Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
US (2018) Dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
“You know the rest”
This phrase is used many times throughout this film yet more often than not, I personally didn’t know what “the rest” was, as I don’t read comic books and back in the days when I did, the Spider-Man I knew was nothing like the one(s) presented here.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse opens with what I do already know – Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and adopted the superhero persona of Spider-Man, saving the world one web at a time. But then we whisk over to Brooklyn to meet teenager Miles Morales, who is struggling to live up to the lofty expectations of his police officer father Jefferson Davis.
Whist out with his uncle Aaron doing some graffiti, Miles is bitten by a spider escaping from a nearby chemical plant, waking up the next morning feeling strange. That night Miles returns to the spot he was bitten, finding Spider-Man battling a giant Green Goblin. Spider-Man is badly injured, giving Miles a device to destroy a super collider used by Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, who promptly arrives and kills Spider-Man, leaving Miles to use his new powers to finish Spider-Man’s work. Luckily, he’s not alone.
Hardcore comic book fans are not going to like this, but for me Spider-Man will always be Peter Parker and until watching this film, I had no clue there was such an extensive catalogue of spin-off re-imaginings of the character and his aliases. Imagine my surprise at learning even the gag from The Simpsons Movie about the Spider-Pig wasn’t original – there IS a spider-pig, named Spider-Ham, whose alias is Peter Porker, created back in 1983!
It’s arguably a bold move to take such a well loved property, especially one currently well represented on the big screen via the live action films and hit us with meta version of the tale, but when the producers of this film are the people behind The Lego Movie, suddenly it doesn’t feel that much of a surprise. Teaming up with Sony Animation to bring this idea to life, having three directors is rather apropos given the multi-directional path of the story.
The plot is rather basic and straight forward, focusing on Miles’ life-changing experience as the new Spider-Man. The first meta reference comes not from the near beat-for-beat origin story but Miles picking up a copy of the first ever Spider-Man comic and seeing on the pages everything he just went through. The best one however, is in the post-credits scene which is pure genius and worth the wait.
Scripted by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, there are inside gags galore to be found but not so exclusive the non-devoted fan won’t get them, which is part of its appeal. The quote at the start of this review refers to each new Spider-man/woman/pig as they each introduce their background the same way – there are TWO Peter Parkers, a 1930’s pulp action version Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Gwen (slight spoiler there), Spider-Ham and from the future a schoolgirl named Peni Parker, dressed like an anime schoolgirl who pilots a Spider-Mecha!
At the centre of this convening of the multi-Spider folk, is a Super Collider built by Dr. Olivia Octavius for Kingpin, to trawl the multi-verses and bring his dead son and wife back, for whose passing he blames Spider-Man. It is the collider running wild bringing the various Spiders together in Miles’ dimension and it is he who has to send them all back home again – or he would if he could just master his powers first.
Even though the story is hardly ground breaking, it plays up to the established template of the Spider-Man saga in little ways – Miles’ father hates Spider-Man, making his new life as the web slinging superhero a bit difficult; he suffers a personal tragedy late in the film, and of course, there is the all important lesson of the responsibility that comes with great powers.
Yet, the true moral being imparted is that anyone can be a hero. Wearing a mask or outfit isn’t the key qualification to being a special or gifted person – anybody can wear a mask. Of all the risks taken by this film, marginalising the very core of its premise – i.e. the super powers – is to undermine the reason we all love superheroes in the first place, so why isn’t this a case of cutting the nose to spite the face?
Researching the addition of Miles to the extant Spider-verse, it seems he was created to bring some ethnic diversity to the franchise and, much like the current movie reboot, this film holds true to this. Miles’ colour is not once referred to here, though the film does have a very pronounced hip-hop vibe and swagger that is palpably “black”, whilst his mother is a Latino and villain Scorpion is now Hispanic.
Where this film does present a major paradigm shift is in the animation, a startling and apposite blend of styles and techniques to match the plethora of differing personalities they represent. From 2D to 3D, CGI to rotoscoping, they’re all here rendered in a pseudo stop motion like form, like The Lego Movie. The clash should be unbearable but it works, largely because it has to.
The true innovation is in how the presentation is like a 2-hour music video head-trip, throwing in every visual gimmick and modern editing technique to make everything leap off the screen. If this sounds horrendous, it actually isn’t, giving this film one of the more unique and distinctive looks in a world of cookie-cutter CGI animation, whilst the diegetic glitches from the collider are woven into the aesthetic for bonus authenticity.
At the Oscars this year, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse broke the run of Disney/Pixar films to win Best Animated Feature and deservedly so. If, like me, Miles Morales is a name you don’t normally associate with Spider-Man, this film explains everything and more.