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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Movie Review

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) movie poster Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Theatrical Release: December 14, 2018 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman / Writers: Phil Lord (story & screenplay), Rodney Rothman (screenplay),

Voice Cast: Shameik Moore (Miles Morales), Jake Johnson (Peter B. Parker), Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy), Mahershala Ali (Uncle Aaron), Brian Tyree Henry (Jefferson Davis), Lily Tomlin (Aunt May), Luna Lauren Velez (Rio Morales), Zoë Kravitz (Mary Jane), John Mulaney (Spider-Ham), Kimiko Glenn (Peni Parker), Nicolas Cage (Spider-Man Noir), Kathryn Hahn (Doc Ock), Liev Schreiber (Wilson Fisk), Chris Pine (Peter Parker), Natalie Morales (Miss Calleros), Edwin H. Bravo (Brooklyn Visions Security Guard), Stan Lee (Stan), Jorma Taccone (Green Goblin, Last Dude), Joaquin Cosio (Scorpion), Marvin Jones III (Tombstone), Kim Yarbrough (Scientist in Cafeteria), Lake Bell (Vanessa Fisk), Post Malone (Brooklyn Bystander)


Although their film divisions go back nearly one hundred years, Sony really has just one active cornerstone franchise: Spider-Man. Seven of the fourteen highest-grossing films in company history all hail from that Marvel Comics universe, from 2002's behemothic Spider-Man
to this fall's critically maligned yet globally popular Venom. As such, it might be tough to get jazzed about a new entry to the franchise filling in the gap between last year's Spider-Man: Homecoming and next year's Spider-Man: Far from Home. But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is completely different and very much worth being excited about all over again.

You know coming in that Spider-Verse is different, because this is a product of Sony Pictures Animation, marking Spidey's first animated theatrical feature. You'll also soon realize that you're not getting the same old Spider-Man story regurgitated in a new medium. Peter Parker is not the protagonist of this film, but a supporting character and there are two of them. The New Yorker's familiar origin of being bit by a radioactive spider that then gave him spider-like super powers comes to be applied to our young protagonist, Miles Morales.

Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), a teenager in present-day Brooklyn, has recently begun attending the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Miles got accepted there with a good entry test and a lucky lottery number and he isn't much feeling the school, missing the friends he left at his local neighborhood high school and being more interested in art and music than his studies. But his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) wants the boy to give Visions a shot and so he is.

Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales is the young protagonist of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."

One night, Miles pays a visit to his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), whom he appreciates even if his parents aren't the biggest fan. Aaron takes the teen to a stretch of subway station where he can express himself artistically and he does. But it's down there he gets bit by a spider and soon after encounters a blonde 26-year-old Peter Parker (Chris Pine), who is killed by the massive Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and goons, but not before he can pass to Miles a USB drive that can deactivate the powerful collider with which Kingpin is planning to blow a hole in the city.

While mourning the death of Spider-Man like a good New Yorker, the suddenly spider-like Miles meets Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), a less fit thirtysomething Spider-Man who hails from a different dimension. Unlike the Spider-Man who vowed to show Miles the ropes before his untimely passing,
this blasé older Spider-Man is more interested in chowing down on burgers, saving the world, and maybe winning back the Mary-Jane he divorced. Reluctantly, though, this flabby Peter begins to function as a mentor to our young hero when both are threatened by a scientist colleague of Kingpin.

These two Spider-Men are soon joined by others: Spider-Gwen (Stacy, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), a new classmate of Miles, Spider-Ham (a cartoony pig who probably reminds you of a Simpsons Movie gag/song), an anime-styled Japanese girl of the future with a robot, and Spider-Man Noir, a 1930s version of the crime fighter amusingly voiced by Nicolas Cage. This intergalactic group of heroes forms a kind of surrogate family, providing some knowing guidance and support to Miles, whose ascent to Spider-Man emerges naturally out of the narrative's circumstances.

Assorted Spider-people -- Penni Parker, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, Peter B. Parker, and Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) -- form a kind of surrogate Spider-family around our budding hero Miles Morales (center).

Sony Pictures Animation is not a company that inspires hope in film fans. The studio was launched in 2006 by Open Season, the most banal of animal buddy comedies released in a year when computer animation became both widespread and less of a surefire attraction. In the twelve years since, SPA has proven themselves commercially with nine-figure earners like the two Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies and three Hotel Transylvania ones. None of those have generated the Pixar-like wonderment that deep down every American animation studio craves. Nor have the mixed-medium Smurfs and Goosebumps movies. Their two best works to date were the sparsely-attended ones produced by Aardman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Arthur Christmas. Until now.

Into the Spider-Verse is head and shoulders above anything SPA has given us before. In fact, it's up there with the finest Pixar and Disney animated movies and better than the best efforts of just about every other American animation studio. There is so much to admire about this film, beginning with its creative visuals. Animation is a limitless medium, which is why it's both puzzling and frustrating that so many studios' creations look alike. The average person cannot identify an animated movie by the studio they made it and while that's perfectly fine, in this age of brands you can't imagine such ambiguity is desirable. Maybe you can fool a distracted dad into thinking you're a Pixar movie when you're not.

With Spider-Verse, it's not just about a distinct character design. It's a game-changing degree of innovation. Though undoubtedly computer-aided, the animation kind of has the look of the 2D drawings that comic books bolster. The comic book nature is further emphasized in the tasteful use of captions, panels, and onomatopoeia. There is a tradition that the movie leans upon which it greatly values, like when Disney makes a fairy tale musical. That distinguishes this highly stylized production from your standard-issue CGI family comedy. Remember, animation is a medium, not a genre.

Spider-Verse is downright abstract in its climax and it is beautiful both then and when it is something more familiar and conventional. Maybe its distinct look makes it harder sell with moviegoers, who have largely resisted animation that wasn't three-dimensional CGI for nearly twenty years now. Pixar wows us with detail and realism, but the real wonder stems from them creating a colorful universe from scratch. It is that same quality that makes Spider-Verse so visually appealing. The makes are not just giving us the standard, polished reproductions of characters and a city we've all seen before. They're giving us something distinct and full of personality. The animation befits the film, because there is more heart and humanity in this than in all of 2018's live-action superhero movies put together. The warm emotion we associate with classic 2D animation is clearly present here. And though this stays as far from the uncanny valley as possible, there's nothing flat or boring about this inspired presentation.

Peter B. Parker, a blasé, established thirtysomething Spider-Man from another dimension, becomes a reluctant mentor to the young and curious Miles.

The characterizations offer depth we rarely encounter in family-oriented films. There's the added bonus value of representation; Miles has an African-American father and Puerto Rican mother and both of those heritages shape his appearance, view, and personality. The movie is far too good to cynical and say the movie is simply hitching its wagon to the popular call to diversity, a cause celebrated in the box office success of
Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. For one thing, Miles was created for Marvel's comics back in 2011 and for another, there is nothing at all to marginalize Miles' ethnicity or make it feel calculated or inauthentic. The deuteragonist role of the Jake Johnson-voiced Spider-Man gives us a fascinating, complex portrait of adulthood and a kind of not that super superhero we haven't really seen before.

The screenplay is credited to Phil Lord (half of the duo that wrote and directed the first Cloudy and The Lego Movie) and Rodney Rothman (one of Lord's screenwriters on 22 Jump Street). They both deserve recognition for taking us back to this universe we have visited seven times over the past two decades and turning it on its head. It realizes you've probably seen most, if not all, of the previous Spider-Man movies. If not, you'll miss the opening scene's Spider-Man 3 joke, but nothing else. If so, you will not suffer any deja vu watching this. This film demonstrates there is ample room for different explorations of the same universe and there isn't the forced interconnectedness that has allowed fatigue to creep into Marvel Studios' output (to great commercial gain). The closest hint we get to that, beyond planting seeds for future arcs, is a post-credits tag set in "Nueva York" that ends up being just a funny joke involving a meme-famous '60s "Spider-Man" cartoon scene.

Critics are loving Spider-Verse. We'll see if the general public catches their enthusiasm for this, the first theatrical animated film adapted from Marvel comic books. If they do enjoy this even in modest numbers, it seems like Sony Pictures Animation will be winning their first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. To date, the studio has only gotten two nominations in that category, for 2007's Surf's Up back in the relative infancy of the award and for Aardman's aforementioned Pirates. This win would be especially meaningful, coming in what is probably the best year for animated films in history. The competition includes Pixar's record-setting blockbuster Incredibles 2, Disney's epic sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Wes Anderson's stop-motion charmer Isle of Dogs. There's even another great animated superhero movie that won't be nominated but should be in DC's pensive Teen Titans GO! To the Movies. Frankly, all five of these films are being marginalized by being limited to Best Animated Feature category, because all five truly rank among the best cinema of any kind released this year, at least of the 100+ films I've seen to date.

One somewhat significant post-script: Spider-Verse's PG rating from the MPAA demonstrates how little the MPAA's ratings really mean anything these days. Virtually every animated movie has earned a PG rating from the MPAA over the past two decades and here is a far more mature movie with gun violence and it receives the same PG rating that like The Grinch and Frozen get. I was actually excited for a moment when the movie ended to think that this could become the first commercially successful PG-13 animated movie since The Simpsons Movie over ten years ago, but alas "animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language" earn this a PG, which suggests something more kid-oriented than this.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Ralph Breaks the InternetDr. Seuss' The GrinchVenom
The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First SeasonSpider-Man: Venom Saga
Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-ManSpider-Man: Homecoming
2018 Animated Films: Teen Titans GO! To the MoviesIncredibles 2Isle of DogsEarly Man
Sony Pictures Animation: Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsArthur ChristmasThe Pirates! Band of Misfits

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Reviewed December 12, 2018.

Text copyright 2018 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2018 Sony, Columbia Pictures, Marvel, Sony Pictures Animation, and Pascal Pictures.
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