REVIEW: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

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Despite the earth-shattering hype and rabid enthusiasm, I was still hesitant to embrace the idea of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. As a long-time comic reader I had grown tired of Marvel’s lazy idea of diversity – taking someone from a marginalized group and putting them in the suit of an already established character instead of investing talent and resources into creating new heroes with new origins and new voices.

Without question there is some of that in “Spider-Verse”. I mean one of the film’s main taglines is “Anyone can wear the mask“. But all of that is easy to overlook if the character behind the mask is compelling and he or she has a unique and personal story to tell. Miles Morales is and he does. Unfortunately storytelling isn’t this movie’s strength.

The three-headed directing team of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman are given a lot to juggle including a bunch of characters making their first appearance on the big screen and a revolutionary new art style. Both manage to be fresh and exciting while also disappointing in ways I wasn’t expecting.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Starting with the characters and the story, writers Rothman and Phil Lord give themselves creative carte blanche by using the old tried-and-true ‘multiple dimensions’ framework for their story. In their dimension Miles Morales (voiced by a very good Shameik Moore) is a bright teen from the Bronx, popular in his community but struggling to fit in at his new private school. He’s pushed hard by his black police officer father Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and his Puerto Rican mother Rio (Luna Lauren Vélez).

I was instantly grabbed by this family dynamic and it’s what interested me the most. But it also feels shortchanged the most. The filmmakers set up a tension between Miles and his father but barely gives it much attention. The few scenes we do get are the film’s very best. But they are few and far between. And his mother all but vanishes and has no real impact on the story.

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Then you have the relationship between Miles and his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). For Miles his uncle is his confidant despite the fact the Aaron and Jefferson don’t get along. Again, another interesting family thread with a ton of potential (especially considering where the story goes) that ends up feeling half-baked and underserved. Miles and Aaron share a couple of great scenes including one deep in the city’s subway tunnels. It’s there that Miles, while painting graffiti art, is randomly stung by a radioactive spider from……somewhere.

While trying to get a grasp of his new powers, Miles stumbles upon the ‘real’ Spider-Man (Chris Pine) duking it out with Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) who has built a machine to connect parallel dimensions. After a weirdly bland first meeting between Miles and Peter Parker, the fight continues, Kingpin’s device explodes, and a series of otherworldly complications arise. Most notably – the arrival of five other Spider-‘Men’ all pulled from their own dimensions and desperate to get back.

As for the animation, it gets a ton of points for being fresh and often jaw-dropping. It’s an impressive combination of computer animation and hand-drawn techniques with the intent of giving it a classic comic book look. Most of the time it looks absolutely amazing. But sometimes it goes over the top with its style. There is no better example than the big finale – a familiar bombastic ending filled with blaring music and rapid-fire cuts while bathed in splashes of loud pastel backgrounds. Some advice – don’t watch it with a headache.

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“Into the Spider-Verse” is a film loaded start-to-finish with fan service and I was surprised at how well most of it landed. Great bits from nearly every pop culture iteration of Spider-Man are scattered all through it. And whatever you do stay for end credits scene. It’s fabulous and well worth the wait.

So where to land on this highly praised sure-fire award winner? The voice acting is fantastic, the animation (when not drowning in its style) is ground-breaking, and the film’s message offers hope and encouragement. But then you run into the storytelling – a frustrating swirl of highs and lows that shortchanges its most interesting component and emotional core. That’s what would have made this a truly stand-out superhero picture. Instead it feels a little like all the others, only with a fresh and beautifully animated coat of paint on it.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3-stars

10 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

    • I think most people disagree with me on this one. Seems like most really went for it. I wanted to and was really excited after all the hype. I still like it but found myself a bit disappointed in the storytelling specifically with his family.

      • I will agree they certainly could have given his mother more screen time. She was a very minor character, but there was so much story to tell. I do think however they did a nice job with his relationship with his dad, understanding they needed to keep this film accessible for kids. I also think they did a nice job creating the bond between Miles and Peter which made for great story telling.

      • I did like the relationship between Miles and other dimension Peter. I felt his meeting with his world’s Spidey was really weird. I like what we get of the father/son relationship but felt it was terribly underserved. It seems like there was a section of the film where his dad all but disappears. And did they ever say what Miles’ Dad and Uncle were feuding over? You bring up a good point about accessible for kids. I’m sure that came factored into things.

  1. Just saw it today. I’m burned out on the superhero thing, resisted this one, but it made a few top 10 lists, every critic seemed to like it, so broke down and saw it. More or less with you on this one. Basically at its core just another superhero movie. Bad guy has to be stopped, things look bad for a while, there’s a splashy action scene to wrap it up. Not that it’s bad, just familiar in too many ways.

    • Very true. I sticks close to that formula. I think that’s why shortchanging the family dynamic bummed me out so much. More attention to it could have given this movie a unique flavor.

  2. I finally watched it and I would agree with you 100%. I’m a big classic comic Spider-man guy and was never into the whole multiverse thing. Just think it’s lame writing as you said to take a established character and slap another persona onto it. I did though like Miles character but so many undeveloped story dynamics. Plus the story just didn’t connect with me at an emotional level. It felt flat at times and I was a tad disappointed after all the hype. Truly enjoyed the animation style and perhaps next time out, it will connect with me. Decent outing but 6 webs out of 10 for me .

    • Exactly. Just not with the the many who adore the movie. As you mentioned some of the story is undercooked and at times feels like an afterthought. I loved the father/son dynamic that we get glimpses of, but even it didn’t get the attention it should.

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