SPOILER-FREE REVIEW – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’ve been waiting for this film since it was announced. I’m even MORE excited that Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, Last Man Standing), along with (supposedly, hearsay) Gravity Falls‘ Alex Hirsch are helping to helm the project! The animation also looks fantastic, the cast stacked, and the music inspired.

So…

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review

PLOT – Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) has been bitten by a radioactive spider and dons the mantle of Spider-Man. But he’s not the only Spider-Man in Brooklyn. Or his universe for that matter. When a Super Collider explodes, several other Spider-people (Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicholas Cage, Kimiko Glenn, and John Mulaney) are sucked into Miles’ dimension. When the evil mastermind Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) starts the machine up again, it’s up to Miles and his Spider-friends to stop him before he destroys the multiverse.

There’s so much going on in this film that it’s actually quite hard to write into a small paragraph. The first 30 minutes or so of the film set up Miles’ daily life, and from the Spider-bite on, it becomes a literal roller coaster ride to the finish.

Events move quickly, and scenes usually lead into a fight sequence, yet the film takes its time to slow down when it needs to, as it gears up for another battle scene. Surprisingly, at least for myself, is the amount of genuinely dramatic and heartfelt moments in the film. Phil Lord and Chris Miller have done their fair share of comedy, but they have a knack for finding the right moments for humor, and drama.

I’m more surprised by the lack of jokes in this film. I mean, there were several laugh-out-loud moments in the film, but unlike Cloudy, this film has a lot of the more subtle jokes that come back later on in the film, or at least in a few seconds or so. The humor feels more adult and less in-your-face than the other Lord / Miller films. It’s a more grown-up film, coming from someone who originally saw Cloudy in the theaters back in… 2009!?!

There were several moments where I felt that the film could have easily ended, and I’m glad it didn’t. I was surprised to see this movie clock in at four minutes shy of two hours, and it deserved every second of run-time it got.

My PLOT RATING is 5/5. The story is like a roller coaster, slow (but not uninteresting) story build-up with fast action, both punctuated by comedy. The dramatic scenes are appropriately serious and heartfelt, and the action frenetic and snappy, with several great jokes. Everything lands perfectly in place, but not too perfect. I can’t really find anything wrong with the plot itself here, and boy, am I glad to say that!

CHARACTERS – This film has a lot of characters. A LOT. There’s five different Spider-Men, six different villains (FINALLY! A “Somewhat” Sinister Six!), and a large supporting cast, yet it never gets bogged down. The characters all have their place in the narrative, and come and go when necessary, in order to move the film forward. I also want to note that a lot of them are archetypes and not really developed too much beyond what the public knows about the Spider-Man films in general, to keep with the film’s consistent pace.

Miles, of course, gets the most screen-time, and he wears it well. He’s the kid at the new school just trying to fit in, but is instead, incredibly awkward. Once he gets the spider-bite, he gains more confidence and responsibility, and with the help from Peter Parker (and actual Spider-Man comics), he succeeds.

Peter Parker is also the ideal Spider-Man, paying homage to the best traits that all of the other Spider-Men have to offer…

Except that’s not the traditional Spider-Man we’re following.

Peter B. Parker is a late-thirties, divorced, schlub-with-a-pudge that trains Miles throughout the film. He plays the mentor-type well, and doesn’t give up on Miles, even when he seems to. Several jokes about his lifestyle and weight are made at his expense, but the audience wants him to succeed, and Jake Johnson portrays that earnestness well. Spider-Gwen is also awesome. She’s the love interest of Miles, yet she has her own goals and motivations, and is a great enough character to get a spin-off film!

The other Spider-characters are good as well. Spider-Man Noir’s fish-out-of-water lines always amuse me, and the 1930’s style of talk never fails to make me laugh. His dark and brooding look juxtaposed with the bright settings makes for great contrast. Peni Parker and her SP//dr robot mech are cool, and she provides her hacking expertise, but feels somewhat under-used and under-developed as a character. She provides the anime (Japanese animation) influence to this film. On the other side of the Pacific is Spider-Ham, a great character with a voice actor whose work I have not experienced. John Mulaney does well, but I feel like he just isn’t (pardon the pun) “animated” enough for the role. At moments, he sounded like Nathan Lane, and I thought to myself that, yes, Lane would have been better at this. More melodrama and a variety of emotion instead of the flat line-reads Mulaney gives.

The villains are good, but we only really get to see two villains’ backstories, and yes, in the tradition of current animated films, there IS a twist villain, but comics readers could see that coming a mile away. Kingpin is a wonderful baddie, and he’s HUGE. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk from the Daredevil Netflix series, but they separated the two Fisks nicely here, and you actually feel for Kingpin at moments. The other villains are nice, and get some screentime, but not a lot. Scorpion, Prowler, Goblin, and others appear, and only Scorpion and Goblin drew the short straws.

The supporting cast is also very nice. Miles’ parents, particularly his father, are great characters. You can see every feeling on his face, and see that he truly cares about doing what is right, not only for his son, but for his people. Aunt May also makes an appearance, along with Mary Jane, and I hope they explore more of their characters in future films (Into the Spider-Verse 2: Second Verse, Same as the First?).

One supporting character that stood out to me was none other than Stan Lee, that cheekily pokes fun at what Spider-Man has become. I haven’t talked about anything surrounding his death, but I feel like the man has led a fantastic life with amazing friends and family, and this is a spectacular send-off and his funniest cameo to date. Rest in Peace, you True Believer, you.

My CHARACTERS RATING is a 4/5. There are a lot of characters and story-lines to keep track of here, and some characters get less development than others. The voice acting is also great, and the actors really nail the emotion. There are also several surprise characters in the film, and loads of Easter Eggs – hidden items, phrases, and background details pulled from the source material – to find.

SCRIPT – The script relies a lot on the memory of the viewer. Several lines said before come back in future scenes, whether it be for drama or comedy. The script also moves very fast, however, and I missed some lines here and there between the punches of the action set-pieces, so I may have to go again and see it (like I wouldn’t!).

A lot of jokes break the fourth wall, and make me smile, but a lot of the dramatic moments and line-reads made me feel for these animated characters. Characters are also succinctly and quickly re-capped, so the audience is not confused, and that’s the strongest thing about this script. If you really pay attention and aren’t distracted in the theater (which is difficult with others talking, shuffling bags of popcorn, and using their bright phones), the script carries the film aloft and towards its end destination.

My SCRIPT RATING is 5/5. At some points, it was hard to hear some lines during the action, but the rest of the film’s script is incredibly solid, and moves the story along at a quick pace, never slowing down so as to be boring or over-labor a point.

EFFECTS – This film has possibly the best effects I’ve seen from an animated film. CG models overlaid with drawn lines for cheekbones, lips, and eyes, then everything has a comic book filter over it. The fight scenes are also insane, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on. One major issue I had was the foreground and background became blurry, and doubled at some points, and I was wondering if I had walked into a 3D theater by mistake. It took me out of the movie and I’m hoping that it’s a style decision or a comics-based decision that I’m not privy to. I’ll admit that I got used to it by the second act, but the beginning of the film left me wondering why they left those effects in.

My EFFECTS RATING is 4/5. Incredible effects that raise the bar for future animated films. This film has a style all its own, and it is beautiful, but the strange 3D effect brings this down a point. Hopefully that can be fixed by the film’s home release.

NOTE: I’ll be adding this next one as a category from now on. Not enough reviews touch enough on the music.

MUSIC – The score by Daniel Pemberton captures the heroics portrayed onscreen, adding a back-beat and record-scratches to horns and strings. There ARE moments without score in this film, too, and the lack of music is as strong as scenes with it. The vocal tracks are also well-picked, capturing what Miles, or any other kid would listen to today.

My MUSIC RATING is 5/5. Very well done mixing, and the orchestra combined with the sounds from a DJ’s turntable is refreshing to hear.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

FINAL RATING: 92/100

FINAL THOUGHTS – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best Spider-Man films. It has a strong plot, great music, outstanding effects (Oscar-nom?), a solid script, weighed down by a lot of characters and a blur issue.

See this film, and swing on down to your local theater to check it out!

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