With the recent release of “Spider-man: No Way Home” (see our review on the Comic Zombie podcast), it really got me thinking about another Spider-man movie that also just so happens to deal with multiversal shenanigans: “Into the Spider-verse”! So I recently revisited this groundbreaking animated movie and not only did it hold up extremely well, I’d argue that it’s easily one of the best comic book movies ever made!
2018’s “Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse”, written by Phil Lord (of ‘Lego Movie’ and ’21 Jump Street’ fame), directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman – is about the origin of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as the newest Spider-man in a multiverse teaming with spider-themed heroes!
A Comic Book Come to Life
Right away, the tone is set with that classic Comics Code Authority stamp fully embracing the fact that this isn’t just a movie based on a comic book property, this is in fact the essence of a comic book come to life and every single scene that follows absolutely delivers on that promise! As someone who grew up in a time before the MCU, it’s so refreshing to see a movie embrace it’s comic book roots rather than trying to sweep them under the rug!
The animation style throughout is incredible and like nothing we’ve seen before on film. It’s bright and vibrant in a way that live action just can’t replicate, but it also manages to capture the feel and language of live action cinematography in a way I haven’t seen outside of Japanese anime, stylistically blurring lines on background details for emphasis in a similar way that a camera lens would focus in on what’s supposed to draw our eyes.
They also managed to blend 3D and 2D assets seamlessly to the point where you can’t really tell either way. Another inspired visual choice was the use of half tone four color dots throughout, evoking the printing style of old school comics! To further emphasize this overt comic book connection, we’re even given word balloons, caption boxes, visualized sound effects (Thwip!), and even the occassional use of multiple panels during a montage or transition – which are sometimes used for comedic effect. Story aside, every frame of this movie is a work of art in it’s own right.
This Soundtrack Slaps!
The hip-hop inspired soundtrack further emphasizes that this is a remixed re-telling of a story you might already be somewhat familiar with. From “What’s Up Danger” by Black Caviar and Blackway to DJ Khalil’s “Elevate”, along with Daniel Pemberton’s awesome score, the music in this movie is top notch and really captures the essence of the characters and the multi-versal setting! Paired with the stunning visuals, it really draws you in and never lets go.
Who is Miles Morales?
Everyone knows Peter Parker, but this movie had to sell the audience on who exactly Miles Morales is and why should we care? Thankfully, Shameik Moore absolutely nails the voice of the character and makes him completely believable and relatable.
In the comics, Miles is a pretty amazing and unique character in his own right and this movie absolutely delivers on what sets him apart from the classic web head, presenting him to us as an awkward kid in over his head who wants to do the right thing, but first needs to find the confidence in himself to be his own hero. Instead of losing his Uncle Ben, Miles loses his Uncle Aaron (played by the great Mahershala Ali), who turns out to be the supervillain known as the Prowler!
On top of being a compelling character outside of the suit, Miles also has a unique set of powers from our old school wall crawler, including an electro-static ‘venom blast’ and the ability to camouflage himself into his environment! Another thing that sets him apart from Peter Parker is his family life. “Into the Spider-verse” really develops Miles’s relationship with his dad, Jefferson Davis (brought to life by the loveable Brian Tyree Henry), a cop in Brooklyn who doesn’t trust Spider-man, and his Hispanic mom, Rio Morales.
While Peter Parker is an amazing character himself, it was so refreshing to have someone with a different background take the spotlight for once. As much as I love all the old school superheroes, representation absolutely matters and it’s been really awesome to see these big tent pole movies with a diverse cast of characters, so I have to applaud the filmmakers for not only making an incredible movie, but for taking a chance in this regard.
I also think it’s important for kids to be able to see themselves as the hero on screen, and this movie doesn’t just give young boys role models in Peter and Miles, but we also get one of the best female characters in recent Marvel comics, Spider-Gwen!
Although it’s not a direct adaptation of the 2014 “Spider-verse” comic book story, it does take some of the best elements of that Marvel crossover event and blends it with the origin of Miles Morales, who was first introduced in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-man series back in 2011, with the “Death of Peter Parker” storyline. Miles eventually crossed over into the main Marvel universe where he met the original Peter Parker in 2012’s “Spider-men”, and both universes were ultimately merged in the 2015 “Secret Wars” mini-series.
In the opening, we’re given a quick summary of who this world’s version of Spider-man is (Chris Pine aka Captain Kirk in the Kelvin-verse), along with a few clever nods to previous Spider-man films, which is later revisited for laughs when we meet an alternate Peter B. Parker (this one played hilariously by Jake Johnson from “New Girl”), who doesn’t quite have his shit together the way Miles’s original Peter does. It ends up being a really clever story device to introduce each new hero that Miles encounters, including “Spider-Gwen”, Spider-man Noir, Peni Parker, and Peter Porker. We’re even introduced to each of our main Spider-men / women with their own comic book cover, ultimately culminating in Morales getting his very own when he finally dons his iconic red and black suit!
“Spider-Gwen” aka Gwen Stacey (played by Hailee Steinfeld), who goes by Spider-woman in the comics, was first introduced in the pages of “Edge of Spider-verse” – and comes from an alternate universe where instead of her being fridged by the Green Goblin as Spider-man’s girlfriend, she instead was bit by the radioactive spider and tragically lost her Peter Parker who had become the Lizard. The fact that they made her one of the main characters in this storyline was genius, especially since audiences were already familiar with her on screen death in Andrew Garfield’s “The Amazing Spider-man 2”. In the comics at one point, Miles and Spider-Gwen actually hook up, so here’s hoping we’ll see that come to fruition later this year in “Across the Spider-verse”.
While Spider-ham and the anime / manga-inspired Peni are both delightful as comic relief side characters, Nicolas Cage as the Film Noir-inspired (black and white) detective version of Spider-man from the 1930’s, is one of my favorite characters in anything. It’s played for laughs of course, but ever since he first appeared in 2009’s Marvel “NOIR” series, I’ve been a fan of this iteration. He even appeared as one of the playable characters in the Xbox 360 / PS3 video game from 2010, “Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions”, alongside Spider-man 2099 (more on him later).
The Sinister Six?!
Another thing this movie really has going for it is the villains! And wow, do we get a lot of villains in this one…
The main big bad of course is Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime himself! (Liev Schreiber) – whose exaggerated proportions give him a menacing presence that only works in animation. In the first action sequence of the movie we see Spider-man facing off against a version of the Green Goblin heavily influenced by Mark Bagley’s Ultimate version, except with dragon wings. We’re also introduced to the Prowler who is straight up terrifying – and given this really creepy sound effect every time he shows up onscreen.
Later on in the movie we’re given a very different, very cool version of “Doc Ock” with the CEO of Alchemax, Dr. Olivia Octavius (played by Kathryn Hahn)! This was an unexpected take on one of my favorite Spider-man villains and I really hope it’s not the last we see of her, because she was straight up ruthless! We even get appearances by Tombstone and Scorpion!
While we don’t get an official “Sinister Six” team-up, we still get 6 iconic Spidey villains all in one movie!?
The Best Stan Lee Cameo Ever?
As any Marvel fan can tell you, Stan Lee has had A LOT of cameos in Marvel movies and games over the years – all of which were memorable, but for me, this one really takes the cake. When Miles buys a Spider-man costume at a party supply store, Stan Lee is the clerk that sells it to him, assuring him, “It always fits… eventually.” This was really poignant on a number of levels, in part because Stan Lee was always adamant that Spider-man could be anyone under the mask…
Those End Credits Tho
The movie ends with one of the coolest credit sequences in movie history, rivaled only by the James Bond franchise and maybe the Tom Holland Spider-man movies. It showcases all the main Spider-men (and pigs), but if you look closely, there are dozens of other references to other versions of Spider-man hidden throughout! It’s like a Where’s Waldo of Spidey variants!
And then, the post-credits scene which features Miguel O’Hara aka Spider-man 2099, voiced by freaking Oscar Isaac?! He basically just shows up for a joke playing off of that Spider-man meme from the old animated series, but it got me so hyped for the next one!
“Into the Spider-verse” is an incredible movie that captures the humor, heart, and underdog antics of a great Spider-man storyline. It works on nearly every level: animation, music, storytelling, sound design, acting, etc. It’s funny, exciting, heart-breaking, and even a little mind-bending at times! It’s not just a great adaptation, it’s not just a great animated film, it’s not just a great comic book movie, it works as just an awesome piece of media by itself, and I’d argue it’s an important piece of pop-culture.
And I couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming sequel…
Which spider-character do you want to see in the sequel? Let us know in the comments below!
The Spider-verse sequel, “Across the Spider-verse: Part One” is set for October, 2022!