Tobey Maguire didn’t really work me. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what Peter Parker, or for that matter Spider-Man, should be so I wasn’t carrying any bias when Maguire was cast. His portrayal of the wall-crawling, freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle and high school bully magnet was decent enough. I even overlooked his age for someone playing a teenager. He serviced the character through three movies with a lot of enthusiasm, yet it felt more like Sam Raimi was the star of those films. His signature directing style outshines most of the performances, which seem to skew towards daytime melodrama. Still there were some very great choreographed action scenes and Maguire at least fit the world that Raimi had crafted.
Andrew Garfield was an improvement in The Amazing Spider-Man, despite being even older than Maguire, and gives Peter Parker an edge he didn’t have before. He exuded attitude and a little snark when he caught the bad guys. Maguire was more emo angst. Garfield’s chemistry with Emma Stone also helped his performance. The first movie was pretty good, but the second suffered bad direction and the studio’s obvious desire to expand the franchise too fast by complicating the script. His take on the character, while successful, lasted only two movies. The franchise needed new direction and by this point the MCU was in full swing.
Tom Holland, an actual teenager, was hired to play Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. An eye-popping moment for the character and one of the highlights, among many, in the film. Sony still owned the film rights to the character and franchise for Spider-Man, but they agreed to share him with Disney and Marvel Studios. A rare moment of compromise in Hollywood history. Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker, and his alter ego, is my favorite of the bunch. He acts like a wide-eyed teenager full of innocence and hope. He is equal parts confident and humble and has a developed personality. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a nice jumping off point for his franchise and I enjoyed the father and son angle between Peter Parker and Tony Stark. So does Sony count their blessings and settle for this great, definitive Spider-Man? No. They double down and give you every Spider-Man you could ever want.
In Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a high school student living in Brooklyn, New York. He has lots of friends and enjoys sketching art in his notebook for future graffiti projects. His parents are very much alive. His father is a police officer and African American. His mother is Puerto Rican. When Miles takes a stroll into an underground tunnel with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) to spruce up the walls, he is bitten by a strange spider. You can imagine where it goes from there. Or can you? In this familiar world, Spider-Man already exists and is known by everyone to be Peter Parker. In fact we come to find out this world isn’t the one we reside on. There are many dimensions out there with their own version of Spider-Man, and not all are Peter Parker.
Miles Morales, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, finds out that Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) has a device that can access these other dimensions. It could also wipe his world out from existence. He needs to destroy it, but he’s going to need help from the other Spider-people. They were sucked into this world when Fisk initially tried his machine. You have Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), a slightly overweight Spider-Man with a chip on his shoulder, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), a resourceful Spider-Woman with a white hoodie, Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a 1930’s black and white crime fighter with outdated colloquialisms, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a young schoolgirl who pilots a spider robot, and Peter Porker a.k.a. Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a cartoon character with slapstick appeal. All of them have different personalities and backgrounds, but endured similar tragedies. Their expertise will give Miles Morales the guidance he needs to grow into the role of Spider-Man.
One of the things that stands out in this movie, besides the bevy of Spider characters, is the animation. It’s a style unlike any other and is full of color and energy. It often felt like a comic book, but drawn very real. Sometimes the background was blurred so all you could focus on is the main characters. I didn’t mind this technique. Other times the scene is awash in visual candy. You don’t know where to look because it all looks so amazing. The animation also paired well with the comedic tone, which is a welcome reprieve from the heavy drama that the live action films inevitably invite.
Lord and Miller are producers on the film and that is evident in the writing, Phil Lord is a co-screenwriter with Rodney Rothman. The comedy is reminiscent of their previous work on The Lego Movie. It’s kinetic and the jokes are flying at you fast. Not so fast that you can’t catch them, unless you’re laughing too hard. While I would say the film favors the sci-fi comedy genre, it does still have a good amount of drama and heartwarming charm. Still it’s clear this movie’s main goal is keeping kids bouncing in their seats with excitement.
I knew next to nothing of Miles Morales and his backstory, or the other visiting heroes for that matter, but I was fascinated by the prospect of getting a new take on the Spider-Man mythology after decades of the same story. Morales has intelligence and cunning, but he’s also a minority and that is a unique angle. Also his immediate family is intact. All of these big differences make him a game-changer for the character.
If I had to pick a favorite Spider hero in this movie, I’d still say Miles Morales because he gets the most attention and character development. All of the characters are fun, funny, and exciting to watch on screen. They also have great chemistry with each other. I guess I wouldn’t mind more Gwen Stacy or Peter Porker. I’m into anime so Peni Parker and her robot spider intrigue me to no end. Spider-Man Noir has a bad ass trench coat and hat so he’s got cool to spare. The voice actors really give these characters a lot of dimension, pun intended, and I cared about them as much as I did Miles.
The story is well written and full of Easter eggs from start to finish. I think the comedic elements and obvious necessity to incorporate so many characters into the plot do hinder a stronger emotional connection to the film. The levity is refreshing, but it can also detract from scenes that should carry more weight and not seem like a Saturday morning cartoon about to go on commercial break. None of this detracts from, overall, how entertaining the movie is.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a jolt of originality in the superhero genre. It covers familiar territory and plot themes, but with a blend of breakthrough animation and unconventional storytelling. Shameik Moore is terrific as the titular character. The main one to be specific. Hailee Steinfeld, John Mulaney, and Nicolas Cage also give great performances.
There is conversation about this being the best animated film of the year and I won’t argue against that just yet. There is even talk of a sequel for Miles and a spin-off movie with an all-female Spider cast, which I’m enthusiastically on board for. As with any Marvel or Marvel adjacent film, keep on eye out for the Stan Lee cameo and stay through the credits. You won’t be disappointed. Tom Holland shouldn’t worry about being overlooked. When it comes to over-saturation, this movie has proven that there is no such thing as too many spiders. Just make sure to give Miles Morales his time to shine.
About Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse
Synopsis: Miles Morales becomes the Spider-Man of his reality and crosses paths with his counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Writer: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin
Runtime: 1 Hour, 57 Minutes