Spider-Man - Into the Spider-Verse
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage
Rating: 4 stars
When it comes to superhero films, origin stories are winners. For comic book fans, these films translate onto the screen what they already know and love, and for those new to the genre and/or the character, they are a good place to start. After the success of this year’s Black Panther and Venom, there are more such films in the offing, including Captain Marvel and Shazam! (and let’s not forget the other superhero release today, Aquaman). While it’s been Batman and Superman from the ‘other’ studio, one origin story Marvel keeps going back to is that of Spider-Man. First, there was the Tobey Maguire one, followed by Andrew Garfield’s, only to be superseded by the Tom Holland version. The latest in this list is the animated superhero in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Apart from an Easter egg in Spider-Man: Homecoming where Aaron Davis mentions to Peter Parker that he has a nephew, we have had no mention in MCU of Miles Morales — a relatively new character even to comic-book fans, who was interestingly inspired from USA’s first African-American President, Barack Obama. Into the Spider-Verse is the story about how a school going adolescent (voiced by Shameik Moore) gets bit by a radioactive arachnid only for him to turn into, you guessed it, Spider-Man. But that’s not it.
Thanks to the rather emotional turmoil faced by Kingpin (who is seen on screen again 15 years after 2003’s Daredevil), he ends up opening a space-time portal that collides half a dozen universes. This results in many more spidey doppelgangers such as Miles’ reluctant mentor, Peter Parker (Jake Johnson); Miles’ schoolmate, Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld); a young Japanese girl from a futuristic, anime-like universe named Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn); a film noir Spider-Man from the 1930s (Nicolas Cage); and Peter Porker (John Mulaney), the friendly neighbourhood pig from a cartoon-universe. As they stay in the parallel universe, they keep disintegrating, and how they return to their respective universes forms the rest of the story.
In showing not one, but five Spider-Man origin stories in one film, directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman have chosen a rather risky path, which could’ve led to fatigue among the audience. But thanks to the way it’s delivered, what we’re left with is a completely different, yet extremely satisfactory storyline. While the previous live-action films attempted to recreate the wackiness of the comics in certain scenes, this film relies on it completely to such effect that it makes you wonder why no one tried it this way before. The idea to design the soundtrack based on the kind of music Miles would listen is inspired as well; this is easily one of the best soundtracks for a superhero film.
There are also countless homages to the previous live-action films which are sure to put a smile on your face. Remember the scene in Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man where Peter practices his spidey skills by jumping off a tall building? Well, here, Miles opts for a skyscraper first, only to climb back down again and choose a shorter building. And the famous ‘With great power’ line is interrupted halfway by another character. Add perfectly placed action sounds inside thought balloons, and what we get is crazy, yet vibrant visual brilliance. The psychedelic climax scene alone justifies this being a 3D film.
The animated format also allows the makers to come up with scenes that the live-action ones can’t even think of. At the same time, they’ve also etched out a gratifying character arc for Miles that has its highs and lows. Instead of the studious, nerdy and outspoken Peter Parker, we get a smart, yet not really into academics, sort of kid who spends his free time spraying street art and hanging out with an uncle that his cop father disproves of.
The film has its emotional moments too, but the breakneck speed of the screenplay only lets us linger over these for a few seconds before hitting us with more action. While we’re at moments, there’s also a thoughtfully placed posthumous Stan Lee cameo. Fresh and funny, the makers have pulled off something new from a character that’s familiar even to those who don’t really follow superhero films. Not only is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse the best iteration of the web-slinging hero on the big screen, it’s also one of the best films of the year.