Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse - Holy Moly Batman!
Why have one Spider-Man in your film when you can have five!
At the outset I have to explain the "holy moly" tag in the title of my review. During the film, as we reached the explosive conclusion in the third Act, a young boy of about six or seven who was seated near me, let out a spontaneous exclamation of "Holy Moly!" It was a perfect reaction to this new addition to the Spider film canon.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman with a script by Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord (Lord also brought us The Lego Movie), we get a wonderful Spider Man tale. This is not a re-imagining as some reviews have stated. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of the previous live action films and introduced more of the Spider-Man universe that will be familiar to many who have and continue to read the comics.
Anticipating its audience’s potential for Spider-Man fatigue after a slew of reboots, sequels, spin-offs and guest appearances since Sam Raimi re-energised the franchise in 2002, this film playfully doubles down, introducing no less than five new Spideys, each hailing from their own parallel universe. There is Peter B Parker (Jake Johnson), divorced and depressed; Gwen Stacy’s Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld); a trench-coated Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), drawn in black and white; Looney Tunes-esque Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (John Mulaney); the futuristic, anime-styled Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn); and teenage graffiti artist Miles Morales (a very likable Shameik Moore). The villain of the piece is Kingpin (Liev Schreiber).
I went into this Spider-Man film with a lot of apprehension as this is the first big-screen Spider-Man animation.Within the first few minutes I knew I was in good hands and relaxed. During the opening narration by Peter Parker he brings audiences right up to date: "Alright, let's do this one last time. My name is Peter Parker. I was bitten by a radioactive spider and for ten years I've been the one and only Spider-Man. I'm pretty sure you know the rest. I saved a bunch of people, fell in love, saved the city, and then I saved the city again and again and again... And, uh... I did this. [shot of Spidey doing the emo dance from "Spider-Man 3"]. We don't really talk about this". With this simple respectful and comedic moment I was won over.
So where are we? The film is a post-modern take on the wall-crawler, exploring different dimensions and playing with all the various incarnations of the hero while delivering a thoughtful and refreshing origin for Miles Morales — potentially the best origin story since Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Miles' culture and upbringing make him a different kind of hero, and while he's the first African-American/Latino Spider-Man, he's going through things that every person can relate to. He's trying to fit in, juggle responsibilities, and meet exceptionally high expectations, all while trying to figure out his place in the world. He is every bit as relatable as Peter Parker, and the dynamic between the two, as well as the aspects they share with the other Spider-People, is lovely to watch.
It's one of the few superhero movies where you feel like you are actually inside a comic book, and because of the free-wheeling spirit of it all, you completely buy into the idea that an anime character can co-exist with Peter Porker, aka "Spider-Ham", a wisecracking pig straight out of a slapstick cartoon, and Nic Cage's Spider-Man Noir, a hard-boiled, black-and-white private eye complete with a Humphrey Bogart fedora and trench coat.
The animation enhances the emotional thrust of the film by accentuating the rich characters within — we immediately understand that these heroes, while driven by the same sense of purpose, are from wildly different worlds. Spider-Verse is the first film that acknowledges just how iconic the character is, and how — like Batman and Superman — every generation has their own version of Spidey. Jake Johnson's Peter Parker Spidey is one of my personal favorites, a 40-year-old whose experiences have left him world-weary and cynical. He's lost everything, but training Miles helps him to reclaim the spirit of selflessness that Spider-Man exemplifies. Another standout is Hailee Steinfeld's Spider-Gwen. For those who are unfamiliar with the character created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, Spider-Gwen comes from a universe where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker, forcing her to become the "Spider-Woman" of her world. She's easily the coolest, smartest, and most capable Spider-Person in the film and I can't wait to see more of Spider-Gwen in subsequent animated, and hopefully live-action, films.
A thoroughly enjoyable telling of the Spider-Man story and a wonderful introduction to the whole world of spider-possibilities. It's also the first film this year with a talking pig.
Holy Moly indeed.