Spider-Manuary – Into The Spiderverse
Ok, let’s do this one last time.
Into the Spiderverse was Sony’s most recent effort with Spider-Man, having almost completely lost power over the main thread of Peter Parker to the Disney/Marvel steamroller. Sony have been left with the castoffs to play with, and they’re doing the best they can with limited control, including a Venom solo movie that had an underwhelming but not disastrous response from audiences, and now the animated feature that brings together Spider-Mans from across the Marvel Multiverse.
We are introduced at first to the same old Spider-Man, specifically the Sam Raimi version, or at least one very close to that story, who tells his tale as a blow-by-blow if slightly modified and abridged version of Spider-Man 1 through 3, with classic scenes like the train rescue, saving MJ from a car through the window, and that dance. This Spider-Man is calm, collected, and about as professional as a Spidey gets, which will serve as a stark contrast to Miles who is about to join him in the world of wall crawling. He has become a hero of the people, beloved and publicly celebrated by the people of New York, here’s a Peter Parker who could practically lead the Avengers, let alone silently crave membership from the sidelines, he’s fully in control of his powers and capabilities, and is generally amazing… Amazing… I said he’s- ah never mind.
Enter, quietly, young Miles, a kid from a loving family dealing with the everyday struggles of life, except that his Dad’s a cop raising something of a rebel, and he’s transferring to a school for highly talented and intelligent kids, leaving a lot of his old friends behind. He’s a fish out of water, awkward and trying too hard, reaching out to the one person who appreciates him, his uncle.
Glitchy spider bite, confusion, inability to control powers combines with typical teenaged awkwardness, Miles is competing with a sensory overload from his newly heightened senses, he can’t let go of anything because his wall crawling adhesiveness appears to be far stronger than your average Spidey, and he’s just had to deal with a really awkward situation with a cute girl from school who is obviously Spider-Gwen, making her efforts to hide her real name kind of weird. I mean, I get you’re another awkward teenager but why are you hiding your identity?
Minor gripe, too much of a critic, and I have one big one to save for later.
So we get into the Spiderverse situation because Wilson Fisk’s family saw him for the monster he was and wanted a new one. He’d hired some scientists to science for him, and they had scienced a multiverse machine that could be genetically encoded to find and summon specific people… science-ly! It’s a wonderfully simple explanation for how we end up with a collection of Spiders from multiple universes, as Peter Parker gets dropped into the middle of all of this science while trying to put a stop to it, and a portal vomits out some Spider-Folk:
Peter B. Parker who gives us the role of worn out and reluctant mentor. He has fallen on hard times and is struggling with being Spider-Man himself, so isn’t in the best of positions to help Miles, but he’s got the knowledge, and does the classic slow-turnaround and makes himself useful.
Spider-Gwen to whom we have already been introduced, who is dropped not only through dimensions but also arrives a little backwards in time? How does that work, I get that some of them were pulled from other times, but everyone else arrived at the same time… why does she- y’know what, never mind, not my biggest complaint, definitely my favourite character apart from Miles.
Peni Parker who has a telepathic link with a spider in a mech suit. I don’t know if she has ever existed prior to this film (and I’m having internet issues so I’m not googling too much if I can help it), but she could easily have a series to herself. Such a different take on the character, she also adopts a subtly different animation style, being more of an anime character, but it’s not jarring, never looks bad on screen, and is genuinely fun and loveable, to the point where she even gets a tear-jerker moment towards the end of the film.
Peter Porker the cartooniest of the ensemble with his exaggerated movements, his snout with nostrils that mimic his eyes, a subtle detail but still a hilarious one. He’s very obviously the comic relief, but he’s not over-utilised at any point, he’s used sparingly, well timed, and is all round well written. Spider-Ham could easily have been the most annoying character, instead he’s every bit as heroic as his allies, even if he uses giant wooden mallets to do it!
And my shameless favourite. When I found out that Spider-Man Noir would be voiced by Nicholas Cage I knew I would never be able to write this review without being far too keen to sing its praises. His fascination with the Rubix Cube becomes a running joke that delivers one hell of a punchline, and his opening line “Where I go the wind follows, and the wind smells like rain”
Ok, I’m getting dangerously close to a thousand words and I haven’t even gotten into the meat and potatoes of why I loved this film, or this “big gripe” I want to get off my chest, quick fire round:
Let’s take a quick look at the Multiverse angle. It starts subtle, and I mean really subtle. You’ll spot it straight away with the blonde Peter Parker, the monstrous Goblin, and… well, let me circle back to this one.
Because this is an ingenious moment in Spiderverse! Among Kingpin’s many henchmen we also have a variation on Doctor Octopus, Olivia Octavius, who we are subtly introduced to early in the film via a short video seen in class while Miles and Gwen flirt. Her grand reveal is terrifying, as we watch her inflatable tentacles unveil themselves, and this cheerful hippy-looking and maybe a little ditzy doctor – every bit the absent minded professor cliché – becomes this sadistic and terrifying villain, and I got genuine chills. But Liv, seriously honey, tidy up your desktop, that hurts to see.
And while I’m dropping spoilers, let’s talk about Prowler. He was not only genuinely terrifying despite the oversized collar and purple Deadpool mask. Because I don’t know Miles Morales, I had no idea what to expect. I was certainly not expecting him to be Uncle Aaron, and the fact that he became the “dead uncle” in place of Ben… too many emotional and plot related threads to untangle, simply a beautiful moment, well written, well revealed.
Back to the point I was trying to make which is to look for all of the subtleties that let you know that this is not “our” world. Check the doors on the police cars that say PDNY instead of NYPD, RedEx delivery vans, or the adverts for Inglewood instead of Hollywood.
The visual style of the multiverse incursion is very comic-book in fashion, with colours briefly appearing as dot-shaded, outlines shifting around blocks of colour, which all comes to a head when the finale comes around and everything goes a bit Doctor Strange, shifting and warping in oddly geometric patterns and distorted angles. Visually stunning, but I believe it caused some seizures, I fully understand how that is possible, and it’s a shame because it did look rather spectacular.
I said it looked- oh never mind, moving on. So I’ve been talking about this one big complaint:
Throughout the film Miles not only has to deal with the fact that he’s the least experienced of all the Spiderfolk he’s now surrounded by – which is the major theme of the film I’ve barely touched upon – but his J. Jonah Jameson parallel is his own father, the police officer who sees Spider-Man as a renegade and a menace to the peace. That strain is made so much worse when the conflict between Miles, his father, and the identity of Spider-Man pinnacles, a death in the family (which I spoiled above) drives Jefferson to go see his son, who is behind a door and webbed to his chair, and it’s a really touching moment where for one brief, heartbreaking second we see Jefferson reach out to Miles.
But he never comes around to the idea of Spider-Man, until he arrives at the climactic confrontation with Kingpin in the big Multiverse vortex, and… suddenly he deeply wants Spider-Man to be victorious, oblivious to the fact that he’s actually his son? And they have a conversation afterwards, the old “I don’t approve of how you do it, but I know your heart’s in the right place” sort of thing. Why? I do not recall a moment where that emotional turnaround could have changed his opinion on Spidey. Anyone want to help me out on that one?
Final thought on Spiderverse because this has gotten wordy.
I sat through the credits hoping, praying there would never be a sequel. I loved the story, I loved the characters, I loved every… ok almost every moment. But I cannot hope for a sequel because I sincerely don’t think that could be improved, built upon, or expanded without ruining it. Then the post-credits stinger struck, my heart sank, as we were clearly about to be introduced to yet another goddamn Spider-Man who’d have to get involved somehow.
Oh… but that’s Spider-Man 2099… so maybe time-travel? Ok, cool character, very cool character, and while I do not like time-travel stories as a general rule, I could get behind this. And then they gave Miguel O’Hara the perfect little send off, by making a meme out of him.
Dear Into The Spiderverse writers and directors, know that I do not say this lightly: Bravo.
Thank you all for joining me for Spider-Manuary, this fun little retrospective has been a pleasure to write even at the low points. Here’s to Far From Home!