Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
(USA, 117 min.)
Dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman; Writ. Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake B. Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage
A few years ago, two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field described her experience playing Aunt May in one of the Spider-Man reboots, saying, “You can’t put ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.” Unfortunately, that’s what far too many of these superhero movies try to do. Between putting lipstick on a pig and cramming poop into a sack, comic book movies often take themselves too seriously and forget why people are drawn to superheroes and crazy villains. Comics are great entertainment. They’re escapism and opportunities for anyone to dive behind the mask of a hero and have some fun while saving the world—and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Spider-Verse is yet another superhero origins story, but it knows how many times audiences have had the tale of Peter Parker’s metamorphosis into Spider-Man hammered into their brains. This time, the story features a Peter Parker-like character, Miles Morales (voice by Shameik Moore), who shares his predecessor’s awkwardness, charm, and habit of being bitten by radioactive spiders. But Miles’ birth as Spider-Man comes with the death of the “real” Spider-Man when the boy is out playing hooky one night and stumbles upon a crime scene where Peter Parker is battling the Green Goblin and Kingpin. They splatter Spidey to death and open some incomprehensible vortex.
This cataclysmic event sees several cinematic universes converge and soon Miles finds himself united by a merry band of Spider-People ready to save the day. In comes Peter B. Parker (Jake B. Johnson), a slower, unfit Spider-Man in sweatpants; Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), a cooler, slicker gumshoe breed of Spider-Man; Peni Parker (Kimiko Green), an anime schoolgirl with a robotic Spidey sidekick; and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a quick-witted hamball of the Loony Tunes variety. Miles leads this band of merry misfits through tests of strength and teamwork.
The film honours the spirit of the Spider-Man comic books—and all good superhero tales, really—as it draws a confrontation between good and evil with a story of loners and outsiders gaining confidence and strength. It’s the most thoughtful and inclusive comic book movie yet, too, as characters from all walks of life have equal footings and stakes in the game with a range of actors lending their voices in the sprawling ensemble of heroes and villains.
Fuelled by a clever script by Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) and Rodney Rothman (22 Jump Street), Spider-Verse is a comic geek’s delight as inside jokes and clever reference come with rapid-fire pacing. It’s refreshing to see a superhero movie where the writing is actually good, especially since one doesn’t need to be an avid Spider-Man fan to get all the jokes. (Although it certainly helps.) It’s irreverently funny, but surprisingly sweet as Miles fights to protect his family with the aid of his Spider-Gang.
Aesthetically, the film honours Stan Lee’s original works while creating something sharp and new. The animation brings the frames and graphics of comic book illustrations energetically to life as onomatopoeias pepper the images, noting sounds in the action with playful beats. The film evokes the sensation of reading a comic book and using your imagination to create a wild crazy world of super-things, and Spider-Verse pays homage to comic books as the root of inspiration for anyone working in animation today. There’s a great range of styles of be found in Spider-Verse as the animation calls upon the different eras of design from which each member of the team hails: vintage, anime, Sunday morning cartoons, and computer CGI all have a place here.
I was all ready to crown Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Best Superhero of 2018, but Spider-Man swings highest in the land. This adventure is an unexpected delight. Somewhere in Hollywood, Sally Field is smiling.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens in theatres Dec. 14 with preview screenings on Dec. 13.