Hype is a dangerous thing in the creative industry. Not enough of it and your product gets easily swept away by the passage of time. Too much, and your film will be unable to meet expectations and end up as a disappointing deliverance. This was something playing on my mind when I had first sat down to watch Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Since the first trailer released, I had a very hesitant reaction to the hype the movie was getting and was cautious about the final result of the movie. The first trailer looked cool, but it is also really easy to make Spider-Man look cool, but still screw up the basic premise, as Sony has shown time and time again. More promotional material only furthered my mixed feelings on the matter. I really wanted to see more of Miles Morales as Spider-Man and it was great that Spider-Gwen was getting her own appearance, but in contrast with that, I was uncertain on the art style and the version of Peter Parker we saw just didn’t seem like Peter.
To me, the Spider-Verse film clearly looked from the outset like an even grander attempt to kick-start a new cinematic universe than Venom earlier this year, a shameless cash-grab than a genuine attempt to make something good with the Spider-Man brand. It didn’t matter to me that they had the directors for the Lego Movie working on the project when the result from the outset only seemed to be another attempt by Sony to jump-start a Spider-Man franchise to keep the web-swinger away from his Marvel Cinematic Universe cohorts.
Never the less, I waited and sure enough, the reviews came flooding in as Spider-Verse released on December 1st. To my surprise, there was none of the boredom, frustration or fatigue that had plagued Venom’s release. Instead, a new phrase began flitting round, one that called me to the cinema, almost in challenge to its entire meaning.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man Movie.”
Hoisting Spider-Verse onto a pedestal like this is exactly the kind of trouble with over-hyping a movie. I was certain going in that the movie couldn’t possibly meet these expectations. As good as Spider-Verse could have been, I doubted it could stand up to the Raimi movies and Homecoming, especially from my underwhelming reactions to all the trailers.
The only thing more amazing than the way hype can change a movie going experience, however, is when a film manages to meet and exceeds its own hype with sheer quality. Earlier this year, Infinity War had beaten the odds and silenced nay-sayers. Now, in the ashes of Sony’s ambition, Into the Spider-Verse rose to take up the same challenge to the same critical result.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is, as many have claimed, the best Spider-Man movie ever made, a moniker it wears proudly whilst giving us a heartfelt, action-packed experience whilst simultaneously being a love letter to everything Spider-man in the most glorious way possible.
As far as the story goes, it’s exactly as one might suspect: Miles Morales is just a mild mannered teenager (I’m sure that’s how Brian Michael Bendis came up with the name, somehow). That is, until he finds himself bitten by a universe-hopping spider that gives him new spider powers, effectively making him the heir to the Spider-Man legacy of his world. Miles soon finds himself thrown in the deep-end of his Spider-man experience when a dimension hopping machine, financed by the maniacal Kingpin Wilson Fisk, begins to shatter the barriers between dimensions, threatening to destroy all of reality. With the help of his parallel partners Peter B. Parker and Gwen Stacy, Miles has to learn how to be Spider-Man and rise to the occasion, save all of reality and fix a dysfunctional relationship between himself and his father.
The overview of the plot is as vague as I can be to sum the story but, in all honesty, Spider-Verse succeeds so much not because of the broad strokes but in the little details and simple skill of execution. It succeeds where other films have failed through two simple factors: it’s an amazing film and it’s an amazing Spider-Man film, and these two factors work together to build on each other.
Film-wise, Spider-Verse just looks gorgeous. Though I was originally a little off-set by the art-style, in the motion of the movie, the art-style really came into its own. It didn’t feel as offsetting in the trailers and the style grew on me really quickly. Speaking of style, this movie is choked full of it. There’s the obvious visual cues from comic book’s in the animation style but there’s also been a huge amount of focus put into making Mile’s version of New York function as a direct reflection of his own identity. The soundtrack, whilst not a type of music I would have liked on my own, greatly strengthens the overall movie and more than that, makes Miles’ world come alive with hip-hop music and a grungy graffiti hint to the visual style. It reflects Miles identity perfectly, and the visual cues from the other Spider-People are the same.
I’m not usually one to talk about character design or stuff like cinematography (I’m more an aspiring writer than a film-maker), but both are brilliantly creative and wonderfully executed. Each character strikes a meaningful silhouette with large and intense models like Kingpin and Green Goblin cutting a striking comparison between Prowler and Miles. The action scenes are also incredible. Spider-Verse features some of the most inventive and enjoyable action scenes I’ve seen in a movie in such a long time, that if the rest of the plot weren’t a masterpiece, it would have still received a positive review from me.
But, luckily, this movie doesn’t just visual spectacle, but an amazing story to back it up. If there’s one thing that Spider-Verse has in abundance, it’s heart and character. Miles is the focal point of the story and as such, it was great to see the issues in his life and get in touch with them. From his complex relationship with his father, to his love for his Uncle to his growing connection to the other Spider-forces, Miles never stops being engaging and, rightfully so, never lets you forget that no matter how many other Spider-People are zipping around, this is still his movie. Shameik Moore really gives it his all to bring Miles to life and Miles’ arc of learning to believe in himself and not run away from his problems is fantastic to watch. His journey to becoming Spider-Man is brilliantly illustrated through gorgeous set-pieces and powerful moments of heartache. By the time the movie is done, no-one can deny that Miles has well and truly earned his place as the webslinger’s successor.
Speaking of webslingers, the other versions of Spider-Man are also brilliantly encapsulated in this movie and are used really well. The one that surprised me the most was Chris Pine’s portrayal as the original Spider-Man in Miles Universe, a pretty close to perfect Spider-Man, who has Ben Reilly hair and serves as the ultimate analogue for how most of the audience look up to Spider-Man as this perfect hero, only for him to die tragically in a battle with Kingpin to inspire Miles’ rise. He exists as a great counterpoint to everyone else in the movie and his death plays as a homage to similar events in the Ultimate universe where Miles debuted and I’m really glad the film played it as a straight as possible. I remember thinking in the cinema that the moment Miles was too afraid to help Peter fight off Goblin and Prowler was the moment his destiny was set. People forget that Spider-Man’s origin is several mistakes all stacked up on top of each other and it’s wonderful to see Miles’ origin utilise the same basic pointers.
Speaking of mistakes, the Spider-Man from the trailer I once disliked quickly became one of my favourite parts of the movie. Peter B. Parker is an older Spider-Man, down and out and worn from his time, almost a manifestation of ‘The Parker Luck’. Whilst his character starts as Jake Johnson’s usual middle-aged comedic roles, his character quickly reveals how definitively Spider-Man he really is and his mentor/mentee relationship with Miles is brilliant. Their back and forth is really the main crux of the story and is really well done, a brilliant dysfunctional relationship with a Spider-Man who has lost his way trying to teach the next generation. Spider-Gwen, meanwhile, is an absolute boss in this movie: cool, calm and instantly winning over a whole new generation of fans in the process. The other Spider-People are cool too, though mostly brilliant comic relief. Especially Nick Cage as Spider-Man Noir and John Mulaney as Spider-Ham.
I actually can’t believe I just wrote those words.
Impressively, Spider-Verse also boasts the largest assortment of Spider-Man villains in a single film, and yet every villain is distinct and memorable in one way or another and are used well. Liev Schreiber’s Kingpin is a monstrous individual and yet evokes sympathy in the way that only truly great villains can. Whilst a few of the other rogues are underdeveloped flunkies, Scorpion and Tombstone, who both look cool but offer nothing of real note apart from that, there are two other villains who stand as Kingpin’s equal in this movie: Doctor Olivia Octavius and The Prowler. Doc ‘Liv’ Ock breathes whole new life into the character of Doctor Octopus and was one of the best shock reveals I’ve seen in a movie. I really hope she becomes a breakout character so we can see more of her. Then, there’s Prowler. Holy hell. Prowler dominates this movie in every scene he’s in. He’s the coolest villain in the story and his direct relationship to Miles leads to an explosive finale that really ramps up the tragic element of Spider-Man.
The thing that really strains my mind about this movie is how well it handles so many characters with different stories all together. We have Miles’ coming of age story, Peter B’s acceptance of adulthood and his commitment to Mary Jane, Gwen’s isolated nature, Jefferson Davies’ role conflicted roles as a police officer and a father, Aaron Davies conflicting roles as Uncle and Super-villain and, of course, Kingpin’s quest to find a version of his wife and son in the multiverse, making a wildly out of character scheme for the crime lord become a plot of grounded ambition and lost chances. Even with all those listed, I know I’ve not touched upon everything this movie delivers on. The plot is told well and the script is delivered with such a tight free focus that the heavy layers of Spider-man referencing gel nicely with the overall ascetic. As a film, Spider-Verse never talks down to its audience and as a Spider-Man film, it understands and explores every faculty of Spider-Man and what makes him so iconic.
Miles’ Peter Parker is the version of Spider-Man we look up and aspire to, the man smart enough to have his own Spider-Cave with the beautiful loving red-head for a wife. Peter B. Parker is the unfortunate woes that plague the character, the needless drama and horrible conflict that haunts all close to him. Spider-Gwen is the tragic figure who struggles on through hardship. Noir is the darker side, Ham the light jokester and Penni is the smart one. Then, there’s Miles, who wraps up the whole package together and explains who Spider-Man really is: Spider-Man is the outcast, he’s the piece that doesn’t fit, but he’s the courage to stand up and do what’s right and the true testament to self-expression on who we want to be and a call to action to be responsible for all we love and care about.
As Miles aptly says, ‘Anyone can wear the mask’.
Spider-Man is a mistake and a correction. Spider-Man isn’t simple or easy. Spider-Man, as lame as it might sound, is us.
Spider-Verse gets that and explores the character and mythology in a new, interesting but still complex and deep way, and that is why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only the best Spider-Man movie, it’s probably one of the best comic-book movies of all time.
Now, this is the part of the review where I normally list any critiques I have. The only minor gripe I might have with the film is that Norman Osborn doesn’t have as crucial a role and is reduced to more of a monster…but he’s also the reason for Pine Peter’s death and also almost kills the multi-verse, so I think I can let that one slide. My view on the movie is obviously extremely positive but I feel I haven’t even had a chance to delve into hundreds of little moments and big things that I love about this movie. And I’m distinctly not going to say them just to encourage you all to watch this movie if you have’t already.
Honestly, Spider-Verse is as close to perfect as a Spider-Man film can get and I offer anyone even remotely interested in Spider-Man a hearty recommendation to go and watch this movie. You will not regret it.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. 5/5.