The Coronavirus pandemic means that I can’t go to the cinemas as much as I’d like. So I decided to sit my butt at home and revisit one of my favourite films of 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Whenever I walk into an animated feature, I always ask myself one question: Does this film warrant the animated format? Look, I’m not saying only particular types of stories should be told through animation. There are no rules to these things. What I am saying is that I don’t need to watch a hand-drawn version of King’s Speech. I’m also saying that I walked into Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with a similar sense of curiosity. Why is this film getting a theatrical release? What can this film do differently from the 758 different live-action Spider-Man films we’ve already gotten and 999 other ones we’re about to get, especially since the current iteration with Tom Holland as the web-slinger, is not only bloody awesome, it’s also part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Into the Spider-Verse slapped me in the face, karate kicked my stupid ass, shoved me into my seat and said, “shut up and sit down loser. I’m about to show you what’s up!” This isn’t a movie, it’s a unique experience. Game over. When I first watched it in cinemas a couple of years ago, I thought to myself “If it doesn’t WIN (not just get nominated, but win) Best Animated Feature at the Oscars then it’s just further proof that those old farts at The Academy need to get laid.” Thankfully, it did actually go on to win it.
The way the colours pop, the way the characters move, man, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. If you’re a comic book fan, Into the Spider-Verse probably gave you goosebumps for days. That it at times evokes memories of your best acid trip (not that I would know what that’s like) is only a bonus.
Into the Spider-Verse is 3D animated made to look like it’s 2D animated, that’s artistically pixelated, with noticeable lines and dots. It feels like you’ve been sucked into your favourite graphic novel — there are even page flip transitions and yellow boxes with words that pop up whenever a character is internally monologuing. Think of it as Scott Pilgrim vs The World meets the best of Zack Snyder. If you think that sounds absolutely bonkers, you’re right. That doesn’t mean it’s also not unequivocally badass. This movie rocks almost as hard as Metallica in the 1980s.
There’s a scene where Miles Morales leaps from a skyscraper upside down. It plays out in slow-motion and I felt my heart stop and drop to the ground with a thud. I literally died, ascended to the heavens above and said wazzup to Jesus. But Jesus was like, “Shut up homeboy. This movie ain’t done kicking your ass yet.” So my soul descended back into my body and I continued watching this near majesty. Then comes the final mind-bending, psychedelic action sequence that is so epic it’ll momentarily make you forget that this is the same studio that also gave us the disgraceful mess of a comic book butchery, Venom. It’s okay Sony. We forgive you now.
But the glorious visuals aren’t a meaningless spectacle. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tells a good story. It also, surprisingly, tells a personal story. Sure, as we see in the trailers, we’ve got various renditions of Spider-Beings popping up from all corners of the multiverse — Spider-Woman AKA Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), two different Peter Parkers (one voiced by Jake Johnson and the other by Chris Pine), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) — and while each has a moment to shine, they’re there mostly to help Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) on his journey. At its core, this is a Miles Morales story.
Miles is a regular Afro-Latin teenager (I love that the film wears this on its sleeve. We see Miles occasionally talking to his mom in Spanish) — he goes to school, does his homework, hangs out with his friends, the usual — who feels the weight on his shoulders multiply tenfold when Peter Parker entrusts him with an important task right before getting brutally murdered by the menacing brute, Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). The murder of Peter Parker and the speech by Mary Jane that followed brought tears to my eyes. It’s one of the film’s many evocative moments.
It’s also where our narrative truly begins, as Miles has to find a way, against all odds, to stop Kingpin once and for all. Kingpin, who has already messed with the fabric of reality once and is threatening to do it again. This animated version of Miles Morales is now my second favourite Spider-Man — the best still being Tom Holland’s. Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, and writer Phil Lord are very obviously huge fans of the character. They understand the DNA of Spider-Man; what makes him one of the best superheroes ever conceptualised. It has nothing to do with his cool powers (okay, maybe it has a little to do with that), but rather the fact that he’s us: The geeky dude that likes watching movies and playing video games. He gets thrust into this crazy world of larger than life superheroes and supervillains, a world which he has always looked at from the down up. Suddenly he has to shoulder enormous responsibilities at an age where his most difficult task should be figuring out how to ask a cute girl to prom.
But why, you might wonder. Why is it necessary for Peter/Miles to go out and save the day? In Captain America: Civil War Peter tells Tony, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen… they happen because of you.” While Into the Spider-Verse lacks a stinging line as such, the principle behind that line still forms the beating heart at the centre of the film. Miles feels responsible. He knows the faith of the world rests on his shoulders, whether he’s ready or not.
He has to dig deep, reflect and find the courage within himself to stand up against Kingpin. In the second act of the film, there is a painful scene where the various Spider-Beings keep beating Miles down and taunting him, “C’mon! Get up!” they yell at him. It’s another idea that’s integral to Spider-Man — learning to get back up when life knocks you down.
A friend of mine asked me if Miles Morales is simply brown Peter Parker and if so, why even create the character in the first place. First of all, diversity is always a good thing. But second of all, no, he’s not just a Peter Parker replica with a different skin tone. Peter lost his parents at a very young age and his aunt and uncle took him in. Miles’ parents are both alive and well. He’s also generally liked by a lot of people in his school (at the start of this movie, we see him high-fiving a bunch of kids on his way to school).
And Miles Morales goes through different sets of trials and tribulations. Miles’ dad is a police officer and a hardass. Miles feels like he cannot have an open and honest conversation with his dad. Like many sons and fathers, they must find a way to connect in their own way, at their own pace. He turns to his uncle, who becomes his closest confidant. But what happens when your most trusted friend turns out to be a very different man than you initially thought? Like all great animated films, Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just a kids ride. Sure, it has a couple of kiddie jokes — Spidey dragging another unconscious Spidey around town is sure to crack up the children — but its themes are deep and very much young adult/adult-adult. It tackles death, insecurities and failure head-on.
Is this movie perfect? Not quite. While Kingpin does get a quick backstory — and boy is it tragic — he isn’t given that much to do. His presence isn’t felt throughout the film, unlike say The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. This is a hero’s story through and through. And, while the various Spider-Beings do not intrude Miles’ story, I can’t help but feel this could’ve been an even tighter film had it just been Peter Parker and Miles Morales. I mean, do we really need Spider-Ham?
But a whole, this is a damn fine motion picture that is sure to get your heart pounding and adrenaline pumping. Not to mention it has a great score and soundtrack too. Into the Spider-Verse is a big fu*k you to anyone who ever went “Urgh! Who cares about a silly Spider-Man cartoon?” Animated poetry in motion my dudes! And it’s here to stay. #GoosebumpsForDays
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is currently streaming on Netflix (Malaysia).