Sunday, April 7, 2019

Second Verse, Not the Same as the First

Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library at Cortland Public Library.

A lot of the movies I’ve been reviewing lately have come from the Cortland Public Library. This is a tiny little library one town over from where I live. Despite its size (it’s considerably smaller than my house), it has a great movie collection. But, any collection can always be improved. I’ve teamed up with one of the librarians to create a movie club. Once a month, we host a movie showing, ask for a $1 donation, and, eventually, will use those donations to buy additional movies for the library. We premiered the group last night with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

And holy shit. I’d heard it was good, even groundbreaking, but I was not prepared.

I’m going to make the plot summary, well, summary, because this is not a movie to have spoiled. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is, like all Spider-People, bitten by a radioactive spider and experiences the strange growing pains of that event. This happens simultaneously with him going to a new school and dealing with the embarrassment potential of that. One night, while dealing with trying to avoid trouble, Miles encounters the real Spider-Man (Chris Pine), who is trying to stop a plot of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin (Live Schreiber). This plan is to create a dimensional rift to find another version of Fisk’s late wife and child. However, when Spider-Man falls into the rift, he essentially brings five additional Spider-People into his own universe. Since this world’s Spider-Man is killed by Kingpin shortly after and Miles is completely inexperienced, the additional help is clearly needed.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is inventive, smart, and visionary in almost every respect. We’re not given cookie-cutter versions of Peter Parker. Instead, we have an older, broken-down version (Jake Johnson), the acrobatic female version named Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the anime-inspired future version (Kimiko Glenn), the 1930s Nazi-fighting noir version (Nicolas Cage), and the cartoon talking animal pig version named Peter Porker, the Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). In this world, Doctor Octopus is Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hahn), and Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) knows all about the late Peter Parker’s secret identity. It’s insane, inclusive, raucous, and wild.

It’s also visionary in terms of its style. This is not merely an animated movie, but an animated comic book. We both see and hear the dialogue in places, and many of Miles’s thoughts appear in text blocks as if in comic book panels. There’s no other way to put this. While clearly an animated movie, it also clearly takes its inspiration from the visual style and sensibilities of the printed page.

It’s actually rather astonishing that this was even made, and that a major studio not only put money into it, but a great deal of money. It’s almost experimental in the way it delivers the story. It injects moments of humor, pathos, pain, and joy into its world, and it genuinely cares about its characters. While the porcine version of Spider-Man is clearly meant as comic, the others—even the somewhat ridiculous black-and-white noir version—are not necessarily played for laughs. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t talk down to its audience, but assumes a level of maturity that many movies do not.

In fact, I have only one complaint. In the third act, when we get the culminating battle between all of the Spider-People vs. Kingpin and his various minions, the visual style gets…difficult. There are a lot of colors happening and a great deal going on. It’s the sort of thing that could easily trigger a seizure in those prone to them, and I have to wonder how many people were negatively affected by this visual style. This is beyond comic book, but a constant visual assault, and it goes on for a painfully long time.

Beyond that complaint, I have nothing negative to say here. This is groundbreaking in all of the best ways. It is forward-thinking, exciting, and interesting, and the sort of risk that I love seeing a studio take. It could have very easily folded in on itself and been terrible. That it isn’t indicates good control from the trio of directors and a vast amount of trust from the studio. Marvel has been making its bones with the MCU, as well it should. I can’t imagine, though, that they won’t continue to make animated films based on the success of this one. If they all have the vision, guts, and attention that this does, it may eventually rival the MCU.

Yeah, I said it. It’s that good.

Why to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: It’s a game changer.
Why not to watch: The third act is a bit seizure-inducing.


  1. I loved it too. Best Spider-Man movie ever. Easily.

    In a year where Black Panther got so much hype and praise that it got kind of tiresome (especially considering that the ending was a freaking mess), I thought a lot of super-hero movies were GREAT. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" and "Teen Titans Go to the Movies" were both a heck of a lot of fun and much easier to swallow because the stakes weren't so high and they didn't take themselves nearly as seriously as, say, Avengers: Infinity War. (Or Black Panther.)

    But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was fun, the stakes were very high (which is usually a big red flag for me) but it didn't take itself seriously at all.

    Another plus: It very much had the feel of a movie created by people who like comics.

    1. I think it is the best Spider-Man movie. And I also agree that a lot of what makes it work is the tone. It's having fun with things, even though they are serious. It was a real joy, and that seems in short supply these days.

  2. The comics have been game changers for us readers of them for years (Peter Porker since the early 80's and Miles since 2011), while the best comic TV series, "The Spectacular Spider-Man," was cancelled due to Sony owning the rights to the S-M universe after Disney bought Marvel. Same reason why Netflix had to cancel its Marvel universe ("The Punisher," "Jessica Jones," "Daredevil," etc.) now that Disney owns the rights and is starting their own streaming service. At least we can expect several more of these Sony S-M universe films. My only quibble is/was the voices used. DC/Warner Bros. originally used excellent voice actors that really brought its comic book characters to life like the one and only Batman, Kevin Conroy. Now, Sony, Warner Bros., and Disney mistakenly think audiences are drawn to name stars that aren't even seen in the films/cartoons. Watch some of the best Batman films (many are animated) and see for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

    1. And this is just another reason why the Oscars are jokes in most people's eyes. Which one of the nominees for best picture were better than "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse?"

    2. The unfortunate truth is that it's unlikely an animated movie or a foreign language movie will ever win Best Picture. Since they have their own categories, those are more or less their "Best Picture" Oscars.

      As for what was better, I can't say. I've seen and enjoyed Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, but have yet to watch the other six nominees. I can tell you that, based on what I've seen so far, First Reformed was robbed of a Best Picture nomination. And Won't You Be My Neighbor? managed to miss a nomination as well.

      I've said it before a number of times, but it's always worth repeating. The Oscar posts on Monday and Friday are not a celebration of Oscar, but a reckoning.