I decided to watch Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a diversion while on an extended stay in the hospital for the first of my such visits for staphylococcus infections. I expected it to be entertaining, and I was right! It’s been a film I’ve rewatched often in the eighteen months since I first saw it.
I’m very fond of animated films, with the strong belief that the animated art form often allows liberties that give a better way to tell stories many times than live action does. Just take the Jonah Hex animated short, which is far superior to the piece of shit that was the live action film.
Marvel’s animation has in contrast to that of DC generally sucked. It’s been weak, both in overall design and in actually carrying the story. It often looks awful and feels dated. DC live films may be a mess but their animation efforts are usually second to none. However Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had been getting reviews that said its story was great and that its animation was stellar, so I figured I’d give it a go.
Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager, is bitten by a very high-tech spider, turning him into a Spider-Man. However, that Universe’s Kingpin wants to murder its Spider-Man and doesn’t know that multiple Spidies are possible. That Spider-Man saves Miles because he senses that he, too is a Spider-Man, and that of course just complicates the story for Miles.
The device Kingpin is building will open a gateway between all the Universes, allowing him to find alternative versions of his deceased wife and son, who died in a car crash after they found him trying to kill the local Spider-Man. That he could destroy everything doing so doesn’t matter in the least to Kingpin. However, he’s made a terrible oversight in his calculations, as his device attracts Spider-Beings from across the Multiverse to this Universe.
Visiting Spider-Man’s grave, Miles meets Peter B. Parker, an older and quite frankly not-in-the-game-anymore version of Spider-Man. They soon find the deceased Peter’s aunt, May Parker, who is sheltering more heroes from other dimensions: Spider-Man Noir (a black and white noir version of the hero from a thirties Universe), Spider-Ham (a pig version), and Peni Parker (a far future Japanese tech version), all of whom are phasing out of sync with this Univese.
All of these heroes are animated in a style true to their trope. Somehow the producers manage to use what seems like dozens of animation styles without them clashing. They even do this while making it sometimes look like you’ve dropped into a comic book itself, or that that a few pages of a given comic are being referred to. Neat!
There is, of course, a Stan Lee cameo, this time with Stan playing a shopkeeper that Miles approaches to purchase a Spider-Man outfit. The shopkeeper says, as this has happened after Parker as been murdered by Kingpin: “I’m going to miss him. We were friends, you know,” Lee’s character tells Miles. “Can I return it if it doesn’t fit?” Miles asks him, referring to the costume. “It always fits,” the shopkeeper says with a smile. “Eventually.” And the camera pans to the “no refunds” sign in the shop.
It takes a while for Miles to become aware that he, like anyone, can be a hero, which is the heart of a story brimming over with heart. Miles has a strong, caring father and an uncle who, despite being fatally flawed, does the right thing. Only Miles’ mother needed more sketching out in my opinion.
The story is complex but certainly not overly so — villain wants to destroy multiverse to get back a version of his family to replace the ones that he effectively killed, heroes want to stop him from doing so in order to save theirs. Yet even Kingpin isn’t precisely evil, though Doc Ock certainly is.
There are, I should note, marvelous henchmen here, to wit Prowler, Tombstone, Scorpion, Norman Osborn, a/k/a the Green Goblin, and a female version of Doctor Octopus, Olivia “Liv” Octavius. (That’s one I’ve never encountered before). Each has a great animation style and even when they’ve not got many lines, a distinctive voice. I want several of them as high quality action figures!
Enough about the story though, let me finish by stressing how good the voice acting is. Over at File 770, a gathering place for sf and fantasy fandom, there’s been a lively conversation about whether voice acting is true acting. I of course hold that it is. Shameik Moore, who voices Miles here, does an absolutely perfect job of creating of a young teen male who’s generally certain of himself but is now way in over his head but who figures out what to do. If I close my eyes, he sounds like the Afro-Latin early teen he’s supposed to be. Likewise everyone else from from Nick Cake (Spider Noir) to Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis, his policeman father who despises Spider-Man, and Lily Tomlin as Aunt May are perfect for their roles, complementing the spot-on animation in a way one always hoped for but rarely accomplished.
So is it perfect? Oh yes. And I eagerly await the the Spider-Man Multiverse sequel as there’s unlimited possibilities for them to play around with. Certainly even Spider-Ham should get his own film should the short film extra they included with the iTunes version be any indication.