‘Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse’ Review

Every now and again there is a film that takes something traditional, like a superhero origin story, and makes it into something more than it should ever have been. What starts out at the origin for Miles Morales as the next Spider-Man becomes a 2-hour thrill ride that not only creates a new hero but celebrates and pays homage to everything that came before it.

Spider-Man, Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen, Miles MoralesTitle: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Production Company: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, & Marvel Entertainment
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
Produced by: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Christina Steinberg
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage & Liev Schreiber
Based on: Ultimate Spider-Man: Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli; Spider-Man by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Release dates: December 14, 2018 (Worldwide)
Running time: 117 minutes
Rating: PG (United States) / PG (Australia)

Miles Morales, a teenager who admires Spider-Man, struggles to adjust to his new elite boarding school and live up to the expectations of his parents, nurse Rio Morales and police officer Jefferson Davis, who views Spider-Man as a menace. After developing a crush on his classmate “Gwanda”, Miles seeks his uncle Aaron Davis for advice. Aaron encourages Miles’ passion for graffiti and leads him to an abandoned subway station where Miles can draw.

While there, Miles is bitten by a genetically modified spider, and develops spider-like abilities. Unable to contact Aaron, he returns to the station, and accidentally finds a secret laboratory where notorious crime lord Wilson Fisk has built a particle accelerator to access parallel universes and reconnect with alternative versions of his wife and son who died in a car accident following his last fight with Spider-Man. Spider-Man arrives to disable the accelerator and fights the monstrous Green Goblin and Fisk’s mysterious enforcer Prowler. During the melee, Spider-Man meets Miles and sensing they are alike, offers to train him, but is then wounded when the accelerator malfunctions. Spider-Man gives Miles a device to disable the accelerator, and Miles escapes, while Spider-Man is killed by Fisk.

Inspired by Spider-Man’s sacrifice, Miles attempts to fight crime as well but accidentally damages the device while trying to swing. Miles is later approached by Peter B. Parker, an older, jaded Spider-Man from another dimension who has been brought into Miles’ world by the accelerator. Peter is separated from his wife Mary Jane Watson and needs to return home fast or he will die, so he begrudgingly agrees to train Miles in exchange for Miles’ help to steal data about how to repair the device from Fisk’s research facility.

They are confronted by Fisk’s scientist assistant Olivia Octavius and rescued by Gwen Stacy, another dimension-displaced heroine who had been masquerading as Gwanda. She leads Peter and Miles to the house of May Parker who is sheltering more lost Spider-Men including Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham and Peni Parker and SP//dr. While Peni repairs the device, Peter unsuccessfully attempts to teach Miles how to control his powers. Pressure from the group causes Miles to retreat to Aaron’s apartment, where he discovers that Aaron is Prowler and narrowly escapes from him. Miles returns to May’s house to inform the group of his discovery, but they are located by Prowler, Octavius, Scorpion, and Tombstone, leading to a brawl. Aaron corners Miles but refuses to kill him when he learns Miles is the new Spider-Man. Fisk kills Prowler and Jefferson mistakes the new Spider-Man for Aaron’s killer.

As they prepare to face Fisk, the Spider-People choose to leave Miles behind due to his inexperience, webbing him up at his dorm room. Jefferson arrives to tell Miles about Aaron’s death and assumes Miles does not want to speak to him, apologizing for his mistakes and reassuring Miles that he believes in him. Uplifted, Miles escapes and visits May, who provides him with a new uniform, before joining the fight against Octavius and Scorpion, who is ultimately defeated. Miles operates the device and sends the Spider-Men back home, sharing a moment with Gwen just before Fisk arrives. Miles and Fisk fight throughout the accelerator, attracting Jefferson’s attention. Reaching the scene, Jefferson realizes that Spider-Man is not the enemy and encourages him, giving Miles the necessary motivation to knock Fisk unconscious with his powerful “venom blast” and destroy the accelerator. As the authorities arrest Fisk and his enforcers, Jefferson recognizes Spider-Man as a hero, and Miles embraces the powers and responsibilities of his new life. Gwen later finds a way to contact Miles from her home universe so they can maintain their friendship, while Peter readies to earn back Mary Jane.

In a post-credits scene in the year 2099, Miguel O’Hara learns about the crisis and develops his own dimension-hopping device to intervene. O’Hara decides to return to the beginning but ends up getting into an argument with that universe’s Spider-Man, a reference to a popular meme from the 1967 animated cartoon.

Spider-Man, Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales

Some scenes, like this one, are amazing to see from a style perspective and just makes the film feel unique against other modern Superhero movies and animated movies.

  • Shameik Moore as Miles Morales / Spider-Man:
    After accidentally being bitten by a genetically/dimensionally altered spider from the Alchemax, Miles Morales becomes the second ever Spider-Man in his universe. Thrust into the thick of a plot created by The Kingpin to disrupt Space and Time, Miles quickly finds himself in a world he was not prepared for. Unlike many other superheroes, Miles is lucky to have his family alive and well (for the most part), something that most superhero origins lack. And yes, he’s half Porto-Rican and half African-American, making him the first “Black Spider-Man” as the directors, writers, and media will happily shove down your throat. As a character, Miles is your typical teenager in the middle of High School, he doesn’t know how or where he fits in, his life is a mess, he goofs off a lot and just wants to have fun; but when he gains his spider-powers, Miles wants to be like the original Spider-Man and help people. Miles is the character who gains the most from this story as he goes from accident to hero. Moore’s performance as Miles is pretty spot on for what I would have through Miles would sound like, sticking really well in the beginning to his native cultural roots in the beginning of the film and slowly becoming more than he was meant to be by the end of the film.

  • Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker / Spider-Man:
    Not the typical Spider-Man that we all know, Peter B. Parker comes from a universe where he started out great, but made some bad choices (Like opening a TGI Spidey’s) and ended up alone, overweight and basically lives like a depressed bum. Due to being flung into Miles’ universe, this version of Peter takes up the reluctant mentor role in the film. He doesn’t want to do anything to actually help Miles become Spider-Man because to him, Spider-Man is the central cause of his misery. He redeems himself and becomes the Peter Parker that is in every dimension, but it’s a long road to get there from unmotivated to returning hero. While he does think he knows what is right, Peter ends up finding out how much he has lost his way and just with a little hope, he can become the hero he once was. Johnson does a good job here as Peter, sounding very gruff and stern while keeping the downtrodden and depressed side of himself at the forefront at all times.

  • Chris Pine as Peter Parker / Spider-Man (From Miles’ Universe)
    Played up as the “Ultimate amalgamation of all things Spider-Man”, this version of Peter Parker is everything you know about the character. He’s a famous superhero with his own comic book line, a cartoon, cereal, and even a Christmas album! Hell, this Spider-Man has no shame in himself or his actions, even going as far as to mention the infamous dance scene from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, complete with recreation. This version of Spider-Man is perfect and is the ultimate version of himself. We don’t get much time with the character due to the events of the film. But at least Chris Pine gets to have some fun at the expense of, and with, this ultimate meme of Spider-Man.

  • Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy / Spider-Woman:
    What is meant to be a “spunky, care-free spirit” character according to the press releases comes off as just another Mary Sue. Gwen is perfect from start to finish, never having any real issues at all. Unfortunately, you can’t blame the movie for this as when the character became popular in comics and got her own series, she was written as the perfect Spider. She still had her Dad, her only “flaw” was not saving a Lizard version of Peter Parker. In the movie, we have her in that form and it comes off as annoying since she spends most of her time speaking down to Miles, who is only just coming into his Spider-Powers and needs training. Gwen expects Miles and everyone else to be as good as her and frankly, for what becomes a very good character eventually in the comics, this is a terrible debut for her in the film. Steinfeld does a good job with what she has got, but it’s the writing that fails her and the character.

  • Mahershala Ali as Aaron Davis / Prowler:
    Sometimes it doesn’t pay to know a lot of Spider-Man knowledge going into a film like this. Seeing how good Aaron Davis was as the “cool Uncle who wants to help Miles become the person he wants to be” mentor type before being discovered as Prowler is heartbreaking. As Davis, you see the good in the character and the love that he has for his nephew that just builds great on-screen chemistry. I knew this was not to last as I’ve read the Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 2 series and knew the fate of Davis as an Uncle and as the villain Prowler. Probably one of the best and most emotional moments of the whole film comes from this dynamic between Davis and Miles. A sad end really gives the character a much-unfulfilled arc that we wish we could change. Ali stands out as the best voice in the film because of the character he is given to work with. Top marks here.
  • Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis:
    Miles’ father, a police officer. It’s a difficult role to play as Jefferson is both tough cop and loving father at the same time. Henry does a great job of playing both sides of the coin here. From the “I love you Dad” scene, which is goofy as heck all the way through to a great emotional scene after his brother’s death where he communicates that he doesn’t want to drift from Miles as he did with his brother. It’s great to see more than one side from a character like this in the movie and it really helps build upon who Miles is and where his need to do right comes from.

  • John Mulaney as Peter Porker / Spider-Ham:
    A funny animal version of Spider-Man from a cartoon-like universe, Spider-Ham is just pure comedy gold. From his introduction to his moment where he takes on Kingpin complete with cartoon sound effects and a hammer from his pocket, Ham is easily one of the better things in the movie. Though there isn’t much done with the character because it’s hard to have someone that reality breaking and keep them looking like they are needed for the plot at the same time. So a limited use of Ham is the best use of Ham.

  • Kimiko Glenn as Peni Parker:
    A young Japanese girl from an anime-like universe who co-pilots the biomechanical suit SP//dr with a radioactive spider… Yep, that’s it. Not much to her at all. Though her animation is interesting as they try to keep a very 1980s anime look to her. It’s an interesting style choice but at times is really jarring to look at.

  • Nicolas Cage as Spider-Noir:
    A dark and monochromatic version of Spider-Man from a 1930s universe. I loved this character. I want to see more of this character. Give us a Spider-Noir film with Nicolas Cage now! While he doesn’t really do much in the movie at all, except sometimes playing off Spider-Ham as the straight guy, you can see and hear Cage as the perfect person for the role. We need more of this and soon.

  • Liev Schreiber as Wilson Fisk / Kingpin:
    Holy crap! The design choice of having Kingpin have a tiny doll head with a 3 block wide body is terrible! I know he’s meant to look big but damn does Kingpin look out of place. I’m sorry, while Schreiber does a great job on the vocals, its the design here that really screws things up. There’s “larger than life” and then there is this shit. This version of Kingpin looks right out of that one Monty Python sketch where the guy over-eats and explodes. Horrible, terrible design choice.

  • Kathryn Hahn as Olivia Octavius / Doctor Octopus
    Probably one of the most interesting redesigns of Doc Ock that I’ve seen. As a Scientist that is obsessed with dimensional travel, Olivia is seen as the smart person that she is, but once the reveal of her as Doc Ock occurs, she takes on a more insane personality that is obsessed with destroying Spider-Man. It’s a great shift that happens out of nowhere but at the same time fits really well. The main change to me here is that unlike most other versions of Ock seen in all media, this version has an interesting idea of using air-pressure filled tubes for the 4 additional arms, shown really well when the bubble of extra air pressure as pushed through when strangling someone. I like the idea behind the design and I think it helps with the overall unique nature of this version. Hahn does a great job with the character too, getting more and more over the top when things call for it, but then going back to being calm and collected when the scene requires that touch. A well played character.

  • Lily Tomlin as May Parker:
    Seeing May Parker in this movie is a bit of a trip. Not only do we get the straight-forward kick-ass version of the character from more modern styles, but she comes across as almost an Alfred like character. She might have been Peter’s Aunt who raised and took care of him, but when you see what she reveals, you get the feeling that she had a lot more input into that Peter’s life as Spider-Man than the film lets on. While Tomlin doesn’t get a lot to do in this film as May, she puts her all into it and makes the small moments you see her worth seeing.

  • Luna Lauren Velez as Rio Morales:
    Probably the biggest waste of space in the whole movie. Rio is Miles’ mother… And that’s it. She has no real character except to be a voice to talk to Jefferson at times and really nothing else. She doesn’t inspire Miles at all or really do anything. Kinda sad really.

  • Zoë Kravitz as Mary Jane Watson
    Like Rio, there isn’t much to say about Mary Jane in Spider-Verse. She does a really good speech after the death of that universe’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man and that’s it. She reappears to have an awkward scene with Peter B, and that’s it. To be honest, this is a good thing as the story is really about Miles and his era of Spider-Man. The Peter Parker era is done for in this film and they move on with grace and dignity.
Spider-Man, Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales

“Can animals speak in this universe, cause I don’t want to spook the guy”… The comedy moments in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse are spot on, and get even better once Spider-Ham gets involved.

What can I say about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse that I didn’t cover in the character section already? Not much. The story, while being a modified version of the Miles origin from Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 2, is great. Having all the extra Spider-characters didn’t feel too out of place nor did anyone really crowd a scene. Everyone who needed to have an arc had one. Miles being the main focal point as the spider who just got his powers and learns how to use them is perfect for this film; Peter B as a Yoda who doesn’t know jack mentor works too. Hell, even the most perfect character in Gwen works for the movie because we needed that egotistical self-centered perspective. The dynamic between Miles and his Uncle, who would go on to be seen as Prowler, are some of the best in the movie as you can see the emotion on the screen whenever the two characters interact; then when the reveals come… heartbreak! I wish we could have rewritten Prowler’s fate in this film, but some things are needed and have to be set in stone. The other side of relationships, the one between Miles and his father are great to see too as they blend goofy Dad moments with some pretty deep and heartfelt moments too, creating a real father/son relationship.

While the plot does boil down to the usual “Save the world/reality” storyline, Into the Spider-Verse is more about the characters and their own journey’s that come about because of the interaction they have with each other. Peter B gets a second chance at making his life Amazing once again because this kid taught him to have hope and that everything in life is “just a leap of faith”, which resonates with Peter B on a level that only “with great power…” has ever had. This dynamic between Peter B and Miles helps them both in the end and really made this a film to watch more than once.

Another thing that needs to be praised here is how the film-makers were able to create and show something new with Miles as the lead character, while giving us enough references (both good, like the showing of the recent PS4 Spider-Man costumes. And bad, like the recreation of the terrible Sam Raimi Spider-Man 3 dance scene) to the previous Peter Parker era to keeps both sets of fans happy. It’s hard for a lot of people to sit through a Spider-Man film where Peter Parker isn’t the main focus, but with Into the Spider-Verse, we not only got to see the ultimate amalgamation of Spider-Man, but enough small bits and pieces to remind us that this isn’t a replacement of the character we know, it’s a handing of the torch to a new Spider-Man who can do just as well as the old one did.

Bonus shout out to the soundtrack. The song choices in ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ just work so well, using mostly hip hop in the background really keeps with the Brooklyn area that the film is set in. Plus stick around during the credits for the best version of Jingle Bells I’ve heard in a long time.

Spider-Man, Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales

While wanting to emulate the look of a comic book, there are times when this art style really does not work. Like in the background of this scene.

If there was anything I would flaw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with it’s some of the design choices for characters like Kingpin, trying to blend clashing styles as they did with Peni Parker and Spider-Man, and finally the overall trying too hard to give everything that “comic book feel”. I don’t so much mind the bright, almost too bright, color choices for the film since at times they do work really well, there are times where I could hear kids complaining of eye pains, especially during the final fight scene where all dimensions are clashing and creating a lot of neon colors. This needed to be toned down just a little so people could focus on characters since a lot of the time they did get lost in wide shots (see image below).

As for the designs, do I really need to go over Kingpin again? I should hope not. Instead, there is the other problem with character designs that are not native to the current world like Peni and Porker. With Porker getting a real cartoon look to him, just like Peni having an anime look to her; leading both to really stand out in any moments there were in, and not in a good way. You know how you can go back to shows like The Flinstones and you could instantly tell which things were painted backdrops and which were animation about to be used, well that is how much these two characters stand out. It’s jarring and pulls you out of the moment want too often. Again a bit of toning down, or even using the fact that their bodies reconfigured to fit the current dimension would have actually helped the story out. But instead they decided to make things like fancy and the film slightly suffers for it.

Spider-Man, Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales

I know the design team was going for a graffiti look to some scenes, but there are times where it got too bright and hurt kids eyes.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is easily one of the best, if not THE BEST, Spider-Man films to ever be done. The characters are fleshed out nicely and it’s a great origin story for the new Spider-Man that MARVEL has been wanting to push into the spotlight for years, and this film might just do that for them. Given that this movie opens up so many doors to future projected (Rumor of a sequel and spin-off are already out there) movies that I cannot wait to see what the Spider-Verse has in store for us next.

The. Best. Spider-Man. Movie. Ever!

Summary

Going into this I thought I was going to be in for 2 hours of how great Miles Morales is because of his background, what I got was something with depth, heart and a good bit of comedy and action. Great characters make for great story telling and that is exactly what we got in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This movie not only begins a new chapter with Miles in the lead role, but is also smart enough to pack in enough references from the Peter Parker era (both good and bad) to keep the long term Spider-Man fans with a smile on their faces.

Pros

  • Great characters with even better story arcs
  • Spider-Ham
  • Nicolas Cage as Spider-Noir
  • All the Spider-Man references

Cons

  • Little-Miss-Perfect Gwen Stacey
  • Kingpin’s design
  • Porker and Peni looking out of place
  • A bit too bright in some scenes.
Overall
4.5