In 1989 I went to the theater to see a film that changed my perspective of how superhero movies were meant to be. It was a film that made me believe in the very hero that I had come to see, leaving me with a sense of awe and wonder I had never felt before. This was a film that, to this day remains my perfect vision of who that character was and what he meant to me, that film was Batman starring Michael Keaton.
I have only felt that feeling of awe and wonder a few times in my life since that moment, the most recent being Batman Begins, so when entering the theater to see Spider-man Into the Spider-verse, I had no expectations that this would be anything more than just another Spider-man movie. Boy, was I wrong, it was so much more.
The plot follows Miles Morales. Miles is a young kid in New York City who is is simply trying to find his place in life. He is a smart kid, top of his class, a street artist and, a young man who admires the heroics of Spider-man. After being forced to attend a new advanced school, Miles tries to do all he can to get back to his normal life, which inadvertently leads him to be bit by a radioactive spider and soon come face to face with the death of his hero, Spider-man. Then he meets with several more Spider-people and things get crazy from there. Miles must now learn to harness his new powers in order to save the multiverse, all while staying true to himself and discovering just what that means.
Miles Morales was first introduced to the world in the 2011 comic Ultimate Fallout #4. Created by Brian Michael Bendis, Miles took the mantle of Spider-man in a similar way as the film, but minus the plethora of Spider-people as the movie eschews. What made Miles unique at the time was that he was one of the first Spider-men that, not only had his family intact, but who was also of a mixed race heritage and is the first African American Spider-men in the Marvel Universe.
The film embraces every aspect of Miles, from his heritage to his unique sense of duty, Miles is a hero even before he has his encounter with the radioactive spider, doing what is right no matter the cost. Desperate to find his place in the world, it is when he is faced with a life changing event, that we see that hero emerge showing both Miles and the world that Spider-man’s legacy will continue no matter who is in the suit.
The film itself is a visual and auditory triumph. Utilizing CG in a way that has really never been explored, this film manages to combine both computer animation and comic book aesthetics to create what could be the first real Comic Book Adaptation in the history of cinema. Instead of ignoring it’s four color origins, this film fully embraces the comic book pages, cleverly injecting moments that would have come across as hokey if done in any other fashion. From the occasional speech bubble to the classic use of onomatopoeia, this film shows us that, if used correctly, comics can be directly translated to the big screen without coming across as a two dimensional ‘motion comic’. The art style used in this film is nothing short of incredible and I would not be surprised that other studios who are watching already planning imitators of their own.
The sound design and sound track are a marvel of their own. Everything about it, from the music selection featuring artists such as Post Malone, Lil Wayne and Jaden Smith, to the subtle sounds of the city make this film feel like more than just another animated movie. Every breath, every beat, every thwip and every moment is enhanced with a wonderful sound design that keeps you in the moment throughout the film. So many animated films tend to ignore these subtleties seen in larger productions, this is not one of them.
Even though the film is animated throughout, there was never a moment it felt like a cartoon or just an animated movie. Much of this was accomplished through the incredible art design of the film but credit must also be given to the astonishing cast behind the animated characters. Led by Shameik Moore as Miles himself, the cast includes some of the best in the business such as Jake Johnson (Peter B. Parker), Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy), John Mulaney (Spider-ham), Aunt May (Lily Tomlin), Liev Shreiber (Wilson Fisk) and even Nicolas Cage making an appearance as Spider-man Noir. On par with the classic casting director Andrea Romano (Batman the Animated series) veteran casting director Mary Hidalgo did an amazing job ensuring that each character was represented with just the right voice. I hope we get more superhero animated films with her involved. She get’s it, and that is a rare thing indeed.
How about that Stan Lee Cameo? With the loss of Stan earlier this year, the time will come when we see his final cameo in a comic book movie and that day will be an end of an era. That being said, Lee’s cameo in this film is a fitting tribute to one of the creators of Spider-man himself. I won’t lie, I might have shed a tear or two. Also, keep an eye out for some nods to the other great creators such as Steve Ditko and Brian Michael Bendis, if you pay attention, you’ll see them.
The Bottom Line
At it’s core, Into the Spider-verse is a coming of age story, a story about finding your place in the greater universe whether you are a super-hero or not. One of the biggest mistakes most Super-hero films make is their attempt to re-imagine the characters they are presenting, Into the Spider-verse manages to avoid this issue showing that the secret to a great comic adaptation is simple, present a solid story and honor the source material.
This film is a triumph in more ways than one, It shows that an animated film can be as impactful as any live action superhero film and, in many ways, more so. It is as emotionally impactful as it was visually and for that, I am happy to have had the chance to see it on the big screen. I left the theater with an awe and wonder that made this middle aged comic geek feel like a kid again. Some kid out there had their first experience like this with this film and it will change their life forever, like Batman did for me in 1989.
This is the finest superhero film of 2018, possibly even the finest of the modern age. It is a game changer, one that sets a bar that even the upcoming live action Marvel Comics slate will have a hard time meeting, let alone surpassing. Sony took the same Leap of Faith that Peter tells Miles to make, I hope the other studios were paying attention, because they have their work cut out for them.
Late To The Game 12-16-18
Thank you for reading today. I hope you enjoyed the review. If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday. We also have a fun Retro TV Review series in which we are currently reviewing the entire Star Trek The Next Generation Series, episode by episode.
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