The establishing moment of Into the Spider-Verse is not a fast paced action scene. It’s not even a comedy scene that showcases the various Spider-beings from across the dimensions. It’s simply young hero Miles Morales walking through his neighborhood to school. He talks to friends, switches languages on the fly from English to Spanish, and slaps his meticulously crafted stickers onto any surface he can reach. It’s when I knew I could set my fears aside that Miles would be put on the sidelines of his own adventure, a sadly all too common occurrence in the comics. That this story would at it’s core be about a kid becoming a hero.
That isn’t to say that Into the Spider-Verse isn’t filled with a huge amount of characters who say funny jokes and do amazing things in action scenes. However the movie more than succeeds at being an origin story for a character who is new to the film world but somewhat familiar in the large strokes. There’s still a spider bite but it comes while Miles is painting a piece of graffiti that spells out the expectations that are being put on him by his parents and his teachers to be someone great.
These expectations only grow when revisiting the subway he painted looking for answers he comes across a plot by the villainous Kingpin and makes a promise to the Spider-Man of his world. One that requires him to take up the mask with no mentors to help him. Well none until a older, more broken down, Peter shows up from a different world. Then his new crush reveals herself as Spider-Woman. Miles doesn’t just have mentors anymore, he has friends who understand what he’s going through. Friend’s that ultimately outclass him in terms of experience making him wonder what he’s even doing there and whether asking a high school student to be a hero that is so close to death on a daily basis is even an okay thing to do.
All that seriousness said I would be doing this film a disservice to act like it’s a gritty look at the realities of being a teen superhero. The film is fast with it’s jokes, from an early montage of Peter Parker catching the audience on who he is to a hilarious scene where Miles’ awkward flirting ends with his new spider powered hands sticking to Gwen Stacy. Even compared to the jokiest MCU movies there is a sense of joy that permeates this film from it’s actors to it’s animation.
Much has been said about this film’s animation, a hybrid of 3D and 2D that brings the world of the comic book to the big screen in a way not attempted since Ang Lee’s Hulk and with much more success. It’s easy to see how the film dazzles in a screenshot or in a trailer but it’s something more to be immersed in it. For the text balloons that begin following Miles around to become just another part of the visual language of the film. For the various characters art styles to clash as they butt heads.
If I had to point to anything in the movie I didn’t like the finger would probably fall on villain Kingpin. He’s a great imposing figure, his huge frame taken to comedic proportions that works great both for comedy and for making a physical force in the fight scenes. When he’s given a serious moment to display his tragic reasoning though it still comes off a little silly, even though Liev Schreiber does great. It’s also a little disappointing to see Penni Parker go from ersatz Evangelion pilot to super stylized anime parody. I can’t complain too much about that though cause the new character is still very enjoyable and gets her own emotional beats that work.
With the glut of superhero movies it’s easy to say that the weirdness of comic books is out in the open. What it more feels like is the world of comics is becoming more like the world of the action movie. The weird pointy bits sanded off, often for the benefit of everyone if I’m being honest. It’s still refreshing to see a film that combines all of the best parts of comics, from it’s dimension hopping weirdness to it’s scenes of father consoling son, to be brought onto the big screen. I’m just so happy that it was done so well.