At Least This Film Acknowledges There Are Way Too Many Spider-Men
Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse
Okay, let's get this out of the way, one last time: the very concept of of Sony making, on their own, a Spider-man movie should leave every Spider-fan feeling complex emotions, largely of dread. After the one-two punch of the Raimi-led Spider-man and Spider-man 2, Sony failed to make a single good Spider-film in the last 14 years. Spider-man 3 was rushed and stupid, while both Amazing Spider-man and Amazing Spider-man 2 were comically bad hot-garbage.
As any fan will note, the only good Spider-man film to come out since the second Raimi film was Spider-man: Homecoming, and all credit for that is due to Marvel and the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.. It's not like taking time away and see what Marvel has been doing helped Sony at all, either, as the Spider-adjacent film, Venom was crap. Enjoyable, yes, but still total crap. To say no one could have expected anything out of the new, animated Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse is an understatement. Sony and Spider-man are two concepts that, seemingly, should never go together again.
And yet, it seems like Sony has done everything they could to correct many of their past mistakes on this new film. They brought in good talent behind the scenes (namely Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the geniuses behind Clone High and The LEGO Movie) and then gave them time to really workshop the movie to get it right. Into the Spider-Verse is not like Amazing Spider-man which was rushed into production with a year given to finish the project. It's also not like any of the later Sony Spider movies -- there may be a few villains, but they all serve key purposes to the plot and don't detract from the core hero's story. It's refreshingly sharp and well-crafted and essentially everything that all the other failed Sony Spider-films were not.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse stars Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a smart (but otherwise normal) kid who, one day, is bitten by a radioactive spider (one that, it's implied, came from another universe). Soon after that he stumbles on Spider-man (Chris Pine) battling Green Goblin and Kingpin, all to stop a massive particle collider that could end up destroying the universe. An initial test of the collider catches Spider-man in its beam, and then soon after the combined forces of all the villain leave the original Spider-man, Peter Parker, dead and the city of New York in mourning.
But in his place there's not just Miles but also another Peter Parker from a different dimension, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). Pulled into Miles's dimension due to the battle at the particle collider, this Peter is older, sadder, and in need of a way to get back home to try and fix a life that was slowly falling apart. To do this, they'll have to invade Kingpin's lab and get a special mem-stick that contains a version of the shut down program for the collider. And, along the way, they'll find other Spider-people pulled into this universe: Gwen Stacy/Spider-woman (Hailee Stanfeld), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her Robot Sp//dr, Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), and Peter Porker/Spider-ham (John Mulaney). Together, these six Spider-heroes will have to save all the worlds of the Spider-Verse.
While conceptually that sounds like a lot to take in at once, the movie deftly maneuvers all of it to craft a great little adventure. Into the Spider-verse takes a very comic book-y concept that should fly right over the audience's head and manages to make it all easy to understand, fun to navigate, and a total delight to watch on screen.
Part of that is because the film wisely focuses most of it's story down on two characters: Miles and the older Peter. The meat of the story is all about Miles and his journey -- learning his powers, dealing with familial expectations, and discovering the hero within. While I would normally be annoyed by yet another Spider-man origin story, this is the first time Miles has ever been put on the big screen, so getting the time to learn about him, who he is, and what he can do is necessary. If this had been yet another Peter Parker story, spending all this time on an origin would have annoyed me, but it works great here.
Of course, the movie does fully understand this. It knows full well that we've already seen enough Spider-man origin stories. Instead of giving us every origin for every Spider-person in the movie, it shorthands it into a great running gag that only gets funnier (and then dramatically impactful) as the gag goes on. Each and every one of these guys was bitten by a radioactive spider so it's not as if we have to spend hours on end seeing each of them become a hero. Miles gets to take the front-and-center growth arc and the other Spider-folk are there to aid him.
Peter B. Parker does get his own growth, though. He's treated at the biggest co-star, a hero we know (mostly) who's there to ease our transition to Miles. The fact that he's a sad-sack pining after the wife he lost (his version of Mary Jane) gives him an arc to pursue: redeeming himself in his own eyes so he can try and be good enough for his once (and maybe future) love. As far as the quintessential "hero's journey" is concern, Peter get that arc, finding redemption out in a different world then venturing back him to put those lessons to good use. It's to the movie's credit that the story can handle both a hero's journey and an origin story without feeling overstuffed.
But then, to pull off that feat some of the other characters have to remain a little more shallow than I would have liked. Gwen Stacy is a great character and nearly rises to co-star status along with Peter B. Unfortunately, the movie just doesn't have enough time to truly devote to her plot line. While we learn about her comic-appropriate past (best friends with Peter Parker, then she's bitten by a radioactive spider, and after that somehow Peter dies), she's not given much emotional growth past the mid-point of the movie. Sony will fix that (presumably) when Spider-Gwen is given her own film (already in development, mind you), but it would have been nice to get more time and more of an arc for this awesome lady.
The rest of the Spider-folk have even less to do than Miles, Peter B., and Gwen. Admittedly Spider-Noir and Spider-Ham are both jokey characters that don't need too much fleshing out. We certainly don't really need to watch a whole arc about Spider-Noir and his moody and hilarious life, nor do we need more than a few slapstick scenes of the cartoonishly over-the-top Spider-Ham. In both cases they get enough screen time to earn some laughs and then fade out. Peni Parker, though, gets the short shrift -- she's not a jokey character in the same field as Spider-Noir or Spider-Ham, but we don't really get to learn much about her before the credits roll. If anyone deserves to show up in another Spider-Verse (or Spider-Women) film, it's poor Peni.
Those are minor quibbles though for such a well written, deeply involving story. Everything about the movie, from the music to the animation to the story itself carries a distinct vibe, a singular vision writ large on the big screen. As Miller and Lord showed with The LEGO Movie, they know how to engineer delightful, far out visions that feel consistent and fully realized, and the pull off the same magic here. Into the Spider-Verse has a distinct, comic book vibe that enhances weird story its telling. It's like a comic book on the big screen, with speech bubbles and sound effects written out as Miles adventures around the city. Everything is washed in a pop-art, pointillism vibe to really make you feel like this is a comic given life.
Everything about this movie is a visual treat. Well told, funny, and expertly crafted, Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse is everything fans will want out of a Spider-Man movie. If anything, fans will just clamor for more and more, which Sony is already all too happy to give us (not only is Spider-Gwen already green-lit, but so is a second Spider-Verse film). This corner of the universe delivered what it promised and gave us a great Spider-man tale.
Really, the most shocking this about the film is that is was produced by Sony (without any involvement from Marvel to boot). Sony did the impossible and made a good Spider-film for once. Whether they can do it again in the sequels or spin-offs is secondary to this single feat. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse is a great film that introduces a new Spider-man. It may even be better than Homecoming, something I never would have thought I'd say.
And now I'm already itching to go back and watch it again. Damn it, Sony.