The previous five articles in my film-by-film analysis of the Marvel Films have covered most of 2018, a year which was an undisputed high-water mark for comic book films. The year began with Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), which so perfectly hit the zeitgeist of America that it instantly became a cultural touchstone. That was followed by Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers, 2018), which was not as culturally important but was an even bigger global hit and an enormous blockbuster.
After that, Marvel films such as Deadpool 2 (Leitch, 2018) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018), as well as non-Marvel comic book films such as Incredibles 2 (Bird, 2018), Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (Michail & Horvath, 2018) and Aquaman (Wan, 2018), each distinguished themselves by following a unique approach and executing that approach very well. Even the most disappointing and regressive of the year’s comic book films, Venom (Fleischer, 2018), was a financial success.
Indeed, comic book films in 2018 were varied, interesting, culturally significant, popular and plentiful. However, the most jaw-dropping, unique, original comic book film of 2018, the one that will doubtless be considered the most cinematically influential film of the bunch, is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey & Rothman, 2018).
Photo by Егор Камелев on Unsplash
One can approach Into the Spider-Verse from at least four different perspectives and it excels at all four. 1. As a comic book superhero film, it presents the most out-there, ‘comic-booky’ plot ever adapted to film. It explores inter-dimensional travel and the intersection of alternate versions of the same superhero, perhaps the pinnacle of geekiness in comic books. It presents this complex, ridiculous plot with humour, heart and relatability, making it one of the best superhero films ever made.
2. As a coming-of-age story, the film presents an insightful story of a teenager grappling with mentors while trying to find his path through the world, as well as a thoughtful meditation on the nature of heroism. 3. As an action comedy, the film balances exciting, endlessly inventive action beats with the silliest bits of comedy imaginable.
And most importantly 4. as an animated film, Into the Spider-Verse presents some of the most unique, gorgeous pop-art ever put on film. It marries animation styles and techniques from across the world and the decades alongside elements taken directly from comic books to create a frenetic, colourful comic book come to life. And so, as equal parts love letter to comic book fans, relatable coming-of-age tale, inventive action comedy and animation masterpiece, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the most remarkable films of the century so far.
Sony Pictures approached producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller about a comedic animated Spider-Man film in 2014. This was revealed to fans prematurely by the hack of Sony’s computer systems in November 2014. The film was officially announced in April 2015, and it was made clear that it would take place in an alternate universe to the live action Spider-Man films. Lord and Miller were established experts at taking potentially terrible ideas and producing shockingly good films, such as 21 Jump Street (2012) and The LEGO Movie (2014). They approached their Spider-Man film with a desire to make it as different as possible from the Spider-Man films, comic book films, and animated films that came before it.
They wanted to use the medium of animation to create a film that looked like the inside of an old comic book, adapting the visual style of the original medium in addition to the characters and narratives. In service of that, Lord, Miller and their collaborators blended computer animation with hand-drawn elements, used certain colouring and lighting techniques, and added comic book staples (such as text on-screen) to create a visual style that hadn’t been seen before. Furthermore, after so many recent Spider-Man films already released, the filmmakers needed to make this a story worth telling. That led them to the idea of including multiple alternate versions of Spider-Man in one film. Most importantly, the film would focus on Miles Morales, the popular successor to Spider-Man who had never before been depicted on screen.
Alternate versions of characters is a common trope in superhero comics. Over the years, writers have introduced these versions for fun, for a gag or, more interestingly, to explore new story possibilities. Often they interrogate the fundamental characteristics of characters by placing them in totally different circumstances or tweaking their origins. For example, would Superman still be a fundamentally “good” character if he had landed in the Soviet Union, rather than the United States, during the Cold War and became an instrument of the Soviet government? These stories can be fascinating, placing the familiar into the unfamiliar and seeing what results.
As one of the most popular superheroes of all time, there have been countless alternate versions of Spider-Man in the comics. What if Spider-Man was a cartoon pig? Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (November 1983) What if Spider-Man existed in a cyberpunk future? Spider-Man 2099 #1 (November 1992) What if Spider-Man was a private eye in the ’30s? Spider-Man: Noir #1 (February 2009) These are just a few of the many examples.
In the late-’00s, the longtime writer of Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott, collaborated on the video game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010), which unites four versions of Spider-Man. Inspired by the narrative possibilities, Slott conceived of a comic book event that would feature every version of Spider-Man that had ever appeared, and introduce a few new versions, united against a common, dimension-hopping threat. The “Spider-Verse”event was published across many Marvel comics in 2014.
New versions of Spider-Man included Peni Parker/SP//dr, introduced in Edge of Spider-Verse #5 (October 2014), and Spider-Gwen, introduced in Edge of Spider-Verse #2 (September 2014). Spider-Gwen is an alternate version of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s long-dead girlfriend, who was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. The character was very popular, and has starred in an ongoing series ever since.
The most successful alternate version of Spider-Man began in Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (October 2000). The Ultimate Marvel Universe was a line of comics intended to retell classic Marvel stories, but streamlined and updated for modern sensibilities. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley kept Peter Parker in high school and reimagined his classic rogues gallery to primarily result from genetic engineering at OsCorp. The series was critically acclaimed and continuously successful, but its most significant innovation occurred in the aftermath of Ultimate Spider-Man #160 (August 2011), in which Peter Parker dies protecting his Aunt May from the Green Goblin. As the aftermath unfolded, Ultimate Fallout #4 (August 2011) introduced the world to the new Ultimate Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Partially inspired by the election of President Barack Obama, partially inspired by debate over casting Donald Glover in The Amazing Spider-Man (Webb, 2012), Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli chose to explore Marvel’s most iconic character through the lens of an Afro-Latino boy from Brooklyn, New York. Miles is a bright kid who wins a chance to attend a private science-focused school in Brooklyn.
He looks up to his Uncle Aaron, and is unaware that Aaron works as a high-priced burglar known as the Prowler. Aaron raids an old OsCorp facility and inadvertently takes a genetically-engineered spider back to his apartment, where it bites Miles. Miles develops powers similar to Peter Parker, with the additional powers of invisibility and an electrically-charged “venom blast”. He is initially hesitant to become a superhero but, inspired by Peter’s death, he gives it a try. Miles is immediately thrust into a role formerly occupied by the slightly older, much more experienced Peter Parker, and must find his place amongst pre-established villains and threats.
Miles was a sensation, arguably the most popular new Marvel character in years and certainly the most successful unique character in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. In 2012, Bendis wrote the five-issue Spider-Men series, where Miles meets the regular Marvel Universe version of Peter Parker. But the Ultimate Universe was failing. What began as a way to quickly update and retell old stories, preparing new readers to jump into the regular Marvel Universe, had ballooned into its own long-running, continuity-rich universe. But readers were increasingly disinterested.
The 2015 major event story “Secret Wars” collapsed the Marvel multiverse, officially ending the Ultimate Universe. One of the few survivors was Miles, whose backstory was rewritten to place him in the regular Marvel Universe alongside the rest of the Marvel characters. All of this backstory, all of this universe-swapping in the comics, provided a lot of material for the Into the Spider-Verse filmmakers to draw from as they brought Miles and the concept of alternate versions of characters to the big screen
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse focuses on Miles (Shameik Moore), a 13-year-old half-black half-Puerto Rican boy who lives in Brooklyn with his father Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and his mother Rio (Luna Lauren Velez). Miles has recently gained admission to a prestigious science academy, but he doesn’t feel like he belongs and misses his neighbourhood school and friends. Oh, and also, the city is home to a superhero named Spider-Man (Chris Pine).
One night, Miles is taken to an abandoned subway tunnel by his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) to paint some graffiti, and Miles is bitten by a strange spider. Overnight, Miles grows a bit, gains added strength, and discovers his ability to stick to things. Realizing he has gained Spider-Man-like abilities, Miles returns to the spider that bit him. He learns that the abandoned tunnel leads to a supercollider built by the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) to access alternate dimensions. Kingpin hopes to use it to replace his deceased wife and son with alternate versions. Fearing the dangerous possibilities, Spider-Man intends to shut it down.
Miles walks right into the middle of a battle between Kingpin’s henchmen and Spider-Man. Spider-Man saves Miles and damages the supercollider, but not before he’s pushed into the collider’s strange energy field. Spider-Man recognizes Miles’ new spider-abilities and makes him promise to stop the supercollider once and for all, but then he’s murdered by the Kingpin.
Miles struggles with the weight of the responsibility, and of how to master his new powers, until he meets Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). Peter is the Spider-Man of another dimension, sucked into Miles’ dimension when Spider-Man interacted with the supercollider’s energy. Peter is older, more jaded and less in-shape than Miles’ Spider-Man, but he eventually agrees to train Miles as they work to stop the collider and send Peter home.
Jake Johnson voices Peter B. Parker (IMDB)
Along the way, they run afoul of Kingpin, his chief enforcer, the Prowler, and his chief scientist, Dr. Olivia Octavius/Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn). But they also meet up with four other alternate dimension spiders: the balletic loner Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), the ’30s black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), the futuristic animé teenager Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her robot SP//dr, and the Looney Tunes-esque Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
Each spider-person is competent and experienced, regardless of how silly they may seem, and Miles feels intimidated. He discovers that the Prowler is actually his Uncle Aaron. Shortly after, Aaron is murdered by The Kingpin for refusing to kill Miles. Miles’ lack of experience and confidence then force the spider-team to leave him behind as they race to destroy the collider. A talk with his dad gives Miles the confidence to become his own kind of Spider-Man. He arrives in time to fight Kingpin’s enforcers, send the other spider-people home, defeat the Kingpin, and destroy the collider.
Nicolas Cage voices Spider-Man Noir (IMDB)
That’s a brief summary of the geeky insanity that is the plot of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Just ten years prior to this film, comic book film narratives were still fairly grounded, if you will, mostly featuring mad scientists or psychotic killers. Over time, these films gradually introduced the wackier aspects of comic book plots, from aliens to space travel to time travel, acclimatizing film viewers to the more heightened genre concepts.
Into the Spider-Verse features alternate dimension versions of Spider-Man, from the past, from the future, male, female, black-and-white, animé and cartoon pig, all coexisting in the same scenes. This level of “comic-booky” plot would not have been accepted, let alone embraced, by mainstream audiences just a decade earlier. Like a frog in increasingly warming water, viewers gradually became ready for such a film.
Spider-Man was an inspired choice to base such a film around. Firstly, the character had starred in six popular solo films in the 16 years before Into the Spider-Verse was released, meaning audiences generally knew and understood him. Secondly, the popularity of Spider-Man largely stems from the character’s relatability. Traditionally the most successful approaches to Spider-Man view him as an ordinary person (struggling with school, work, romance, finances, family) who has the added responsibility of superpowers. He is the answer to the question “what if an average person suddenly had superpowers?”
Spider-Man is an everyman superhero, in contrast to the unreachable paternal ideals of Superman, Batman, Iron Man or Captain America. Thirdly, that relatability and the full face mask has always meant that anyone can be in the Spider-Man costume. Of course, Spider-Man has traditionally been a straight, white man under the costume but, as the film states, anyone can wear the mask. Anyone can see themselves in the character’s ordinary struggles, then easily extrapolate out to his fantastical adventures.
Into the Spider-Verse makes this explicit by focusing on a teenaged afro-latino Spider-Man, while also featuring a teenage white girl, an asian girl and, of course, a pig. This is a film where viewers of different races, ethnicities, and genders can imagine themselves as Spider-Man. It’s incredibly powerful for people to see themselves represented in film, particularly as crowd-pleasing superheroes. It’s especially important now when, as I write this, Black Lives Matter protests against police violence and institutional racism are happening across the United States. There are obviously more important things to address in society than representation in popular culture, but the representation has an impact.
The year 2018 was bookended by Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, films that demonstrated that Black people, too, can be strong, smart, heroic and can make a difference. The focus on diversity of representation makes Into the Spider-Verse feel timely in addition to its other cinematic achievements.
The different types of spider-people also allow Into the Spider-Verse to deconstruct the nature of superheroes, and of heroism in general. The three primary Spider-Men allow the film to simultaneously depict a superhero at three stages of his career. Miles is the rookie, lacking confidence in his abilities and apprehensive about entering this world. This is an origin story for Miles. The original Spider-Man of Miles’ universe is the perfect superhero. He’s confident to the point of being casual about his power, he’s enthusiastic about his work, and he exudes goodness. He also dies at the end of the first act, allowing the film to examine the impact of such a hero, and the loss of such a hero, on the city. This is the sadly triumphant final film for that Spider-Man.
And then there is Peter B. Parker, who has been a superhero for twice as long as the other Spider-Man. He’s still highly-skilled and good to his core, but the thankless life of a superhero has taken its toll on his marriage and his body. This is the superhero story we rarely see, where the decades of life weigh heavily and the superhero has grown cynical. This is the superhero that’s close to retirement.
The three characters are all in conversation with each other. Miles looks up to the perfect Spider-Man, who doesn’t live long enough to disappoint him but casts a long shadow. Peter scoffs at that Spider-Man’s perfection. Miles recognizes Peter’s skill and sadness, and they make each other better Spider-Men through their interaction. Miles learns the job, and Peter learns to love it again. Passing the superhero ‘mantle’ is a well-worn comic book trope, particularly in DC Comics, but it has never been depicted like this on screen. Miles is a brand new Spider-Man, but he’s inspired by the skill and self-sacrifice of six other spider-people as he begins his superhero career.
And so, Into the Spider-Verse adapts deep comic book tropes such as alternate versions of heroes and passing the mantle. It does so using a hugely-popular, familiar superhero known for his relatability and potential diversity to make the concepts accessible to all audiences. Finally, it explores the nature of superheroes by embodying the different stages of a superhero career in several characters. The filmmakers present all this intelligently and entertainingly. That already makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse one of the greatest superhero films of all time. The visuals, however, elevate this already engaging film to a whole new level. The plot is good, but the animation is brilliant and groundbreaking.
Producers Lord & Miller, and directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, began the film with a single animator to create a distinct visual style. Once that was established, the animation team increased to 60 people for most of production, and then up to 177 as the release date neared. At its core, the film is computer animated (like most animated films these days), but that style is overlaid with hand-drawn elements and colouring techniques to make it look distinctive.
The technical choices behind the film’s animation are fascinating. The filmmakers used chromatic aberrations, basically refracting the light on some parts of the frame to render them fuzzy or out of focus. This adds to depth of field, making the film almost 3D-like, but without the glasses. It also directs the eyes of viewers to the important areas in the frame, which are in focus. Most of the film is animated at a standard 24 frames per second (fps), meaning 24 slightly different still pictures displayed each second, going by fast enough to give the appearance of movement. But the filmmakers played with that frame rate. For example, when Miles is still inexperienced, they double up each frame to have him move at 12fps alongside experienced Peter moving at 24fps. This makes Miles appear jerkier compared to Peter’s smooth movement. It’s a brilliant use of technology to inform character.
The filmmakers also purposely avoided using motion blurring during movement. If you wave your hand in front of your face, it appears as if your hand starts to blur with the motion. Animators have perfected ways to intentionally blur animated movement, making it appear more realistic. Removing motion blur means that every movement of every element is perfectly in focus in each frame, which is jarring to see at first. But this means that each frame of the film is a perfect image, like the panel of a comic book.
That’s the main goal of the visuals in Into the Spider-Verse: recreating the comic book page. The shading and shadows in the film, for example, are achieved through criss-crossed lines, like a sketch. The colouring is often done using small coloured dots, much like the colouring in comic books of the ’50s and ’60s. In those old comics, printing errors sometimes resulted in colours being misaligned with the line drawings. At times, Into the Spider-Verse intentionally uses misaligned colour to add depth of field or enhance the emotions of a scene.
But much of the comic book aesthetic is more overt than that. Characters have motion lines, like in a comic book. Captions and thought bubbles appear, often manifesting Miles’ thoughts and anxieties. Large onomatopoeia text appears during fights, just like the “WHAM!” “BANG!”s of a comic book. Shots are sometimes broken up into panels, just like a comic book page. And even some transitions between scenes are visualized as page turns. Many of these comic book-inspired flourishes don’t appear in the film until Miles is bitten by the spider. They develop as Miles’ powers develop.
Kimiko Glenn voices Peni Parker (IMDB)
And yet, all of those technical choices and comic book aesthetics are not even the full extent of the visual genius of
Into the Spider-Verse, because certain characters also have unique styles. Peni, for example, is an animé character specifically modelled after the animated series, Sailor Moon. Spider-Man Noir is in black-and-white, with wind always blowing on him. Spider-Ham, meanwhile, has the colouring and movement of a Looney Tunes cartoon. For much of the second half of the film, these characters occupy the same frame as Miles, Peter and Gwen, who all share the common aesthetic of the rest of the film. Even so, Peni, Noir and Ham don’t look out of place, which is impressive.
The Kingpin, meanwhile, is depicted as a head and two hands on an enormous black shape that grows or shrinks depending on the situation. He’s almost abstract in his presentation. Other visual flourishes include the dimensional glitching that occurs when the supercollider is activated. These glitches, which also painfully strike the alternate universe characters at inopportune moments, are based on cubist art. All of these artistic styles come together for the climax, when pieces of every universe emerge and are mashed together in a psychedelic, kaleidoscopic asterisk at the centre of the collider. It’s a tour-de-force work of animation to cap off a pop-art masterpiece.
Liev Schreiber voices Wilson Fisk (IMDB)
The most impressive aspect of the animation, with its frenetic style-switching and sensory overload, is that it never becomes off-putting or too much to process. The filmmakers are smart about giving a rhythm and release to the crazier visual moments, allowing the viewers’ brains time to relax and process. Given all of this, it’s no surprise that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse earned a well-deserved Best Animated Film Academy Award. But despite the technical achievements, it would not be as well-received or as well-regarded if it’s story wasn’t relatable. That’s all down to Miles and his coming-of-age story.
Miles is a relatable protagonist from the moment he’s introduced in his room, singing along to a song but forgetting some of the words. His struggle is figuring out his path, his future. He moves from mentor to mentor, trying to decide who to emulate before ultimately realizing that he must forge his own path. Before the spider bite, Miles’ mentors are his father, Jeff, and his uncle, Aaron. Jeff pushes Miles to go to his new school, excel, reach his full potential, and Miles feels like he can only disappoint his father. By contrast, Aaron is easygoing, comfortable, appreciating Miles’ natural skills while never pushing him to grow. The conflict of mentors is highlighted by the book Miles is given by a teacher at the start of the film: Great Expectations. Jeff has great expectations for Miles, whereas Aaron has no expectations for him. The former is too much pressure, the latter is unchallenging, easy.
After he acquires his powers, Miles meets Spider-Man, who offers to train him. This Spider-Man is the perfect role model, so of course he’s killed minutes later. Miles is stuck with Peter B. Parker, an imperfect mentor who’s even more of a mess than Miles. Peter channels Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (Avildsen, 1984) in this way. He warms up to Miles quickly, offering the right pushes, encouragement, and tough love. The film even develops Peter as a secondary protagonist. His marriage ended because he was afraid to have kids, but mentoring Miles helps him overcome that fear.
Miles gradually achieves small victories, such as learning to turn invisible and learning to swing on webs. But he also has disappointments, such as failing to jump between buildings early in the film, accidentally breaking the device that can destroy the collider, and discovering Aaron is the Prowler. This is all compounded by the rest of the spider-people, who are experienced, competent superheroes in their own way.
At a certain point, they challenge Miles at a rapid-fire pace about his ability to be like them, overwhelming him and causing him to leave. But each spider-person has their own unique approach which would be impossible for Miles to emulate. Peter might have been a useful mentor alone, but the whole spider-team creates an unreasonable expectation for Miles and he can only disappoint them.
This is character-building. The crazy visuals and plotting and alternate versions of Spider-Man only exist to externalize Miles’ story. He must learn to accept, among other things, that he can never float through the air when he smells a delicious pie, like Spider-Ham. It sounds silly, but the script brilliantly ties in the impossible standards of each mentor as they relate to Miles, grounding every crazy concept. Without Miles and his character growth at its core, Into the Spider-Verse would be a beautiful mess, nothing more.
John Mulaney voices Spider-Ham (IMDB)
Every spider-person is ready to answer the call, ready to sacrifice themselves to send the others home and stop the collider. But Miles is from this universe, and he made a promise to fix it, so he must rise to the occasion. After Aaron’s murder, the spider-team leave him behind. They do it with love and care, but it’s the last big disappointment for Miles. But then Jeff comes to Miles’ door. He tells Miles that he sees a spark in him, and that Miles will be great at whatever he chooses to do. This takes the pressure off Miles. His father simply believes in him, has great expectations for him, but isn’t telling him how to live his life.
Miles immediately gets an old Spider-Man suit, spray paints it black, and sets out to the collider. His self-actualization is visualized in my favourite shot of the film. Miles leaps off a skyscraper with full confidence, and falls down towards the skyline. But the image is flipped, showing Miles falling up. It’s beautiful and instantly iconic. When he joins the fight at the collider, he proves his worth to the rest of the spider-team. He sends them home and is able to face Kingpin alone.
The message of Into the Spider-Verse is that anyone can be a hero. The filmmakers hoped to inspire young people to be heroes, and inspire older people to help them be heroes. It’s a strongly-stated, universal theme at the heart of Into the Spider-Verse that keeps the film grounded and meaningful, despite all of the wackiness.
But that wackiness is vital as well. This film is so much fun, especially for superhero fans and Spider-Man fans. The sheer volume of Spider-Man jokes and references is staggering, and requires multiple viewings to fully process. The film opens with the Comic Code Authority seal of approval, which was featured on the covers of mainstream comics through the ’60s. Each spider-person is introduced with a narrated montage, explaining their backstory.
The first Spider-Man is an amalgam of each previous cinematic Spider-Man, but everything is a bit different. His Uncle Ben is briefly voiced by Cliff Robertson using audio from Spider-Man 2). This Spider-Man is seen stopping a train (as in Spider-Man 2), kissing Mary Jane upside down (as in Spider-Man), stretched between two weblines (as in Spider-Man: Homecoming) holding cars on a bridge (as in The Amazing Spider-Man), and even embarrassingly strutting down the street (as in Spider-Man 3). Even the iconic theme song from the 1967 animated series is included.
Peter B. Parker’s montage features similar scenes, but then goes further through his bankruptcy and divorce to find him crying in the shower. These are the Peter Parker/Spider-Man characters with which we are familiar. The other characters get more straightforward montages. Gwen’s is coloured and styled to match the distinctive appearance of her comic book, and faithfully retells her origin. Peni, Noir and Ham are introduced together, so their origins are intercut and eventually cut off by Peter. The film ends with Miles adding his own montage to the pile, having come into his own as a superhero. These montages are love letters to longtime Spider-Man fans (like myself).
The film is full of inventive action beats mixed with the silliest comedy beats. Case in point: Peter escapes a facility by walking casually, although dressed as Spider-Man, through the break room and taking a bagel. When they’re chased, Peter tosses the bagel to Miles, who throws it back at one of their pursuers. As the bagel hits a person, the word “bagel!” appears on impact. In the climax, one of Kingpin’s enforcers terrifyingly rips into Peni’s SP//dr robot, which is intense until a cartoon anvil falls on his head, the music becomes loopy and Spider-Ham strolls into frame. In the same fight, Peter, Gwen and Miles team up against the formidable Doc Ock. After some fighting, they square up for more to come, and then Ock is just hit by a city bus that comes out of the collider portal. There are too many gags to list.
Music builds early in the film as Miles prepares to jump off a skyscraper, then abruptly turns and goes back down the stairs and picks a shorter building to jump from. Black-and-white Spider-Man Noir is flummoxed by the colours of a Rubik’s Cube. Spider-Ham says “that’s all, folks” as he leaves the film, to which Peter responds “Is he allowed to say that? Legally?” And yet, just like the frenetic visual style, the fast-paced action and rapid-fire jokes enriching a film already overflowing with assets.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a masterpiece. It tells a narrative deeply-rooted in the geekiest, most potentially-inaccessible comic book lore, and yet it’s perfectly relatable. It uses a broad mixture of animation and artistic techniques to create a distinctive visual style that feels like a comic book brought to life. But the heady narrative and frenetic visuals are all in service of a coming-of-age story. It’s accentuated by inventive action beats and hilarious comedy and riddled with references for comic book fans to appreciate.
Despite its positive points, the film opened in North America with a relatively-small $35 million opening weekend. But it was praised by critics and audiences, and strong reviews word-of-mouth helped the film sustain well. It ultimately made $190 million in North America and $376 million worldwide. This makes it the lowest-grossing Marvel Film of 2018. And even so, the strong positive reactions and Best Animated Feature Oscar all point towards a much larger impact.
Sony Pictures has announced a sequel to be released in 2022, a potential spinoff featuring all-female characters, and a possible television series. In the future, people will either look back on Into the Spider-Verse as a stunning, one-of-a-kind masterpiece, or as the start of something transformative in the superhero or animation genres. Either way, I have no doubt that this film will be discussed for decades.
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Stan Lee Cameo Corner: In his first posthumous cameo, Stan Lee appears as the owner of a shop that sells Miles a Spider-Man costume after Spider-Man dies. He claims to have known Spider-Man, and that he will miss him. This was a poignant moment to see just weeks after Stan died. Lee also appears on every train that passes by and as a bystander in some scenes, because animators loved including him. The film ends with a Stan Lee quote about being a hero. It’s dedicated to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the two creators of Spider-Man who both died in 2018. That’s 36 cameos in 52 films.
After the credits, we’re introduced to yet another Spider-Man: Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac). He learns of the disruption in the multiverse and is fitted with a wrist device to travel between dimensions. He uses it to travel to “Earth-67”, where he faces off with the 1967 animated Spider-Man (Jorma Taccone) in a recreation of the “Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man” meme that is popular online. Hopefully both versions appear in the sequel
Speaking of the sequel, all we know at the time of this writing is that it will continue Miles’ story. So, Shameik Moore will return. I would not be surprised if much of the rest of the cast also returns, but that remains to be seen.
Next Time: The MCU finally produces a solo female superhero film with Captain Marvel.