Charlie McKenna ’22 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Sony has had a rough go of it lately, franchise-wise. Their last attempt to launch a Spider-Man universe was 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film so bad that it not only derailed the planned universe but also forced Sony to turn to Marvel and Kevin Feige to save the property. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Sony’s latest attempt at launching a Spider-Man universe, this time in the world of animation. The film follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), not Peter Parker, through his very own origin story as he comes to terms with his powers while thwarting Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) in his plan to open up a gateway into alternate universes.
Miles is not alone though as the spider-people from various other dimensions help him to take down Kingpin. The team includes Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Shameik Moore, of Dope, stars as Miles. (Have you seen Dope? No? Then see Dope!)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may well be the very best representation of Spider-Man on screen thus far. It’s hilarious, heartwarming and tremendous fun. It’s the rare animated film that doesn’t feel aimed at children. Yes, Pixar films are certainly adult friendly (except for the Cars series – woof.) but they are aimed at kids and amenable to adults. Spider-Verse is the opposite, it’s aimed at adults and amenable to kids.
It’s a cliche, to be sure, but Spider-Verse really does feel like a comic book come to life. This can be attributed to the animation style of the film, which very much resembles the art style of comics. Often times, Miles’ thoughts appear on the screen as thought bubbles or narration, as they would in a comic. This gives Spider-Verse an entirely unique style and feel from the get-go. As an audience member, this keeps you engaged from the start and never relinquishes its grasp.
Into the Spider-Verse is much more than your standard comic book movie as it really gets inside the psyche of its lead character. Miles is likable and endearing from the moment we are introduced to him. It’s easy to root for Miles not only because of his endearing nature but also because of Shameik Moore’s excellent voice performance. Miles feels like a real human being in a way characters in superhero movies don’t. This is true of not just Miles but also Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. They are the two other spider-people we spend the most time with in the film and it’s easy to enjoy all the time spent with them. The film takes the time to get inside the head of Peter and Gwen and, by the end, you understand these characters totally and completely.
This is not to say that the three other spider-people in the film aren’t interesting characters, because they certainly are, the issue is just that we don’t spend enough time with them to be completely attached. That’s ok though, as they mostly serve as comic relief to the film, this is especially true of Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Ham who are consistently hilarious throughout. Nic Cage and John Mulaney add a lot with their voice performances, making every moment we spend with these characters a real treat.
The one spider-person that just did not work was Peni Parker. Her character is seemingly just there for comedic effect, which is true of Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Ham as well, but none of her jokes actually hit in the film. She also gets the least amount of screen time and it’s easy to imagine the film without her in it as she consistently feels non essential.
It’s also worth noting the performances of Brian Tyree Henry and Mahershala Ali, who play Miles’ Dad and Uncle, respectively, They provide the true emotional core of the film and are a key element to making Miles feel like a well-rounded character.
Unfortunately, Spider-Verse falls into the same pitfall as many other superhero films as Kingpin is not a particularly compelling villain. His motivations are clear but he just is fundamentally uninteresting. The stakes are also unclear throughout the film as it isn’t totally established why what Kingpin is doing needs to be stopped.
Ultimately, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a wonderful entry into the Spider-Man canon. It’s entertaining from start to finish with a compelling lead character and an emotional grounding rare to superhero movies.
Overall Grade: A
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