The Marvel Cinematic Universe is like an amazing TV show that only puts out new episodes two or three times a year, and the rest of the time leaves it’s audience begging for more. Simply put, if you’re looking for anything Marvel in film, you go to the MCU and you ACTIVELY AVOID almost everything put out by Sony Pictures because why on Earth would I want to watch Andrew Garfield moodily skateboard when I could watch Tom Holland be delightful?
Except Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is from Sony Pictures, has absolutely nothing to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and somehow manages to be the best Spider-Man movie yet.
It’s okay, it was hard for me to accept at first too. You’re not alone. After Sony crapped out those Andrew Garfield films and decided to abort the whole thing two-thirds of the way through the trilogy in favor of a rumored Aunt May stand-alone movie and a Venom movie that didn’t star Spider-Man in any capacity, you’d be right to worry about anything Spider-Man related being in Sony Pictures’ incapable hands. Things have honestly been a mess since the third Sam Raimi film (starring the now infamous Emo Parker) and only by partnering with Marvel Studios and getting out of their way were Sony able to make Spider-Man: Homecoming into a very watchable film. But again, that had less to do with them and everything to do with Marvel Studios understanding their characters and what makes them great.
So how in the ‘VERSE did Sony Pictures make quite possibly the best Spider-Man movie that we’ve ever seen, and maybe even the best Marvel movie of 2018 in a year which saw the likes of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2?
It’s actually quite simple: they gave it to their animation team.
Sony Pictures Animation, despite having released last year’s abomination The Emoji Movie, has surprisingly made a number of really great films. Open Season, The Smurfs, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and even the lauded Hotel Transylvania franchise are all products of Sony Pictures Animation and if anybody at Sony was going to make a decent Spider-Man movie, it was destined to be them.
The first thing you’ll notice about Into the Spider-Verse is it’s incredibly unique art style. And I’ll admit: I wasn’t really a fan of this going in. If you examine the trailer, you’ll see the animation seems sort of choppy and almost resembles a motion-comic with a few more frames added in. This was a deliberate artistic choice to make the movie feel like a comic book come to life. And while 99% of the time this added to the aesthetic of the film, there were a couple of times I thought a more traditional animation style could have worked in the film’s favor. The fight scenes in the movie feel really frantic and a bit disjointed because of this art-style and it was personally a bit difficult to really process some of the action as it was happening because the animation lacked a lot of the smoothness we’ve become accustomed to as viewers.
But these little hiccups can be forgiven, because of the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. Into the Spider-Verse really does feel like a comic-book come to life, and the movie embraces it’s roots and plays on comic book tropes constantly. There are scenes broken down into panels, old-timey comic book dialogue boxes, and even the physical manifestation of Spider-Man’s beloved “thwip” sound effect from the comics when two of the Spider-Men are swinging around.
And yes I said two, because this movie is absolutely jampacked with various Spider-Men (and women!) and all are voiced perfectly by their respective voice actors and actresses. Shameik Moore is wonderful as Miles Morales, a name many comic book fans will recognize as the Ultimate Spider-Man brought to life in the alternate “Ultimates” universe where authors tried new spins on classic characters. Miles is basically the opposite of Peter Parker and that can be boiled down to a single character trait: Miles Morales is cool. He’s just as smart and capable as Peter Parker, but whereas Parker is known for being a huge dork, Miles balances that intellect with street smarts and charisma. In fact, a lot of the film’s conflict comes from Miles’ parents pushing him to succeed in a fancy school, when all he wants to do is embrace his inner artist and stay connected with his roots and the Uncle he idolizes.
New Girl’s Jake Johnson plays a great middle-aged Peter Parker who’s out of shape and down on his luck. It was refreshing to see a Peter Parker who was no longer a kid or young adult, considering that for most of his time in the comics he’s been older than the teenager he’s usually portrayed as in the films. Hailee Steinfeld plays the tough-as-nails version of Gwen Stacy that comic fans might know as “Spider-Gwen” sporting a super iconic look that might just be my favorite Spidey costume ever.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by the likes of Mahershala Ali, John Mulaney, Zoe Kravitz, Kimiko Glenn, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, and even Nicholas Cage himself having some fun and hamming it up as Spider-Man Noir. It’s the voice talents of legend Stan Lee though, that may hit fans the hardest. Into the Spider-Verse contains the first cameo for the Marvel juggernaut since his passing on November 12th and I have to say, it’s a bit sad. The cameo itself is nice and light-hearted and absolutely perfect at capturing Stan Lee’s sense of humor and mischief, but it stings nonetheless knowing that such cameos are now limited to the ones that he had pre-recorded prior to his passing. The film contains a nice dedication in the credits to both him and fellow Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko who passed in June of this year, which was a classy touch by the Sony Pictures Animation team.
The film isn’t shy about throwing emotional punches either. Make no mistake, though this is an animated film there are a lot of mature themes throughout and the film deals with some suprisingly heavy stuff (which I find myself saying almost every review these days as these seemingly innocent films set out to destroy me emotionally). The motivations of the villainous Kingpin almost make you sympathize with him, as he struggles to get back something important that he lost. And yes, Miles Morales even has his own version of the heart-wrenching “Uncle Ben” loss, wherein somebody close to him dies and inspires him to take action and become Spider-Man. For all of the jokes and silliness in the film, there is an equal amount of discussion on personal identity, living up to expectations, and coping with loss. This is the type of mature storytelling that children need, just as Miles Morales is the type of hero that children can idolize. The main point of the film is that nobody in particular is THE Spider-Man. Spider-Man isn’t a singular person, but it’s an idea that can be picked up and embraced by anyone wishing to help others in need. We can all be heroes according to Into the Spider-Verse, and that’s a lot more positive of a message than Infinity War saying you have to have magic powers or God-tier intellect to make a difference in the world.
Everything about the film comes together to create an absolute masterclass of a movie that makes me want to tear open a comic book for the first time in ages and see what I’ve been missing. The adventure is fun from beginning to end, hits all of the emotional story beats that make a film a classic, and is visually gorgeous to look at if you can get past the unique comic-book animation style. Sure the stakes maybe aren’t as high as something like Infinity War which we’ve all invested ten years of our lives into, but Into the Spider-Verse took artistic risks and tried to be something a little different in a time when Hollywood is still trying to figure out how to make an engaging movie based on the Monopoly board game because they’re completely out of ideas.
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