-inspired Peni Parker being animated within the confines of an anime-palette, or Nic Cage’s turn as the monochromatic Spider-Man Noir… there’s a serendipitous presentation here that boasts to the millennial set that style is only surface-deep. And that plays heavily into the story.
Over the 117 minute film, we’re thrust head-first into the life of Miles Morales. By the end of act one, no fewer than 4 Spider-people populate the screen. By the second act, that inflates to a proper sextet of Spiders, waging war for their respective realities against an equal number of rogues — albeit luckily not always all-at-once so-as to render our minds mushy trying to follow along. Miles remains our POV character, which itself is a boon to the flick. As Marvel will need to deal with the concept of legacy in the not-too-distant future… Into the Spider-Verse actually presents potential solutions to that problem in spades.
Where some films might choose to tie a ribbon around the concept of multiple realities and explore it— declaring its plausibility with a plethora of pseudo-science — here the concept is thrown out in a second screen experience (it’s literally shown to the characters and audience by way of a high school class watching a video about it) and simply accepted as canon. Various rules and plot-points are hung off the thread, and the movie is never marred by a need to over-explain. In short? It’s about as comic book-y as I’ve ever seen a comic book movie dare to be. Here’s the sublime. Sublime? Meet ridiculous. Now dance!
Is the film ultimately flawless as I’m making it out to be? Not entirely. With as much that needs to be established, explored, and eventually resolved… there’s a few points in time where we as an audience are asked to take a real leap of faith concerning the speed at which the plot advances. There’s a reveal part-way through the film that comes within inches of earning the gravitas it desired to have. The villains and their motivations are left a tad lacking (where even a single fleshed out scene might have put the cherry on top). And, if I’m being selfish? As great as Miles Morales is in the film… ultimately there’s still too much meat left on the bones for us to fully embrace Mr. Morales as much as I think the filmmakers wanted us to. I say that of course, after my six year old was quick to tell me that Miles is now his favorite Spider-Man, and he wants to go to the comic book shop to get some books with him in it. So, just go ahead of cancel any negative feelings mentioned above. I’m kvelling a bit.
Ultimately (natch) Into the Spider-Verse is a leading contender for one of my favorite comic book movies of all time. Taking all that we comic book nerds love, re-imagining it into a medium, and then showcasing how film can do things comics can’t (and comics can do things books can’t, etc.) leaves the audience exhausted in the best way. It’s no surprise of course, that behind this film is the same guy(s) behind Lego Batman, another amazing adaptation that somehow not only did much the same as Spidey did here, but also did so while being forced into essentially moonlighting as it’s own piece of merchandising propaganda. Should Phil Lord and Chris Miller ever make a comic book animated feature with Brad Bird? I’ll buy tickets to watch that flick every day for a month. But I digress.
Thwip your way into a theater to give this web a spin. You won’t be disappointed.