One line that gets repeated over and over in Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, which premiered last week, goes: “Let’s do this one last time”. Whenever that line was delivered, a stylish flashback sequence started that detailed the backstory of the character that mentioned it. And that was something of a necessity considering just what kind of film it was: yet another adaptation of Marvel superhero Spider-Man. But the driving element of “Into the Spider-Verse” was the notion of numerous iterations of a web-slinging spider-powered hero, and on that account the movie has done something never really seen before – in terms of Spider-Man movies.
Based on a story by “The LEGO Movie” writer Phil Lord, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a very loose adaptation of the “Spider-Verse” event from Marvel Comics. About the only trapping from that storyline used was the opening of parallel worlds from which to gather quite the variety of alternate versions of Spider-Man, the masked costumed crime-fighter that spins webs, so on and so forth. Audiences have already had to go through three different live-action versions of this from Sony (and then Marvel Studios), retelling the story of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Now we have something different.
What is different is that while the main character of this movie is Spider-Man, it is already a different one: Miles Morales, an African-American-Latino teenager from Brooklyn, New York (where Parker was from neighboring Queens). He has very different life circumstances (has both parents and an uncle) and cultural background. What ties Miles and Peter together is that both would get powers from a “radioactive spider”; and in this version, Miles gets his in time for Peter as Spider-Man to meet him and offer to train him how to use his new powers. That proves difficult when Peter gets killed.
Yes, this Peter Parker dies in battle with New York’s Kingpin of crime, who is running a secret project that accesses various alternate universes and brings over those many different Spider-Men, or Spider-People, I talked about. There is another Peter Parker, older and more jaded but with the necessary wisdom to teach the very confused Miles. Then there is a female Spider-person, Gwen Stacy; another girl, Peni Parker, with a spider-powered robot; a private eye Spider-Man rendered in black and white; and a cartoony Spider-pig called Peter Porker/Spider-Ham. They must find a way to return to their respective universes before time runs out as the Kingpin’s plans come to fruition.
To really sell the widely varying cast to the audience, Sony and Columbia Pictures assembled quite the selection of voice talent for the many characters. Rapper Shameik Moore is incredibly earning and young-sounding as Miles Morales, and serves as an effective foil to Jake Johnson as the older alternate-universe Peter Parker, who impresses and tickles with both smarts and humor. Hailee Steinfeld completes the movie’s main Spider trio with sharp snark that belies personal vulnerabilities. And Live Schreiber voices the sinister Kingpin/Wilson Fisk, who indirectly threatens New York’s very existence for a surprisingly emotional reason.
Other voices round out the ensemble: Nicholas Cage is the comically serious Spider-Man Noir, comedian John Mulaney is the Looney Tune-like Spider-Ham, Kimiko Glenn plays the anime-inspired Peni Parker, Bryan Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren are Miles’ loving parents, Mahershala Ali as Miles’ secretive uncle, and Lily Tomlin provides a voice of reason as the late Peter Parker’s Aunt May.
The second primary selling point for “Into the Spider-Verse” is the animation style. Rendered in 3D with a deliberately-choppy frame-rate, Sony manages to make all animated motions come across as both fluid and comic book-inspired.
Last but not least is the magnificent soundtrack selection of the film. Where past Peter/Spider-Man movies tended to go orchestral in their scoring, this movie, seen primarily from Mile Morales’ point of view, is all rap and hip-hop inspired with some prominent genre artists such as Post Malone (who contributed the theme single “Sunflower”), Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Jaden Smith, and Blackway and Black Caviar who perform the highly-energized action scene theme “What’s Up, Danger?” Every song fits every story sequence they provide background to, and helps to establish the distinctive personality of Miles, the main Spider-hero of the story.
The late Marvel character creator Stan Lee described superheroes as “those who would help others because it needed to be done and because it was the right thing to do.” Of all the superheroes he conceptualized for Marvel, none arguably approach the above ideal as close as Spider-Man and his adventures did. And “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” goes so far as to inspire in the viewer the idea, also supported by Lee, that anybody could “wear the mask” and be a hero. Thanks to the three-hit combination of cast, animation and soundtrack, whoever watches the film could believe this notion.
Images: Variety and Seattle Weekly