“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Wins Big. Should It?



On December 14, 2018, Sony Pictures Animation released “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, the film tells the origin of Spider-Man, but not the instantly recognizable beginnings of Peter Parker. No, this is the big screen debut of Miles Morales as Spider-Man. After being bitten by a radioactive spider and developing strange new powers, Miles must grow to carry the legacy and responsibility of the web-slinging hero after the previous Spider-Man’s demise. Along the way, he meets Spider-Heroes from alternate universes following a failed interdimensional experiment.

Over the last few years many audiences have begun to question critics’ opinions. Politics seem to be taking precedence over actual quality in films. And since Miles is an African/Puerto Rican-American kid from Brooklyn, this might generate questions as to whether politics were driving this film’s critical praise. Admittedly, I held some of those reservations myself.

Upon watching the film though, I must say: yes—it does deserve all that praise.   

It all starts with the characters. Despite being an avid reader of Spider-Man comics, I was unfamiliar with Miles Morales as I’m partial to the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker. However, this film sold me on Miles’ character. A smart kid and Brooklyn native, Miles attends an elite school to avoid disappointing his father. Things are further complicated by their opposing views on Spider-Man. Miles admires the hero, while his father sees him as a masked menace. Through bizarre circumstances, Miles meets Peter B. Parker, a disillusioned, down-on-his-luck Spider-Man who only agrees to help Miles so he can return to his own universe. Likewise stranded, Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman keeps everyone at arm’s-length, avoiding friendships to spare herself pain. These are just the more prominent Spider-Heroes, the others include Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, and Peni Parker. While the film’s villains lack the same character depth as the heroes, they make up for it by being infused with dynamic personalities. Despite having so many characters, “Into the Spider-Verse” balances the dynamics so that everyone gets their time to shine, while never detracting from Miles as the movie’s central focus.  

Perhaps the most crucial part of the film is its excellent story. What stuck with me when the film ended was the notion of accepting responsibility, even if it comes with living with mistakes and regrets. It’s relatable because it’s a teenage boy figuring out where he wants to be in the world. At no point did I feel the story was predictable, rather it holds lots of surprises. Some elements could be foreseen by readers of Miles’ Spider-Man comics, but that’s the case with any comic book adaptation. It doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film, since part of the fun is seeing how characters or plot points are incorporated. The narrative delivers on every count: humor, feels, action and entertainment.

Voice talent can make or break animated works. Fortunately, “Into the Spider-Verse” holds no weak links in its voice cast. Shameik Moore voices Miles Morales, giving the teenage hero a relatable and vibrant presence. Whenever he launches into an emotional scene, his voice makes you feel it. As Peter B. Parker, Jake Johnson’s voicework is fantastic, nailing the comedic timing as well as the heartfelt moments. Hailee Steinfeld yet again shows her talent as an actress in her portrayal of Gwen Stacy: witty, grim, but still communicating a vulnerability her character tries to disguise. Even the minor character’s and antagonist’s actors do great work.

The crafting of the characters builds into some fantastic hilarity: slapstick humor, witty banter, self-referential and visual gags spark laughs from all audiences. Like all the funniest movies, the comedy is layered. On the surface, there are jokes that casual moviegoers will laugh at. Further down would be laughs for fans of other superhero movies, particularly other Spider-Man films. And lastly, inside jokes that appeal to audiences familiar with the comic books this film is based on. Each level of humor packs more than enough to keep everyone entertained.

No review of “Into the Spider-Verse” would be complete without discussing the animation, a blend of 2D and 3D greatly inspired by comic books, most noticeably seen during the visually exciting action sequences. Sound words from the comics appear on screen with each punch or gunshot, and thoughts appear in text boxes in conjunction with audible dialogue. Small imperfections give the appearance that everything is hand drawn or on the printed page. The art directors behind the film often stated they wanted to make something unique, an experience never seen before. And they succeeded beautifully.   

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” deserves just about every ounce of praise it gets. The direction, the unique animation, the voice work — everything works to its fullest capacity. Often, it’s argued that critics have poor taste for great films. But in this case, I genuinely believe they picked a winner.