Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1861.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse was one of the best films that I watched in 2018 and has subsequently become my favorite Spider-man movie (finally taking the title away from Spider-man 2). Immediately after the first viewing on opening weekend, I knew that it was a film that I needed to own. It contained amazingly animated sequences of action, fun characters that are easy to get invested in, and drama that I’m not ashamed to admit had me in tears. Compared to most of the other spider-films, this one is on a completely different level. I would highly encourage you to watch this movie about a boy and his spider friends before continuing through this review.
The movie tells the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as he works through mastering his newfound powers. Following the death of the original Peter Parker (Chris Pine), Miles becomes his universe’s new Spider-man, and gets wrapped up a plot of multiversal proportions. Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has built a device that bridges universes together, aiding in his scheme. The device throws multiple new Spider-people from various universes into the fray, one being the reluctant new mentor Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). Each of these heroes have something to teach Miles but need him to save the day so they can return home. Through the help of various Spider-people, Miles fights against Kingpin to save Brooklyn and learn what it takes to become a hero.
The first thing to talk about, being one of the most present aspects of the movie, is the soundtrack. It is something genuinely created to lend itself well to an urban-style movie. To establish a feeling of the Miles’s uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), the song “Hypnotize” by Notorious BIG begins to play on a vinyl record in his introductory scene. It is a nice way to show the audience that different characters operate with different styles of music within universe. Notorious plays as a sort of juxtaposition to the song playing when we are introduced to Miles (“Sunflower” by Post Malone ft. Swae Lee), which is a more modern pop song. The scoring, however, can at times come across as awkward though when compared to featured songs. Whenever Spider-people other than Miles are doing heroic things, the music becomes a slog-fest of the same orchestrated hero music that has been in dozens of movies now. Personally, I think that this was designed to differentiate between standard ideas of hero music and the more hip-hop inspired hero that they are introducing. Whatever the reasoning for this is, I personally found the soundtrack of bangers at odds with the scoring for the movie.
Animation also shows focus on this being a Spider-man movie first and foremost. There have been a few superhero animated movies I have seen recently, and they all usually come across as trying to be like their real-life movie counterparts as opposed to being what they are: a cartoon… based on comic books. This is where I believe Spider-Verse comes in strong. It not only recognizes that it is a comic book movie, but it revels in it. Every scene in the movie is filled to the brim with amazing colors and comic book tropes. In action sequences riddled throughout, there are classic Onomatopoeia that burst on to the screen with vibrant colors. Miles has an ongoing gag in which his voiced monologue is placed in text boxes above his head after he is bitten and transformed. These different things make me believe that the people working on this wanted to make a cool story portrayed in a slick, hip-hop styled comic book form.
Thematically, this movie has some truly good things that come across. One thing I enjoyed thematically was the differences in the Spider-people and how they altogether represent the different aspects of Spider-man . Lonely (Spider-Gwen), Dark (Noir Spider-Man), Humorous (Peter Porker), ingenious (Penny Parker), and tired (Peter B. Parker). All these people personify the things that we have come to expect from the original version of the character, being a character dreamed up almost sixty years ago. I think that this is important because it showcases Miles Morales as a character to meet and surpass the old, establishing himself as the brand new.
The only weakness in the story at large was the constant reminder of “expectations”. One of the teachers at Miles’s school asks him to write an essay about himself, and Miles titles it “Great Expectations”. This is, in the movie, a reference to the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens. It seems like an odd reference that is called on in the movie multiple times, being that the themes of this movie contradict the plot of the book. While Miles goes through a journey of understanding that he needs to meet the great expectations set before him, Pip in the novel is reflecting on his life as having expected to much of himself in his younger years. Honestly, it is my suspicion that this movie already had expectations of the self as a theme, and the movie creators were searching for a classic literary source to channel that theme. This is the only weakness I would find in a movie with such a good presentation as it is a very big detriment to what the movie is trying to present. There is a video by the YouTube channel Wisecrack that offers a great deeper analysis on this surface level theme.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 5
This movie is probably the only movie I have ever considered difficult to rate in the five-star system. Everything on the surface is damn near perfect. Action, design of the world, animation was really good for a superhero cartoon. Sadly, this movie loses the fraction of a star needed to be perfect in the more subtle ways a movie presents itself. The music needed a little more connection between the soundtrack and scored stuff. The movie also should probably have considered the connection it was trying to make with literary history when attempting to become Dickensian. Overall, this movie is still one of the best hero movies to ever come out since The Rocketeer. Watch it!