by Charles Kirkland Jr.
Think you know everything about Spider-Man? Well you’ve got a lot to learn from the new animated feature from Lord and Miller, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is the new kid on the block. Because he is so smart, he is attending a new school across town. Because he is attending a new school, he has got to make new friends. Because the new school is an academy and he has to live there during the week, he has to adjust his new living arrangement away from the rest of his family. All of this is too awkward and…new. The one thing he can count on is his favorite Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who feeds the graphic artistic side of Miles. During one night of the escape, Uncle Aaron takes him to a fresh spot to tag. After completing his incredibly intricate street art, Miles is bitten by a colorful spider numbered 42.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. After six recent movies, a couple of television shows, numerous comic books and a super-cool theme song, the origin story of Spider-Man is very well known. Nonetheless, in this movie, we see that very familiar origin of Spider-Man placed on a very unfamiliar person, Miles Morales. However, due to the efforts of the criminal Kingpin, there are five new spider people including Peter Parker, all with their own familiar origin stories.
Written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a clever, inventive and at times, hilarious treatment of the a storyline that began in Marvel Comic’s Ulitmate Universe and grew to include the variety of Spider-men, women and animals of the Marvel Universe namely Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfield), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) who is drawn anime style and has a robot spider, Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) who is drawn only in black and white and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) who is a cartoonish pig. The movie carefully and ingeniously integrates the particular animation styles of each character’s comic book in order to maintain the signature look of each hero and ultimately their identity. The script is smartly crafted and designed to allow the viewers to understand that the universe of this Spider-Man is slightly different from the one they are normally acquainted. For example, Miles’ step-father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), is a police officer for the PDNY instead of NYPD.
The casting of the voice talent is a delight. Future Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Green Book) joins a diverse group that includes Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down), Jake Johnson (Tag, Let’s Be Cops), Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen, True Grit), Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows, Atlanta), Lily Tomlin (Grandma, Admission), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms) and Chris Pine (Outlaw King, Wonder Woman, Star Trek) among others. Normally, animated features have a lot of stars throwing in their voice over work but this all-star cast is necessary to accurately represent the wide diversity that is represented in the film.
There has been much praise and anticipation about this movie’s diversity because it portrays a Spider-Man of African-American descent. However, the recognition falls short as it fails to indicate all the diversity in the movie. Miles has a Hispanic mother but even more significantly they fail to recognize the Asian Spider-hero played by Kimiko Glenn. The truly great thing is that if you stay for the end credits that you will even get to see the first Spider-Man of other descent, Miguel O’Hara the Hispanic Spider-Man 2099. Too bad the great Sony/Marvel collaboration that took place in this movie did not extend to the other Sony property, Venom.
The Lord and Miller combination (The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street), who normally direct these features reassigned themselves to positions of writer and producer respectively and allowed Peter Ramsey (Rise of the Guardians) and newcomers Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman to take over directorial duties. The newcomers put in excellent work. The story is tight and focused and excellently paced and the visuals are a work of art. The colliding animation styles accurately portray the feel of the colliding universes for which The Kingpin (Live Schreiber) is responsible. The trio have created an uncanny and visually enthralling experience that perfectly complements the script without overpowering it and easily should be considered the best animated feature of the year.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. It is an instant classic that deftly delves into the superhero movie genre and produces a new and fresh superhero that speaks inclusion directly to underrepresented communities. Appropriately, since Spider-Man was the first character that Stan Lee created, there is a special Stan Lee scene and a very nice tribute at the end of the movie. Don’t forget to stay until after the credits, it is a Marvel movie after all. Excelsior!