By Michael Nacey ’19
Though Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is already several months old, and although it was made on the fringes of Disney’s techno-empire of entertainment, the film still crackles with comic-book energy and nervous wit. Despite its predecessors, this is a film that truly masters the fine art of telling the Spider-Man origin story correctly. It does so uniquely as well, doing so through animation rather than through a live-action format plastered with CGI. Many have tried, from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002 to Marvel’s Spider-Man Homecoming in 2017, but none so far have realized the key to reinvigorating the character: make him a different person.
Spider-Verse centers on Miles Morales, a teenager who gets sent to a new preppy boarding school, who spends the most quality time with his Uncle Aaron, and who gets bitten by a radioactive spider. Morales doesn’t get the dream position of crime-fighting immediately—it takes about a half-hour, a testament to this film’s lightning pace. Its speed doesn’t decrease its heart, however, and so Morales gets humiliated at his new school by his parents and his new surroundings enough in twenty minutes to make him soar through the entire film with the support of the audience.
A major part of this is the style of Spider-Verse, the only comic-book movie yet in existence to steer far from action spectacle for a Wham! and a self-deprecating speech-bubble. The Spider-Verse essentially operates like an audiobook version of a Spider-Man comic and pulls from every fringe of the hero’s mythos. By the film’s end, it manages to incorporate Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Peter B. Parker, Peter Porker, and many more into its story. On top of all of that, it does so seamlessly, excitingly, and emotionally. Every fight has weight to it, and every other scene has true drama between the film’s myriad of characters.
Spider-Verse follows the vein of Avengers: Infinity War, substituting one hero for six and one villain for four. But never does the movie falter under the weight of its personalities, it incorporates them. The anonymity of animation makes the characters truly unique and themselves. A live-action movie starring Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Live Schreiber, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Zoë Kravitz, and John Mulaney would be hard to pull off. Don’t look down on stars Shameik Moore and Jake Johnson either. Every single individual involved in the film contributes to it.
For such a crowded film, it still manages to carry a message that uses the size of its cast to its advantage. Spider-Verse promotes the fact that anyone can be a hero, everyone has powers, and that people can always overcome their worst wounds. Spider-Verse is a rare superhero movie that expands the narrative and entertains simultaneously. It sets the benchmark for what a true comic-book film should be and sets a hard counter against the rinse-and-repeat formulas that govern the majority of superhero movies today.