Cinema Dispatch: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Honestly this whole “Oscar Season” thing has felt rather muted this year as I really haven’t seen that many movies that would fit the archetype we often associate with them.  Other than Welcome to Marwen, the holiday season has been just an extension of summer with huge blockbusters coming out back to back with three presumed major money makers (Bumblebee, Mary Poppins Returns, and Aquaman) fighting over a single weekend right before Christmas.  However out of all those movies that we’re getting right now, the one that really caught my attention was this film; not because I had any particular reason to think it would be great (though I do certainly hope that’s the case!) but because it looked so much different than everything else.  An animated film with a unique art style about Spider-Man characters other than Spider-Man?  Heck, that’s PRACTICALLY Venom considering how much CG they used, and that wasn’t TOO bad!  Can the cinematic debut of Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, and… others I guess, manage to be up there with the best that Disney can put out, or is this only gonna look good in comparison to Sony’s other recent Spider-Man efforts?  Let’s find out!!

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is your typical Marvel nobody; slightly smarter than everyone else, painfully insecure, and doesn’t realize how good his life is until some tragedy will inevitably strike it after they get super powers!  For now though, he’s just bummed about having to go to a fancy new school that his parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) want him to attend while all he wants to do is be with his friends and hang out with his uncle (Mahershala Ali) who understands him a heck of a lot more than his parents do.  During one such hang out session where he and his uncle tag a wall in an abandoned subway tunnel, Miles gets bit by a radioactive spider and goes through the typical Spider-Man first day of school; make a fool of yourself, stick to things, and eventually realize how awesome these powers are!  Then again, there’s already a Spider-Man roaming the streets (Chris Pine) so it’s not like he needs to get himself involved in Super Hero shenanigans, right?  Oh wait, Spider-Man’s dead.  Huh.  Didn’t see that coming (especially if you don’t know anything about Miles Morales already) and not only that, the big Super Villain plot he failed to stop is some sort of interdimensional portal gun thingy that The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) is making and is merging alternate realties into this one.  It makes a lot more sense when you see in the movie.  Trust me on that.  ANYWAY!  One of the alternate dimensions has spout out Peter B Parker (Jake Johnson) who is like this universe’s Peter only a lot less dead and a lot less competent, and he and Miles end up crossing paths through even more convoluted shenanigans.  So now that we’re up to TWO only somewhat competent Spider-People, they can do what the actually GOOD Spider-Man couldn’t, right?  Eh… maybe, but let’s see if we can find a few more Else Worlds Spiders like Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Bot (Kimiko Gleen), and Spider-Pig (John Mulaney) before storming The Kingpin’s castle.  I’m sure they’re around here somewhere!  Will Miles learn how to use his powers for good and accept the responsibility that comes with them?  Can the other Spider-People not only show him what it means to be a hero, but stop The Kingpin before their universe’s become endangered as well?  Can we somehow find a way to go to an alternate dimension where this film is ALSO part of the MCU!?

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“In our universe Venom was released in 2007.”     “WOW!  Your world really IS superior!”

I don’t know about the rest of “Oscar Season”, but this is definitely one of the best films of the year; animated or otherwise!  It’s probably the most Comic-Book movie ever made simply for how convoluted the plotting is (what with there being multi-dimensional travel and a bunch of exposition dumps to catch us up to speed), but it also gets across what works so well about that medium with great characters and all that gut wrenching drama you buy each issue to see.  Now I’ve never read… well ANY Spider-Man book now that I think about it, but if you’re in any way familiar with the idea of parallel and alternate universes in fiction (think Evil Spock from Star Trek), it really isn’t hard to follow which again is a testament to how strong the writing is here and how the bets comics can be appreciated by anyone; not just those who spent their whole lives reading every issue, cross-over, and retcon.  It’s gonna take a lot for Disney Marvel to have some legitimate competition (yes I’m talking to YOU, DCCU), but this film is so good at BEING a comic book film while still being distinct from what Kevin Kevin Feige is doing that we might see the first real shift in the comic book movie paradigm since the first Avengers film changed the whole cinematic landscape.  Okay, maybe that’s a BIT hyperbolic, but there’s room for more than just the colossal live action event movies, and this movie really is THAT good that I WANT to see Marvel Disney play catch up to it!

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Captain Marvel doesn’t come out for another three months, right?

The movie is visually stunning and one of the most creatively animated films we’ve gotten in a very long time.  Spider-Man, even with all the money Disney has thrown at him, has never looked as good as he does in this movie, and that’s true for all of them!  Miles Morales may take a while to BECOME Spider-Man, but when he does it’s a phenomenal moment and he gets a really great costume.  Spider-Gwen is already getting her own movie and after this I can’t blame them for doing so!  Most importantly though, NICOLAS CAGE IS SPIDER-MAN!  Okay fine, I’m an easy mark for ANYTHING Nicolas Cage related, but I did really enjoy Spider-Noir and the jabs the film takes at his cheesy persona.  I mean I could just sit here and recount all the cool little touches to the animations (all the different universes are animated differently) or how much I want Spider-Noir’s coat, but it really couldn’t do justice to all the ways they managed to maximize the appeal of the movie without breaking the bank hoping for photo-realism.  Sure you could nit-pick the polygon counts and try to compare it directly with the big studios like Disney and Pixar, but that would be straight up missing the forest for the trees as the processing power isn’t what matters as much as how they use it and what they have is utterly astonishing at points.  Not every redesign here works with The Green Goblin’s brief appearance being a particularly odd design choice (I couldn’t even tell if that was supposed to be Norman Osborne or maybe some sort of robot thing?), but that’s a rather small aspect to worry about when so much else is brilliantly realized.

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“Wherever darkness rears its ugly head, I am the light that will kick it in the nads.”

What’s just as impressive as the animations and slick designs is the story which is actually far more focused on Miles than you’d think from the trailers.  He’s a great character in this and I really like the idea that some of the things we take for granted as being Spider-Man like qualities aren’t necessary for someone to be Spider-Man.  Anyone can be Spider-Man (as long as they get bit by a radioactive spider) and of course if you couldn’t guess already, the fact that a person of color being the hero of a superhero film is a very important part of this movie and critics more qualified than I can speak to that.  One thing I’ll touch on briefly though is that unlike Black Panther which was built from the ground up to BE a black hero, Miles is inherently a derivative of someone else; even more so than the other Spider-People in this movie who are at least the ONLY ones in their respective universes where Miles’s dimension already had a Spider-Man that he now has to live up and be compared to.  Does it take something away that this character is the POC version of an already existing white hero?  Again, I can’t really speak TOO eloquently on that, but I’d say that it’s a bit like the new Star Wars movies.  Some have said they are rip-offs of the original trilogy, but really they are using the general idea of those films to create something entirely different.  You can pinpoint specific plot points throughout The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi that are the same as ones in the original trilogy, but the tone, message, and even the aesthetic is all about CHANGE.  It’s about doing something new with this world instead of repeating what was done in the past, and for me this same theme runs throughout the entire movie.  Miles doesn’t see himself as someone comparable to the original Spider-Man and certainly feels outclassed by the other Spider-People even if he can see how flawed Alt-Peter is.  It’s about overcoming that sense of being in someone else’s shadow and becoming who you want to be instead of what you feel you’re supposed to be.  Starting out small or trying to emulate someone is how a lot of people take their first steps into hobbies, careers, lifestyle, etc that will define them, and ultimately we all learn to walk on our own which is what Miles needs to do here, and I think that’s a great message to have in a movie like this!

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Jeez, and you thought Jameson was angry at the OTHER Spider-Man!

If there’s one major flaw in here, it’s that there’s too much movie stuffed into this.  Watching it you get the feeling that the filmmakers went into this assuming that it’ll be the only Miles, Gwen, Spider-Pig, etc movie that they or anyone else will ever get to make.  Perhaps not an UNFOUNDED fear as even if this IS a huge box office smash the whole Spider-Man split between Disney and Sony has left things in a rather unstable position, but it means that there is way too much packed in here and some aspects feel underdeveloped.  The three Spider-Gimmicks (Noir, Robo, and Pig) don’t show up until at least halfway through the movie and their stories are rather truncated because of it.  Everything about them just feels “secondary” as they never really DO anything that isn’t either plot critical or directed by the three other characters.  I mean it’s not like they weren’t AROUND for the first half of the movie, but you get the sense that they were literally sitting around waiting for the other characters to give them a reason to be in it.  The rest of the plot as well isn’t all that memorable what with there being a giant doomsday machine and a Science MacGuffin (referred to as a Goober in this) that will apparently make it ALL better, but for the most part it does feel like a fair enough trade off when the characters themselves are so much fun to watch.

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“QUICK!  DEVELOP ALL YOUR CHARACTERS AND BACKSTORIES IN FIVE MINUTES!”     “Uh…”     “Too late.  We’ll just have to wait for the sequel.”

Marvel is set in its ways, DC is consistently a step behind, and Fox is hanging on by a thread.  I didn’t expect Sony, the studio behind the Amazing Spider-Man films as well as the admittedly decent if unspectacular Venom movie, to put forth such a strong effort.  It’s kinda odd that we’ve gone THIS long with animated super hero movies outside of The Incredibles, and yet we get two really great ones back to back with this film and Teen Titans Go to the Movies.  This is the better film however which isn’t so much a dig at Teen Titans Go (a REALLY fun film) as it is an exultation of this film’s utter brilliance and hopefully it won’t be the last time we see Miles, Gwen, and THE REST on screen.  Heck, if it’ll give Sony a reason to hold onto the Spider-Man rights, I’m sure they’re already putting spin-off movies into production for each one of these characters; not just Spider-Gwen!  In any case, you should ABSOLUTELY see this movie in theaters and as soon as possible!  I know there’s a lot of interesting stuff coming out this month, but you definitely need to make time for this one!

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