Review: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is a loving tribute to the superhero's history and the many forms it has taken since its debut.

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Following years of careless creative and business decisions on the part of Sony revolving around the Spider-Man property, from their clashes with Sam Raimi on Spider-Man 3, to the shameless incompetence of The Amazing Spider-Man series, to even this year’s hilariously pathetic attempt to further spin-off this franchise with Venom, there are numerous reminders why the iconic web-slinger should go on hiatus. But for every embarrassing mishap that has befallen the hero, there also exists an overwhelmingly vibrant incarnation of the hero that reminds us why audiences stick with him through even his worst outings.

Since Tobey Maguire first excited audiences in Raimi’s original films to  now seeing the youthful energy Tom Holland gives the character in Spider-Man: HomecomingAvengers: Infinity War, to the unbridled glee of swinging through New York City in Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4, all of these positive experiences seemingly culminate with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. A colorful, character-driven embrace of every corner of this beloved character’s long, storied legacy and everything that Spider-Man was meant to stand for, it cements 2018 as “The Year of Spider-Man” while honoring one of Stan Lee’s most beloved creations.

All throughout the history of comics, alternate versions of prolific superheroes have been allowed to exist and tell stories outside the norm of what we typically know these characters to be, giving artists the freedom to explore these characters through different lenses and genres. However, across all of the various film iterations of Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman that we’ve seen over the decades, we’ve only ever seen the same basic versions of these characters time and time again, meanwhile countless alternate versions of these characters and stories continue to exist in comics without even being hinted at in Hollywood blockbusters. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse is the first cinematic acknowledgement of a Spider-Man outside of Peter Parker, which could hopefully become a gateway to bringing these unique yet lesser-known stories and characters into the mainstream.

Into the Spider-verse centers on the origins of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) as Spider-Man this time around, as a portal between dimensions is opened, teaming him up with the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) to teach him the ropes of being a superhero, along with other spider-enhanced beings from alternate universes including former girlfriend of Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) as Spider-Gwen, a 1940’s black-and-white private detective, Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), anime-inspired Japanese schoolgirl Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) along with her spider-powered mecha, and best of all, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig with the powers of a spider. Together, they must work together to defeat the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and return back home to their own universes before their dimensions collapse.

Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse Still 2

Even by judging from the very first teaser trailer, the most immediately impressive aspect of Into the Spiderverse is its art style and animation techniques. The cell-shaded art style not only allows it to stand out within the current landscape of homogenous CG animated family films, but also stylistically adheres to the medium in which they intend to send up. The overall aesthetic of the world is meant to emulate the art style of comic book illustrations, giving it an authentic comic book feeling to it. It is also capable of adapting to different art styles to better suit specific characters such as anime for Peni or the Looney Tunes-esque animation for Spider-Ham. From a craftsmanship standpoint, watching all of these characters of various art styles behaving and interacting with each other and the world around them is a technical feat of animation. Even during the climactic battle with all of the heroes and villains facing off in an effects-heavy multidimensional environment, which undoubtedly would have looked like an incoherent cluster of CGI in live-action, manages to be a vibrantly colorful and eye-popping spectacle of digital artistry.

With great power comes great responsibility – where at times the property has struggled  to uphold the legacy of the character, Spider-verse serves as a loving tribute to the many versions of Spider-Man

Not only does Into the Spiderverse succeed solely on the basis of its impressive visuals and surface-level entertainment but it also gives a surprising amount of emotional pathos to its central characters as well as Spider-Man’s legacy as a whole. Peter Parker, as a character, at this point has become so synonymous with being Spider-Man that it almost feels predestined, which is the complete opposite of what Stan Lee had intended for the character. He intentionally wanted an average everyday teenager to be given these amazing powers almost by accident, as a way of showing that anyone could have become Spider-Man.

This film’s showcase of the many alternate universe versions of Spider-Man only help to reinforce that notion that literally anyone can have the power to be Spider-Man, from a black Brooklyn teenager, to a Japanese schoolgirl, to even a talking cartoon pig, heroism knows no limitations. It captures that childlike awe and inspiration that we are supposed to feel towards our superheroes while still maintaining their interpersonal humanity in a way that hasn’t been done as well since Sam Raimi’s own Spider-Man, along with its sequel.  

Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse Still 3

If there’s one element of Into the Spider-verse that could have been slightly stronger, it would be the villain. For a film that fully dives into the deepest corners of interdimensional comic book weirdness, having the villain be Kingpin, the most basic street level villain in Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery, seems like somewhat of a missed opportunity to focus more on a lesser known interdimensional villain as opposed to one that has already been portrayed in media in the recent past with his appearance as the first boss in Spider-Man for PS4 and Vincent D’Onofrio’s take on the character in the Daredevil Netflix series.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is an unabashed love letter to every facet of Spider-Man’s history, from the silliest memes to the most reverent and inspiring notions that represent everything that the character was meant to stand for. Both in terms of the film’s overall quality, as well the quality of its animation, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse embodies the distinction of being the best animated film of the year, and hopefully, it can be honored as such at this year’s Academy Awards.

SUMMARY

+ Loving tribute to Spider-Man’s legacy + Jaw-dropping blend of animation styles - Could have used a better villain - Tobey Maguire isn’t playing Peter Parker
Mike Pisacano
Mike Pisacanohttp://www.beforethecyborgs.com
Mike is a contributing writer for Before the Cyborgs. A journalism graduate from SUNY Purchase, he has a passion for watching films and writing criticism. Follow him on Letterboxd (mike_pisacano) where you can keep track of his film watching habits

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