Synopsis – Miles Morales becomes the Spider-Man of his reality and crosses paths with his counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.
My Take – Seriously did the world really need yet another Spider-Man film? As since 2002, Sony has released six different Spider-Man films. During that span, there have been three different Peter Parker characters played by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland, each one with the same basic origin story. While each of these six films manage to stand on their own with respective merits, but for some reason they also seem to blend together quite similarly especially when you reduce their familiar conflicts into clichés. While the recent live action venture of the web crawler, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), went into a splendid full charm mode thanks to its addition into the massive MCU, it’s hard not to feel like another Spider-Man film on the horizon seemed more of a taunt than a treat from studio executives.
As a result when Sony (who still own the rights) announced an animated take on Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager, who was launched in 2011 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, as the focus of the new film, as a fan I was reasonably worried. Mainly as when a character is as iconic as Spider-Man has been adapted for the screen as much as he has, it becomes hard to make the case for why a non-comic book reading audience should embrace yet another one. Thankfully my fears seemed like a waste, as this film directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman from a screenplay by Phil Lord (22 Jump Street, The Lego Film), is without a doubt the take we have all been waiting for.
The film is very energetic and captures your attention by being fresh, funny and fantastic along with making a case that there’s entire universes of mileage left in all things Spider-Man by introducing us to brand-new hero, while also dissecting and reinforcing our love for the original. Not only does the film has impressive visuals, the music also creates a fantastic rhythm, forcing to wish for more. Without a doubt, this film is a game-changer for both superhero film-making and animation altogether. Sleek, colorful, funny, emotional, and frenetic. This film skillfully balances all these elements. There is never a moment that felt forced or pandering. It’s a bold and stylish take on the Spider-Man mythos, and perhaps the best big-screen adaption to date.
The story follows Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a biracial teenager, who despite belonging to a middle class background where his father Jefferson Davis-Morales (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) is a police officer, finds himself enrolled into an privileged school. But in a world where so much happens by chance, Morales seems uncomfortable with the idea that he might be the only one who benefits from his privileges. He’s also wary of taking them for granted.
A result of which he prefers hanging with his Uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) who deeply cares for Morales but is not on speaking terms with Morales’s father due to his shady approach to live. Things take a turn when Miles is he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, he finds himself literally possessing the same powers the city’s favorite hero Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine) has.
Making matters worse, Miles finds himself in the middle of a battle between the web crawler and the deadly Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber), who is messing around with super colliders for a personal reason, which ends with a dying Spider-Man requesting Miles to use his powers to close the now opened rift. However what Miles doesn’t anticipate is to find himself interacting with Spider people of different universes, which include a worn out Spider-Man/Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), Peni (voiced by Kimiko Glen) and Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage). With their help Miles must find his inner heroic side, stop Kingpin at any cost and fulfill his spider-inflicted destiny.
In the most novel way possible, the film brings the most comic booky of concepts about an infinitely expanding web of parallel earths, to a wide audience without faltering. The film has as acute an understanding of what makes the character great as the best previous onscreen outings, but this time, it might just be the most ambitiously fun yet. The characters are colorful and relatable. Their dilemmas are engaging and they’ve all got their stand-out moments during both the fast-paced sequences, and the slower dramatic ones. It’s remarkably refreshing to see a character like Miles – a young man of mixed-race descent – get his own superhero origin story. It helps enormously that the screenplay, credited to writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, is equal parts sweet, sharp and snarky. Spider-Man’s cinematic history with a cheeky charm that’s impossible to resist.
Explaining six separate Spider-Man origin stories in one film has no right to be as fun, fresh or seamless as this film makes it, a feat accomplished through the use of a slick repeating visual motif, specific character writing and great voice acting. In Miles’ struggles to relate to his gruff dad, and in his sweet relationship with his charming ne’er-do-well uncle Aaron, the film finds its way to the heart of what will always make Peter or Miles or Gwen or the talking cartoon pig so charming.
They’re still finding their way in life too, and nothing about the newness of their powers changes the fact that being young is hard, and being young at that moment when you’re starting to understand the adult world is even harder still. Consequently, his story is less focused on wielding his power with responsibility, and more on his responsibility to embrace his power.
Morales must learn to accept his own greatness and overcome his personal insecurities in a world that can cruelly remind any of us at any time that we aren’t that special. The filmmakers and writers seem to inherently understand that the wide array of joys, fears, and uncertainties that all kids experience, and that all adults are familiar with. On top of that story, Miles must also face off against a version of Peter Parker that doesn’t exactly match up with the Spider-Man from his personal collection of comic books.
We get a few fan-wink moments when Miles tries to rationalize the Spider-Man he’s heard of with the one he meets, and these winks are fun enough. But more importantly, the film establishes and intertwines an interesting pair of redemption stories for both characters. Even the Kingpin and his henchmen’s motivations are explored, and after a few plot twists and surprises there are moments in the film where I’m sure somebody at my screening was chopping onions because a cartoon isn’t supposed to hit you in the feels this way. The film also makes humor and exhilaration the primary emotions associated with being a superhero. It never lets you forget that wittiness is among Peter Parker’s greatest powers, it never misses a chance to have a character walk casually along a wall for the sake of it and when Miles finally learns to swing a web you feel the joy of his accomplishment. But it’s the medium of animation that makes the real difference here.
The animation allows director Rothman and his co-directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey to make their scenes even bigger, even better, even more eye-popping than the comic book pages that inspired them and they have capitalized on that freedom to create fight scenes that are nothing short of spectacular. The animation alone stands out to be the best feature about this film. This new style of comic book animation is top notch and a must watch especially for comic book lovers. The stylish, somewhat choppy comic book look is breathtaking to watch, and I appreciated the energetic, anime vibe that was used to animate Peni Parker, as well as the bouncy, eccentric nature of Spider-Ham.
The alternate takes of several Spider-Man villains is a breath of fresh air, also. Doc Ock, Scorpion, Green Goblin. They all have distinct new looks and motion. Some silly, but still quite scary (The Prowler) and riveting to watch them in action. The film is inundated with so much of high quality design, byzantine animation, one can’t take their eyes off the screen and even afford to miss a scene. This living, breathing comic-book effect is the crowning achievement of Sony‘s animation arm – not only is it fluid and stunning, it’s ridiculously inventive, mixing and matching animation styles to further plot and develop character.
The only time it falters, slightly, is that its final act feels a little overblown (as is often the case with superhero epics), though its outlandishness is at least more justified because of its animated nature, and it is, at two hours, too long for younger kids, who might also struggle to pick up some of the film’s multi-layered messaging. However the voice casting more than makes up for it. Shameik Moore is instantly likable as Miles, and shares a fantastic chemistry with latest and most relatable Peter Parker in the form of the dependable Jake Johnson.
While Hailee Steinfeld, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn and Nicolas Cage also manage to leave their own marks. In supporting roles, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Zoë Kravitz, and Lake Bell are quite good. On the whole, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse‘ is the most fun, fresh and ultimate take on Spider-Man, thanks to its excellent quality content, brilliant animation, humor and exciting action sequences. It’s also a top contender for best animated film of the year.
Rated – PG
Run Time – 117 minutes