Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) is a typical, solid animated kids’ movie about teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) learning how to be Spider-Man, but on my home viewing I got the sense that it’s mostly supposed to be a visual spectacle. Many action sequences are tailored to theatrical 3D, and some frames look like when you remove your 3D glasses and peek at the screen. My Cold Bananas colleague Shaune tells me this isn’t lazy 2D conversion, but rather a mimicking of old-school comic-book printing, with colors bleeding together. I might’ve enjoyed the visuals more with that perspective.
Morales’ origin story is a straightforward one about gaining the confidence to be Spider-Man after Peter Parker (Chris Pine) dies. Then he has other experiences that are so standard that the Spider-People of the other Earths tell him they went through the same things.
A rare modern Marvel film that’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (last year’s “Venom” is another), “Spider-Verse” borrows the conceit of the 2009 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” TV movie “Turtles Forever.” Thanks to a massive machine created by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), the multiverses bleed together. Thus Miles meets another Earth’s Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), anime Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and – one for Homer Simpson – Spider-Ham (“Big Mouth’s John Mulaney).
Writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman introduce these characters in montages that double as comic-book commercials, complete with a spread of real comics on the screen and an acknowledgment that you, as a savvy pop-culture consumer, “already know the story.” Indeed, all of these Spider-People’s origins are identical, and although it probably wasn’t the filmmakers’ aim, it illustrates for me how safe and derivative mainstream comic books can be.
At least their personalities are different. Pine’s Spider-Man I suppose is like the grown-up version of Peter from the MCU – the straight-down-the-middle classic version. Johnson’s Spidey is down in the dumps and a little thicker around the middle since his marriage to Mary Jane (Zoe Kravitz) fell apart.
I have to give credit to “Spider-Verse’s” voice casting. Just by hearing Johnson’s voice, it’s immediate shorthand for who his Peter Parker is. Same with Cage’s.
The whole film, in fact, feels like it’s in shorthand. While that’s good for briskly characterizing the Spider-People, it leaves the overall plot feeling rote. A bland version of Kingpin – who makes me realize how lucky we are to have the Netflix “Daredevil” version played by Vincent D’Onofrio – wants to blend the multiverse together in order to be reunited with his wife and son. Miles possesses the maguffin (which he calls a “goober” in the writers’ knowing nod to this plot structure) that can stop the machine.
Aside from quick nods like the “goober,” I appreciate that “Spider-Verse” doesn’t get too jokey (although it’s definitely a light, kid-friendly yarn). There are hardly any pop-culture references – other than within the Spider-Verse itself — which is refreshing.
“Spider-Verse” uses the stylistic touch of occasional thought bubbles or verbalizations showing up on the screen, something 2003’s “Hulk” (and the 1960s “Batman” TV series if you want to go way back) also used.
With touches like these, “Spider-Verse” is energetic – sometimes exhaustingly so (and I think the nearly 2-hour run time is long). Watched at home, it’s a rainbow of colors and movement that I clinically admire but can’t fully embrace. That perhaps says more about me than the film, as for some reason the catalog of animated stuff I love doesn’t go much beyond “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
I assume most “Spider-Man” fans love this film like “TMNT” fans love “Turtles Forever,” and it’s obvious it has won over mass audiences and award-givers (it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature). It has given Sony its own slice of the Spider-Verse while Tom Holland’s live-action Spider-Man does his thing in the MCU (“Spider-Man: Far From Home” lands in July). But the MCU version is enough for me.
2D Blu-ray version: