In the new Sony film, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, fans of the Marvel universe get to see Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales take on the role of Spider-Man for the first time on-screen. The film is not only beautifully animated, well-written and incredibly impassioned, but it also brings to life another hero of color that is much-needed in today’s social and political climate.
Son to a black police officer and Puerto Rican nurse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a intelligent 13-year-old with an aptitude for art and fierce admiration for Spider-Man. Miles is sent off to a boarding school by his parents against his wishes, where he meets a new student in one of his classes, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), and goes to seek advice from his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) about how to pursue her. Although Miles’ father doesn’t approve of Uncle Aaron’s lawless lifestyle, Miles obviously looks up to him, and the two venture beneath a subway station where Uncle Aaron encourages Miles to graffiti a wall. While there, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and given the powers that eventually lead him to assume the role of Spider-Man.
As his powers begin to manifest, Miles becomes increasingly anxious and goes back to the site of the spider bite for answers. There, he discovers Peter Parker (Chris Pine) as Spider-Man, fighting off the Green Goblin and trying to stop Wilson Fisk, or “Kingpin” (Liev Schreiber) from using a particle accelerator to access parallel universes and bring back his dead wife and son. However, Peter Parker dies at the hands of Kingpin, and the particle accelerator brings several versions of Spider-Man from alternate universes into the one Miles resides in. As a result, Miles teams up with an older, alternate Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider Woman, Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) to stop Kingpin, restore normalcy to New York City and return each alternate Spider-Person to their rightful universe.
The film’s animation, described by producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller as appearing like one “walked inside a comic book”, is so vivid and rich in detail that audiences easily melt into Miles’ world. It even includes on-screen onomatopoeias that punctuate action and dotted-coloring typical of comic book art, allowing the film to stay true to its origins. There are several standout scenes based on animation alone, where the vibrant colors and effortless movement could make a grown man weep. The graffiti scene with Miles and Uncle Aaron, for example, includes several shots where Miles appears to be graffiting directly onto the lens of the camera, hazing our view of what’s going on. This sequence of multicolored shots, dance-like movement and light-hearted moments between uncle and nephew is one of many examples of the film’s brilliance.
Not only that, but the characters themselves are incredibly unique in each of their looks and fully-realized personalities. Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker, for example, presents a version of Spider-Man we’ve never seen before. Schleppy, pudgy and middle-aged, this is a Spider-Man audiences are meant to feel bad for. It’s clear that Jake Johnson and other cast members were very well-chosen for their roles. Other actors in the film include Zoë Kravitz as Mary Jane, Lily Tomlin as Aunt May, Kathryn Hahn as Doctor Octopus, Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis (Miles’ father) and Lauren Vélez as Rio Morales (Miles’ mother).
It should be noted as well that the concept for Miles Morales’ character came about months prior to the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama. Inspired by the possibility of a black president, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis wanted to model Miles’ appearance after actor and musician Donald Glover. While some Marvel fans felt that this version of Spider-Man was too “politically correct” when it was revealed in 2011, others jumped for joy at the creation of a black Spider-Man in an the Ultimate Marvel universe.
Miles’ race, however, is never mentioned in the film, which is quite refreshing and normalizing rather than insulting. There are also significant differences between Miles Morales and Peter Parker as Spider-Man — besides Miles’ much cooler spidey-suit. Though both are considered nerdy types in school, Miles develops additional super powers that Peter never had, and has a much different family dynamic.
Despite these great aspects of the film, there are also some setbacks. For one, several scenes contain flashing lights that could be considered harmful to viewers with epilepsy or other light-sensitive disorders. Additionally, there are some moments in the movie where the film-makers seemed to miss out on great opportunities to elaborate on characters’ emotional backgrounds. One example of this occurs when Peter B. Parker sees Mary Jane in an alternate universe. Although she’s much younger and is mourning the death of her Peter, the alternate Peter feels an emotional urge to talk to her. In an attempt to stop him, Gwen assures him that she knows how he’s feeling, but that he has to let M.J. go. Rather than elaborating on how Gwen can identify with Peter in this moment (especially considering that she’s lost someone similar to Peter in her own universe), the film quickly glosses over this detail.
Overall, this film is well deserving of 5 out of 5 stars. The animation, character development, diverse inclusivity and storyline are all well thought-out and executed. This film is undoubtedly unlike anything Marvel fans have ever seen before.
Carla Suggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @carla_suggs.