Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Hereafter simply referred to as “Spider-Verse”) is directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. The film stars Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Jake Johnson, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Nicolas Cage, Oscar Isaac, Zoe Kravitz, Chris Pine, Kathryn Hahn, and Lily Tomlin.
Miles Morales is struggling with his day-to-day life. His parents are busy with their jobs, and he’s just started at a new prep school where he doesn’t fit in. When bitten by a radioactive spider, he gains mysterious powers he doesn’t understand, and quickly finds himself in the heat of a battle when the villainous Kingpin activates a device which merges multiple universes. But as a result of Kingpin’s plan, Spider-Men from other universes find themselves in modern times, including an older version of Peter Parker, a noir-ish version of the character from the 1930s, a female teen from Miles’ school, a young girl of Asian descent with a Spider robot, and even a cartoon pig! The group must unite to stop Kingpin’s plan and to get back to their own respective times.
While Sony/Columbia has forged a deal with Marvel Studios for the latter to use Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony retains the cinematic rights to the character, and has their own plans unrelated to the MCU. We got a mediocre live-action Venom film earlier this year from the studio, with that film’s credits scene teasing this animated one. Given the ridiculous premise and the fact non-MCU appearance of Spider-Man have been hit and miss, I didn’t exactly come into this one with glowing expectations.
I was wrong. Spider-Verse is actually pretty damn fun!
I do admire the film for its approach and opting to focus on Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker (though he still plays a part in the plot) who has his own demons to face. We still get references to some of the earlier incarnations of Spider-Man (mostly in flashback scenes) but it’s also clear this animated film is its own unique product; something you won’t forget during its two-hour duration. The characters are fun, there’s actually some depth, the battles and action sequences are fun to watch… it definitely isn’t the train wreck I was expecting, despite a few minor caveats here and there.
The first thing I’ll give the film credit for is its dramatic angle. This is the first big-screen incarnation of Miles Morales (although the character was briefly teased (but unseen) in Spider-Man: Homecoming) and the incarnation of the character seen here doesn’t disappoint. Shameik Moore’s voice acting is one of the true highlights here, and the drama, including his family life and the personal tragedies he must endure, give the character much-needed depth for his first cinematic outing. It’s a tale which feels familiar yet fresh at the same time.
Despite the movie’s often dramatic overtones, it doesn’t shy away from humor either. There are plenty of slapstick moments and verbal exchanges, and thankfully, the humor doesn’t feel forced, with everything flowing together nicely. A musical and comedic moment referencing one of Spider-Man 3’s most cringe-worthy scenes (you’ll know it when you see it) got some of the biggest laughs from this Spidey fan. It’s also nice to see characters/villains/etc. we haven’t seen on the big screen in Spidey’s universe yet, and the film’s direction, along with a post-credits scene, implies we could see more sequels/spin-offs from this concept as well.
The characters are diverse, interested, and well-rounded. It’s entertaining seeing an older version of Peter Parker past his prime, as well as the counterparts from other universe – there’s nothing more fun than watching Nicolas Cage voice a 30s-era Spider-Man doing his best Humphrey Bogart impersonation! The diversity of the characters makes the experience all the more unpredictable and that much more rewarding at the end. Admittedly, some of the characters, particularly the villains, feel underdeveloped, but hopefully that’s something to be rectified in a later film.
Although I loved the film overall, I did have a few issues with its approach. The first hour, focusing largely on Miles’ family and school drama, drags in places. Once the movie gets going it’s a ton of fun, but the first act or so is a bit slower than I think some fans are going to like. And while I loved the movie’s comic-book look style throughout, the animation of human characters is a little on the jerky side. Again, though, something I bet could be fine-tuned in a sequel!
Overall it’s a fantastic animated film which is a better addition to the Spider-Man mythos than this fan expected, despite the occasional shortcomings and slightly-too-long running time. Recommended for fans.
Rating: Three stars out of four:
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