Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

There’s this Ira Glass quote I really love. What Glass says boils down to the notion that people who he works with get into the work they do because they recognize great work; they have good taste. But as with any artist, seeing and doing are totally separate exercises. Even the best of any particular field, as inspired as they are by their professional forebears, start out doing mediocre work. But the more they practice, the more they understand their craft, the more refined they are. And if they can’t quite emulate their heroes, they’re hopefully making work that is uniquely them.

Certainly, Miles Morales is hardly bereft of good taste. A Spider-Man devotee turned into a Spider-Man himself, opening up a whole world of Spiders-People. With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman take the pubescent allegory of Spider-Man to a whole other level, laying out a world of possibilities as the young Miles explores his place in the so-called Spider-Verse, seeing just who he could be, and trying in fits and starts to live up to his arachnid-infused idol. Not to mention that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with a look like nothing else, with an ambitious and clever take on such a vast mythology, and a story that never forgets to be human.

Adolescent Brooklyn native Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is, in some keys ways, the anti-Peter Parker. On one hand, he is an obviously bright kid who doesn’t have many immediate opportunities. On the other, Miles isn’t all that interested in seizing those opportunities. Where Peter wants to fit in, Miles would rather express himself through street art and tagging. Instead, egged on by his dad Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and mom Rio (Luna Lauren Morez), Miles is headed off to a new school that will better serve him intellectually, but Miles is alienated by his affluent classmates, save for the other new kid Gwanda (Hailee Steinfeld).

Miles does have one avid supporter in his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). One night, while asking for advice on how to talk to girls and spray painting an abandoned subway terminal. In the first of many conveniences, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider. Soon after, symptoms of the bite begin to manifest, which Miles is unable to control; this includes everything from walking on walls to getting his sticky hand trapped in Gwanda’s hair in front of their classmates. Eventually, Miles returns to the station, and stumbles onto a massive particle accelerator, where he finds Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Chris Pine) fending off Green Goblin and Prowler. When the accelerator’s builder Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) joins the fray and attempts to activate the machine, Spider-Man is able to destroy the accelerator for now, but badly injures himself in the fallout, and Miles is forced to watch as Kingpin kills Spider-Man, but not before Miles is given a USB drive that will permanently deactivate the accelerator that he breaks almost immediately.

Spider-Man, being popular among citizens–save folks like Jefferson–is mourned by his fellow New Yorkers. Despite having little grasp on what he is doing, Miles buys a cheap Spider-Man costume, in a gambit to take up Spidey’s mantel. While visiting Spider-Man’s grave, however, Miles is startled by none other than Spider-Man/Peter B. Parker in the flesh (this time voiced by Jake Johnson). After a near miss with the cops, we learn that this Peter Parker has come from a timeline sometime in the future, where things are not going so smoothly for Peter. Aunt May is dead. MJ ( has left him–largely because MJ wants kids and Peter is worried he won’t be a good father. He’s living alone and not taking care of himself. The new Peter is far removed from the Boy Scout version that Miles has known.

The two deduce that, when Kingpin activated the particle accelerator, he opened a rift that brought this new Peter to Miles’s timeline. So, they resolve to get Peter back to his original timeline. After a close call with Doc Oc/Dr. Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hahn), the two are aided, in their quest to replace the crushed USB drive, by Spider-Gwen (read: Gwanta), who is also from another dimension. And, owing to a visit to a still-kicking Aunt May (Lily Tomlin), we learn a few other Spideys have been thrown in the mix, as well: namely Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), the robot team of Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and psychic spider-operated SP//dr, as well as Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mulaney). Should they fail to get back to their own dimensions in time, they’ll all be erased from existence. And as much as Miles wants to join up with them, they all know he just isn’t ready yet. But nevertheless, Miles persists.

And really, nearly every character in Into the Spider-Verse struggles with being in their proper place at the right time. Sometimes that’s as simple as getting a Spider-Person back to their own world, but sometimes that’s Peter learning to be a mentor to Miles. Even Wilson Fisk is humanized, attempting to find an alternate universe where he can be with his deceased wife and son–who died in an accident fleeing Fisk after witnessing him about to murder Spider-Man. Fisk just won’t own up to his own culpability in the loss of his family—and really, who can blame him?

In all likelihood, Into the Spider-Verse might be the strongest character study of any superhero film since The Incredibles. Miles is a hungry, passionate kid. He wants to be out on his own, and to be capable. Yet, like any young person on the onset of adulthood, Miles overreaches. He bites off more than he can chew. And only after suffering through some very adult ordeals is Miles able to rise to the challenge of getting his Spider-Colleagues home. Admittedly, the moment that Miles does finally gain control of his abilities is rush, and feels more like the movie needing to move on. And while certain coincidences are acceptable to get the story going, that crucial turn is so sudden, and is consequently unearned. This is otherwise the only real flaw in an impeccably crafted film.

What the film does get right is the self-reflexive commentary on blockbuster franchises, like that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man is not only a known entity, his likeness is used for profit; Stan Lee even sells Miles a crummy Spider-Man outfit early in the film–which Miles wears for most of the film. We’re constantly aware of yet another Spider-Man movie, one that exists concurrently with the MCU’s live action series. What’s so great, and an idea that pervades most of the film, is the notion of choice. There isn’t just one Spider-Person. There isn’t one definitive canon; God only knows how muddy and disorienting the overarching narrative of the comics is. The joy of characters like Spider-Man is that no one has to select a Spider-Man. Be they Miles Morales or Gwen Stacy or Peter Porker, each new iteration or interpretation of Spider-Man will likely deviate, in some capacity, from the version prior. Why not lean into that and explore the myriad of things Spider-Man can be?

Even if the story or meta-commentary had been garbage, Into the Spider-Verse is a beautiful film, one that captures an adoring comic book aesthetic better than any other film of the genre–there are panels and everything. The look itself is also the most comic book-like animation ever produced, existing somewhere between hand-drawn and three-dimensionally rendered. Characters pop against each meticulously constructed setting,  weaving through trees, through buildings, and inter-dimensional bedlam. The film also applies this treatment to moments from earlier Spider-Man movies–most notably the train scene from Spider-Man 2Into the Spider-Verse is so stylish, so colorful, and so audacious that there’s never a dull moment. The set pieces are thrilling, yet more legible than most action films. This direction also lends a soulful quality to more intimate moments–such as a one-sided heart-to-heart Jefferson has with Miles late in the film. For as much as Into the Spider-Verse relishes the design and kinesis, those flourishes never get in the way of the story.

Most importantly, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse captures the joy of comic books. Where most of the Marvel movies made feel like well-realized characters against the same beige template, Into the Spider-Verse is alive and exciting. There’s a sense of presence, as well as a sense of humanity to every person–and having an all-star cast doesn’t hurt, either. Miles Morales’s journey into Spider-Manhood is, superheroism aside, a universal one. Some things, sadly, can only be understood through experience, which is the most important revelation in adulthood. Growing up never really ends; one is constantly reminded of how little they know, and how ill-equipped they are to handle the most trying of times. But Miles is too stubborn to quit, and with a resolve to do good unto others, he’s got the right idea.

Rating – 8.9/10


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