Comics on Film: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Weaves an Incredible Web of Humor, Vibrancy and Heart

Comics on Film: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Weaves an Incredible Web of Humor, Vibrancy and Heart

Dec 17, 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Live-action adaptations of superhero characters are often looked at by most moviegoers as prime examples of what the characters can achieve when adapted into a new medium. Most embedded comics fans, however, know that animated offerings – whether they’re on film or television – can often prove to be more truthful to the spirits of the characters, along with having the potential to be extraordinarily imaginative in their execution.

Over the past 25 years, superhero animation has evolved steadily from a moment of renaissance exhibited visibly by 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series. It should come as little surprise that the single theatrical outing that series and its creators produced – 1993’s stellar Batman: Mask of the Phantasm – is often short-changed in conversations concerning Batman’s absolutely best cinematic offerings. It’s only now, after a quarter-century, that the film seems like it may have earned its rightful place among even the less initiated among superhero fandom as one of Batman’s best movies, bar none.

Recently Sony Pictures Animation took a giant leap forward in its adaptations of Marvel Comics’ iconic Amazing Spider-Man by releasing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an animated offering produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie), written by Lord and Rodney Rothman (Get Him to the Greek), and directed by Rothman, Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Inspired in part by Spider-Verse, an arc by creative team Dan Slott and Olivier Coipel that was originally published across six issues of the long-running Amazing Spider-Man comic book series, the new film features the cinematic debut of new Spider-Man Miles Morales, who debuted with a bang in the comics in 2011 at the hands of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli. On paper, the mash-up of Miles’ down-to-earth origin story and the cosmic craziness of the intersection of multiple universes sounds like it might make for a convoluted mess of a movie, but the final result here is full of humor, wit, character drama, and – perhaps above everything else – a beating, if not pounding heart. This is also amidst its showcasing of a really excellent and beautiful animation style that pushes the cosmic shenanigans to the absolute limit.

The initial setup sticks pretty closely to Miles Morales’ origin story as established by Bendis and Pichelli in the comics: when his world’s Peter Parker, the original Amazing Spider-Man, gives his life in an effort to save New York City, a chance encounter with a similar arachnid endows the young, awkward Miles with some very familiar physical and extra-sensory abilities. The plot that ended up killing Peter reverberates and causes other versions of Spider-Man to show up in Miles’ New York, prompting the new, young hero to breathe a sigh of relief since he now has a chance to learn the proverbial ropes of heroism from Peter Parker … or, at least a Peter Parker.

The film then quickly establishes itself as a coming-of-age story, and a first-of-its-kind comic book adaptation by embracing the cosmic craziness that often accompanies a mashing together of multiple versions of a beloved character, and the fringe science that comics have so effectively used for the better part of over 50 years to make chafing multiversal barriers come crashing down. On top of the really charming moments that show Miles trying to do what he can to make the best out of both awkward and bad situations to become his world’s new Spider-Man, we also get to know him intimately by seeing his family life, and the somewhat complex family dynamics that will offer up one of his first major heroic tests in the combination of "great power" and "great responsibility."

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Anchoring the action, humor and drama is a wonderful screenplay, along with really great performances by Shameik Moore as Miles, Jake Johnson (Jurassic World) as "our" Peter Parker, Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman, John Mulaney as Peter Porker/Spider-Ham and Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man from a dark, 1930s "noir" universe. Chris Pine also briefly appears as the version of Peter indigenous to Miles’ world and some other great performances come in from Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) as Miles’ uncle Aaron Davis and Lily Tomlin as May Parker.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a rare kind of exceptional in the comic book film space because of how brilliantly it emphasizes Spider-Man’s cultural ubiquity and iconography, even while it introduces a version of the character that – for many people – has never been seen before. While Miles has become a beloved character in the pages of Marvel Comics over the past seven years, his "graduation" up to the big screen feels perfectly natural, while also emphasizing why he deserves to be not just a version of Spider-Man, but … just, Spider-Man.

By getting the spirit of all its characters right, emphasizing the humanity that’s always been at the core of every Spider-Man, and by telling a story that’s insanely relatable in spite of all the cosmic craziness happening in it (including the most vibrant color palette you’ll see in a movie all year), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse should not be skipped by anyone who calls themselves a fan of the Webhead. One of the tragedies of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm back in 1993 was that people just didn’t go to see it, since it was 'just' an animated movie.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best Spider-Man movies ever and certainly one of the best superhero films of 2018. In the relatively crowded field of the year, that might seem like it’s saying a lot, but it's not an overstatement. This is one big screen adventure of the Webslinger(s) that you really shouldn’t miss.

Categories: Features, Geek, Animation
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