Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a pure blast of creative joy and easily the best superhero film to come out in 2018. Despite being rooted in a vividly specific, recognizable New York, and as close to comic-book imagery as it hews, Spider-Verse is a wonderfully trippy, dreamlike adventure. And that’s not just because it features Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (yes, this is a real thing). No, somehow directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman have breathed thrilling new life into the comic book movie. The ways they mold form, tone, and texture is inventive. Given that we get a heap of Marvel films every year – with a fair share of Spider-Man appearances amongst them – the idea of yet another may seem like overkill or, worse, a shameless cash grab.
Into the Spider-Verse is chasing something different, both in storytelling and stakes. It knows that you’re familiar with all these various incarnations of the titular character, and might even be tired of them. The screenplay comes from Rothman and Phil Lord – one half of the brilliant team behind The LEGO Movie – and features plenty of fourth-wall breaking and self-aware narration. In less clever hands, these elements could feel like trite crutches; however, here, it pulls us deeper into this world. These are comic book characters that know they’re comic book characters, and that in no way diminishes the thrill of their adventures.
It helps that Into the Spider-Verse features a superb voice cast that brings these characters to life. They hit the humorous beats with perfect timing, yet they also find the humanity in their characters’ exploits to give the story dramatic heft. At their center is Miles Morales (voiced by Dope star Shameik Moore), an ordinary Brooklyn teenager who undergoes a transformation after being bitten by a radioactive spider. The streets, cabs, and subways of his daily life have a tactile realism to them, but also the heightened aesthetic of a comic book brought to vivid life, complete with panels and thought bubbles. It’s stunning. The newfound powers Miles is imbued with are equally exhilarating and terrifying.
Whereas Miles is young, eager and full of promise, the version of Peter Parker – Peter B. Parker, to be precise – he eventually encounters is middle-aged, jaded, and a tad out-of-shape. It’s an inspired take on this iconic character and is played perfectly by Jake Johnson. Peter and the various other characters we meet in the Spider-Verse introduce themselves by cheekily reciting the familiar steps of their own respective spider bites. The high-energy repetitions of this well-worn origin story, in its myriad permutations, is a consistent source of laughs.
However, Miles and Peter aren’t the only Spider-people out there. When crime lord Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) builds a supercollider that tears a hole in the space-time continuum, various Spider-beings from other dimensions are pulled into Miles’ reality. The first we meet is the elegant, acrobatic Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), who poses as a student at Miles’ school. Joining her is Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir, a black-and-white, hard-boiled detective from the 1930s; the anime-inspired Penni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), who fights crime with a robotic suit that is telepathically linked to her; and the aforementioned Peter Porker, a.k.a. Spider-Ham (a perfectly cast John Mulaney), who steals every scene he appears in.
Earlier on, we met the Spidey of Miles’ universe, a more traditional take on the character voiced by Chris Pine. Among the other characters we’re familiar with, we see Peter’s longtime love, Mary Jane Watson (Zoe Kravitz); his Aunt May (Lily Tomlin); and a handful of classic villains, including Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn, in a fun bit of gender-bending casting). Brian Tyree Henry and Mahershala Ali portray Miles’ father and Uncle Aaron, respectively. These two are vastly different figures that have had a major influence on the young man Miles has become. Luna Lauren Velez plays his warmly supportive mother, Rio.
The dizzying nature of this multiverse-spanning narrative is part of the fun. The characters are drawn so distinctly that they’re always compelling. Furthermore, we care about each of them because they’re not just cogs in the machinery of a universe-annihilating narrative like so many superhero blockbusters. Here, their individual worlds are at stake, and the possibility that these characters may never return to their respective home dimensions adds an intimate layer to the narrative.
They bounce off each other beautifully, trading banter and drawing from their strengths before learning to work together. Narratively, it’s pretty linear for a while. Once the climax hits, however, the screen explodes into a psychedelic mixture of color and style. This lengthy sequence is never hard to follow; we’re with it every step of the way as his new friends head home and Miles takes on Fisk alone.
Into the Spider-Verse is both a visual treat and a deeply compelling narrative. This film hits at the core of what any good Spider-Man story should be: it’s full of heart, and the various Spider-beings have that crucial blend of innocence and world-weariness that is essential to the character. Peter Parker is this character that has been beaten down constantly, yet he maintains this optimism and hope. Miles Morales is very much the same; he’s a character dealing with so much, but he’s able to pull himself out of it. And that’s why you love him. The Miles and Peter of this film are perfectly realized. The filmmakers here clearly had a firm grasp on what the character of Spider-Man means to people, and they used it to great effect to boost the film’s dramatic power and humor. This is not just one of the best Spider-Man films, but one of the best comic book films. It’s an enthralling, heartfelt movie. And be sure to stay for the post-credits scene; it’s hysterical.