SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE REVIEW
By Diego Hernandez
In a recent commercial for Once Upon A Deadpool, actor Fred Savage remarked that movies based on Marvel Comics produced by Fox Studios aren't really Marvel movies in the same way that if the Beatles were produced by Nickleback, it would still be music, but it would still suck. Ouch, but not exactly unwarranted. With a handful of exceptions (The first two Spider-Man movies, the first two Blade movies and the third Wolverine movie in a trilogy that started with "ugh" but surprisingly advanced to "wow" by the end, etc) it has largely been Marvel Studios responsible for releasing the bulk majority of stellar Marvel adaptations (Their lesser works, like Thor: Dark World and Iron Man 2, were, what "meh" at worst?). The movies of Marvel Studios sharing their own universe has, of course, resulted in some amazing cinematic crossovers, such as the Avengers series and Captain America: Civil War. And the studio has, much to their credit, gambled on experimental fare like Doctor Strange and The Guardians of the Galaxy.
However, having said all that, there has perhaps been an unavoidable consequence of films by Marvel Studios being limited to their own narrative style. Oh, yes, sure, Marvel Studio has given us all a wondrous cinematic mythology containing everyone and everything from cyborgs to aliens to wizards to talking Rambo versions of raccoons. A rare accomplishment, indeed. There is still however a certain sense that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is limited, that there is a general structure that is to be maintained, that while the studio is able to throw so much at the wall, they cannot throw absolutely everything that they want.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse bucks this limitation, giving viewers a supremely original and refreshing take on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, resulting in the most ground-breaking animated movie since The Lego Movie. The plot follows Miles Morales, a Blatino teenager struggling to adapt to his new boarding school while trying to live up to his parent's expectations and secretly spraying graffiti with his cool uncle. After finishing a tag in a subway tunnel, Miles is bitten by a seemingly ordinary spider but by the time he realizes that his hands are now sticky enough to enable him to climb walls, he begins to suspect that a fate similar to another man with arachnid qualities may have befallen him. When Miles returns to the subway to confirm his suspicions, he accidently stumbles upon Spider-Man fighting Green Goblin and Prowler while attempting to disable a mammoth particle accelerator that can open portals to other universes. Spider-Man saves Miles during his fight, and the two recognize that they are essentially brothers from another mother. However, Goblin throws Spider-Man into the energy stream of the machine, which causes it to break down. Miles is given a USB to shut down the accelerator for good, but the Peter Parker of Mile's universe is murdered by Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, the man responsible for ordering the machine's creation (And whose inclusion helps ease the pain of Netflix canceling Daredevil after a brilliant third season. I need to know what happened to Bullseye!)
The particle accelerator does connect several disparate universes but consequently tears at the fabric of reality, and because Parker was thrown into the energy stream, different Spiders are flung into Mile's universe. The Peter Parker of another universe, overweight, separated from his wife and stuck in a rut, is transported to the universe of Miles and reluctantly teaches the boy how to use his powers and agrees to help stop Fisk and his accelerator from damaging the structure of the multiverse until it eventually collapses. There is also a far more experienced Spider-Woman, super kawaii anime girl Peni Parker, grim and colorblind Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Ham the spider... pig. Assembled together, the motley spidey crew fight against the likes of Fisk, Prowler, Tombstone, Scorpion, Doctor Octopus, and try to send everyone back home via the accelerator before shutting it down once and for all.
Though a multiverse had been shown in Marvel Studio's Doctor Strange, this is really one of the few times, if not the first, that the plot device of a multiverse has been utilized so well. The creation of such a dynamically bizarre Spider Team perfectly matches the lively tone of the film as well as the hyper lush visual style, a brilliant blending of the comic book format combined with hip hop. The result is animation that utterly entrances the eyes and quickly pumps the heart, artwork endearing in its sense of innovative enthusiasm, accentuating the movie's argument that, yes, to be a hero means to simply do the right thing, and yes, anyone can choose to do the right thing. The script is witty, guaranteed to make any adult who brought his kid along to the kiddy matinee laugh along with his boy or girl. And while I'll be the first one to tell you that I have the musical tastes of an old fart (So many blank stares when I mention Little Richard or Iron Maiden...) and that modern hip hop is not my forte, the soundtrack is wisely utilized, adding both a vibrancy and contemporary flavor that meshes seamlessly with the animation and pumps the heart.
In a year where two Marvel movies have left the audience feeling as though they had been tricked into attending funerals (Infinity War and Ant-Man and Wasp were great but JESUS), Spider-Man: ITVS ends the year swinging upwards, excitedly looking forward to what the future will bring. ITSV features one of comic book legend Stan Lee's last film cameos and the credits features a quote of his, brilliant in both simplicity and profundity: "That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero". How fitting that Lee died after decades of diligence, sacrifice, and dedication, knowing that his co-creation, originally predicted to be a flop by his employers, is as socially relevant in the present as he was in the past. How fitting that a man who spent his life writing about the worthiness of fighting racism, sexism, and prejudice should die knowing that a new generation has absorbed his myths and his gods and his legends, and that Miles Morales, a member of that more culturally diverse generation, will carry his legacy on into the future, solving modern problems with timeless and eternal wisdom. How fitting that Spider-Man ITSV embodies Lee's epic opera-esque catchphrase, a Latin motto found on the Great Seal of Spider-Man's New York: "Excelsior!" or "Upward and onward toward greater glory!". This movie and the life of Lee will make you believe in such a future.