The Ultimate Spider-Man Movie
DIRECTED BY BOB PERSICHETTI, PETER RAMSEY, RODNEY ROTHMAN/2018
Question: How many Spider-Men does it take to save the universe?
Answer: How many have you got?
The newest Spider-Man film introduces a whole Spider-Verse’s worth. By which I mean, six… give or take one or two. But fear not, true-believer- this threatened surplus population of web-heads never clogs the works. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Amazingly animated in a hard-to-describe sort of flat digital 3D, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never fails to astonish. It zips and zings with the spark and spunk that any Spidey super story should have, albeit rendered as pure, cutting edge illustration rather than being composed of human actors in iffy costumes. The conventional wisdom has always been that whatever animated version of any given popular character makes its way to the big screen, it will always, always be in the shadow of the live action incarcerations. (See the dismissal of 1993’s superior Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as it dropped in the years between Batman Returns and Batman Forever).
Spider-Verse delivers. And it might just be the finest Spider-Man film to date.
While the box office may (or may not!) prove that correct once more, the colorful and wildly fluid “graphics” of Spider-Verse might just catch the attention of the massive, often cine-apathetic gaming community. Them, and anyone else with an eye for the latest and greatest. Blending something resembling the old school Ben-Day dot printing process of Silver Age comic books with the unpredictable vitality of street art, the film boasts everything it needs to lure and reel in anyone with an eye for forward thinking art, while also respecting the source medium’s four-color past.
But, it’s the characters and their stories that ultimately makes Spider-Verse stick. Meet Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore), a miled mannered kid, as far as awkward high school students go. When Miles is bitten by the same radioactive spider that originally bit young Peter Parker- rest in peace (that’s a whole other story)- he develops skills and abilities propionate to those of the glowing arachnid. Between navigating his sticky new powers, school, and his Spider-Man-hating cop father (Brian Tyree Henry), his path to superhero-dom isn’t easy. But then, it never is. Fortunately, his cool uncle (Mahershala Ali) is there for him, even if Miles can’t confide his biggest, newest secret to anyone.
Miles Morales’ Spidey origin story is soon hijacked by a five other alternate dimension Spider-People, brought to our world courtesy of a massive particle collider built and run by the biggest big bad of them all, Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin of Crime (Liev Schreiber, going full New York). Kingpin has his reasons for wanting to meddle with the time-space continuum, and the intimidating thugs Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn), Tombstone and The Prowler to back him up. Naturally, everything leads to a massively epic showdown of warping realities, colorful colors, and deep black Jack Kirby energy blobs. It’s a wild scene, though getting there is no less wild nor less enjoyable.
The first of the displaced Spider-People to connect with Miles is best described as “Midlife Crisis Peter Parker” (Jake Johnson), an early-forties divorcee who’s sad, “janky”, and, well, kinda fat for the unforgiving leotard. It isn’t until about midway through the film that we meet the well-publicized other Spideys, the sleek and graceful Spider-Woman (known to comic fans as “Spider-Gwen”; voice of Hailee Steinfeld), the 1930s black & white detective-styled Spider-Noir (clearly no one checked the real-life timetable of prominent “noir” storytelling, nor the fact that the niche didn’t really feature many detectives at all. But, whatever. He’s voiced by Nicolas Cage), a futuristic Spider-Bot and the little anime girl who loves him, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and finally, there’s Peter Porker, the spectacular Spider-Ham (John Mulaney)- a classic cartoon pig in spider’s clothing. Pitting together this diverse (to say the least) pack of heroic variations allows the visionary film to truly dig into its medium. Creative limits are justifiably pushed, resulting in a kind of controlled free-for-all, the likes of which would be deemed unthinkable just a few years ago for any superhero film spun by a major studio (in this case, Sony- valiantly throwing their All behind this movie). Welcome to the post-Rocket & Groot world.
Written by Phil Lord along with Rodney Rothman, and listing Lord and his partner in crime, Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street), as producers, it’s understandable to be pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of reverence and focus that this film possesses. Better gagmen and world-builders than storytellers, it’s easy to point to Spider-Verse as the single best work to date to emerge bearing the “Lord and Miller” imprimatur.
As for the three directors themselves, all boast no shortage of experience in either animation or the Lord & Miller factory. The fact that directing is no one’s primary past credit in no way reflects poorly on this project; Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman all prove themselves here, at least as a collaborative trio. The care and detail poured into Into the Spider-Verse is heroic in its own right, possibly a newly opened gateway to an expanded future of comic book-based films. Maybe Sony has finally learned that with the great power of the Spider-Man license, there must also come great responsibility. Meaning, adventurous, sensational movies. Things we haven’t seen before. Spider-Verse delivers. And it might just be the finest Spider-Man film to date.
Every now and then, justice prevails at the multiplex. Before it even opened to the public, critics have enthusiastically and rightly flagged Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a year-end awards contender. And to think, it only took six Spideys (give or take), and a movie studio finally waking up to what it has.