Every year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe spits out a couple of movies of various quality. For the most part, these films are roughly the same: big budget, lots of CGI, a famous cast. This year, Marvel (albeit a different arm of the Marvel machine) released a different sort of movie. Enter Spider-Man. Enter THE SPIDERVERSE.
A quick recap of the film’s plot, for the uninitiated (and to show how wild this film really is, especially for a mainstream comic book movie).
10 years ago, Peter Parker was bit by a radioactive spider and became the universe’s one-and-only Spider-Man! He saved New York a bunch, made a holiday album (which you can really listen to!), had his own cereal, his own theme song, and fell in love.
But: this movie isn’t about Peter Parker. Instead, it’s about Miles Morales, the biracial son of New York cop Jefferson Davis and nurse Rio Morales. Miles is trying to adjust to life at a new, fancy school in Brooklyn when he is bit by--stop me if you’ve heard this one before--a radioactive spider. While investigating this spider, he meets Spider-Man, just as the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk, tears open a portal to other universes. In the ensuing fight, promises are made, heroes sacrifice themselves, and many other Spider-People are pulled into Miles’ orbit. Will he become the hero the universes need him to be? Or will he forever be in Peter Parker’s shadow?
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, released on December 14, has received critical acclaim from professional critics and fans alike, but Mary and Todd want to reiterate some of the things that make it the perfect film to drag your entire family to over the holiday break.
(Mild spoilers to follow!)
1) The animation is so great!
Mary: This animation is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like a comic book, with accent lines to note loud sounds and (of course) Spidey-Sense. I’ve always loved traditional animation, and have an especial fondness in my heart for Studio Ghibli movies, so I’m not averse to animation by any means, and really enjoy it! (I wish there was more animation that wasn’t aimed directly at kids, but that’s another story for another blog post.) In other words, I went into the film with an open heart, expecting something along the lines of the animated Batman films (which I also adore). However, this film is doing something totally different than any other sort of animation before it and if it’s not nominated for an Oscar (and if it doesn’t WIN that Oscar) I will riot. It’s just beautiful.
Todd: I agree! The animation is so beautiful, and the way that the animators depict the intrusion of other worlds into this one is beautifully rendered.
2) The voice acting is also phenomenal.
Mary: The cast is STACKED.
Todd: Stacked! A quick run-down for those who don’t know: Shameik Moore (who starred in Dope a few years back, as well as The Get Down) voices Miles Morales, aka Spider-Man. Also playing Spider-man: Nick Miller himself, aka Jake Johnson, playing a slightly older and more world-weary Spider-Man, as well as Chris Pine as our world’s Spider-Man. Hailee Steinfeld plays Gwen Stacy aka Spider-Woman; Kimiko Glenn (of Orange is the New Black fame) voices Peni Parker, and John Mulaney (SNL! Stand-Up!) plays Peter Porker, aka Spider-Ham. To top off all of these Spider-People, none other than Nic Cage plays Spider-Man Noir, a hardboiled Spider-Man straight out of the black-and-white ‘30s.
And that’s just the Spider-People! The film also boasts Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’ dad and Mahershala Ali as his uncle; Lily Tomlin and Zoe Kravitz as Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson-Parker; Liev Schreiber, Jorma Taccone, and Kathryn Hahn. So many voices! And on top of that, they are all at the top of their game! It doesn’t hurt that Nic Cage and John Mulaney get the most hilarious lines--which means this is one movie where you are supposed to laugh at Nic Cage.
3) Representation not only matters, but makes for interesting stories.
Mary: One of my favorite moments in the film is when Peter Parker mistakes a man for the head scientist and says he needs to reassess his biases. The film straight up acknowledges that people are biased and that representation matters. Part of the reason the story feels so real to me is that there are different types of people all working within certain cultural assumptions. Miles is Latinx and African American, and his parents seem fully aware of how that affects his position in the world--and in his preppy private school.
This film doesn’t feel diverse for diversity’s sake, but diverse because the world is a vast place full of all sorts of people. It makes sense that New York has all sorts of people living there, doesn’t it?
Todd: It does! And in presenting different kinds of people, it can also tell different stories. Miles’ story feels very similar to Peter’s--he’s a gifted kid who feels socially awkward--but the reasons why he feels like an outsider are also tied to issues related to race and class, and how he navigates them is just as important to who he is as mastering his Spider-powers.
The movie shows that stories, especially superhero stories, do not have to feature a bland “everyman” (read: white, cis, straight man) to be compelling for a wide audience. In fact, the more diverse your characters, the more likely that someone will see themselves represented on-screen and want to emulate that character (hopefully one of the good guys!). Perhaps most excitingly, the movie itself is about the fact that there is no single way to be a superhero (in this case, a Spider-Person). The multiple Spider-Peoples all fight in their own ways that work for them, and no one else can do what they do. Although that may seem a little corny, it still feels revolutionary in a pop culture landscape that has been dominated for years by “Chosen One” narratives, a la Harry Potter or the Hunger Games.
4) The film draws from years of Spider-Lore--including the Mangaverse and various other small-time Spider-folks.
Mary: The biggest pleasure in this film is how it’s a love letter to the Spiderverse—all of it! Spider-Ham is in it! Spider-Man Noir! Peni Parker!
Comic books often retcon things or change the timelines to fit with new themes or new plots the publishers want to introduce. Whole characters are killed off and plots are rebooted. Peter Parker has had a million origin stories, and we’ve experienced them countless times. This film acknowledges all that and makes fun of it. It also shows that all these spider-people can exist simultaneously and harmoniously in their separate universes. It all just makes sense!
Also, Nic Cage was born to play Spider-Man Noir.
Todd: He definitely was!
I have loved Spider-Man since I was a kid. I loved the 90s TV show, and the Tobey Maguire movies (even the 3rd one!). This movie understands what is so inspiring about Spider-Man and manages to capture it perfectly. It also understands that people have had enough of origin stories (Does anyone need to see Uncle Ben be shot again, or hear “With great power…” one more time?) But: rather than avoid origin stories, this movie doubles, triples, octuples(?) down, giving each character a moment to shine and tell their story. It seems like a better way to tap into the Spider-verse than the planned Sinister Six movie, at the very least, and I cannot wait to see what is next for these characters!
Mary: We could honestly do an entire blog post on how influential the 90s TV show was for me.
5) The writing starts fun and stays fun—the writers and directors love the content and it shows.
Mary: The entire film is fun, but it’s especially apparent that the writers and directors had fun when you start digging around for Easter eggs. For example, when Miles goes to his Uncle Aaron’s apartment for the first time, you can see a blurred image on the TV of Donald Glover’s Spider-Man pajamas bit (from fan favorite TV show Community). It’s small, and I definitely missed it the first time, but it’s the perfect nod to Donald Glover’s influence on the Miles Morales plot specifically—he partially inspired Miles as he originally appeared in Brian Bendis’s work. I feel like I’ll be finding small things like that for years after the film comes out on DVD.
Aside from things like that, the writing is just good. It’s funny without feeling labored, and smart—so smart!
Todd: One small piece of the writing that feels emblematic of the film as a whole comes at the beginning: Miles is in his bedroom, working on some Art and listening to music (from the actual soundtrack! Fun!), but Miles doesn’t know the lyrics and so he just hums and scats along. Besides the fact that the song is very catchy and is thus imminently hummable, it also shows that Miles is a real person. He’s a budding artist who can be alternately good with or uncomfortable around people, depending on the setting. He is extremely intelligent but that doesn’t mean he knows the words to every song he is listening to. Above all, Miles always feels like a real person, and the writing reflects that every step of the way.
Stray observation: Kingpin is SO SQUARE.
Todd: Mary, I will leave this one for you.
Mary: As I have mentioned many times before, I study body image in young adult novels. So usually I’m the first person to advocate for diverse body types in film, but Kinpin has always baffled me. His strength and body usually have some correlation between them, but he’s also just straight up ridiculed for his body a lot of the time. I don’t love him as a character because I find him (as in comics, specifically Spider-Man comics—I haven’t seen him on Netflix’s Daredevil) boring. More than boring.
In Into the Spider-Verse, Kingpin is something else that confuses me: square. He’s literally a square. His body is a square. His head sits low, somewhere around his chest, which is no place a head should be. It’s not the way bodies work on a functional level! Throughout the movie, I kept leaning over to Todd and whispering, “He’s so square.” And he is. I’m not sure if this is a pro or con, really, but it’s definitely something you need to see for yourself.
Have you seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or have strong feelings about the franchise in general? We want to hear from you! Comment, message us on Facebook, or email us!
Todd Osborne holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Oklahoma State University and is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Missouri Review, Juked, and elsewhere. You can follow him online @tadasborne.