Look, you don’t need me to tell you Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is great, but I’m saying it anyway.
It’s so good! It’s pretty much perfect.
It was everything I hoped this Phil Lord/Christopher Miller project would be: character-driven action, a message and lesson learned, gorgeous and creative animation, comedy based in deep lore of the subject, and loads of heart. With Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie, Last Man on Earth and the 21 Jump Street movies also in tow, these guys are approaching my Michael Schur fandom levels.
On a cold and blustery Christmas Eve, I met up with a friend to take in the movie. What a present to myself this turned out to be. We’ve had so many Spider-Man movies since Tobey Maguire first donned the suit back in 2002, and this broke through a Spidey fatigue so strong that I didn’t even bother with Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming because they just weren’t for me anymore. (Kinda funny that Lord and Miller did the same thing with Batman in The LEGO Movie.)
I’m looking forward to watching Into the Spider-Verse a bunch more times. For now, though, here are some thoughts that stick with me.
Spoilers ahead, yo.
It’s a little sad that just seeing a black boy on screen with a loving family, just being a kid, still feels so refreshing. It still is, given the continued struggles for representation. Similar to Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s also nice to see that teen boy in a polychromatic, multiethnic New York that feels more real because it better reflects reality.
At age 38, I feel a little old for the I-see-myself-in-this feelings watching Miles Morales, a black, Latino boy, navigate his world. However, Into the Spider-Verse introduces Miles drawing in his room, playing his music, and it brings me back to my teenage years holed up in my room at the table, drawing and drawing. (I was particular to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, but Swae Lee works, too.)
When I saw co-director Peter Ramsey, a black man, speak after winning a Golden Globe for Spider-Verse, I knew he had that same childhood memory, too.
Everything goes right for Peter Parker?
Not gonna lie. It was fun to see Peter Parker, the Spider-Man of Miles’ universe, just killing it in life as Peter and as Spider-Man.
He’s 26, blonde and handsome, confident and self-assured, finished scientist school, MJ is great. Aunt May is a tech whiz and helps Peter in his Spider-stuff. He has a cave full of awesome suits, gadgets, and that giant Easter egg of the Spider-Mobile. (Again, why would Spidey have a car, in New York?)
Of course this Spider-Man has to die.
He has to die because that’s part of how Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man in his universe. That’s part of the lore. A key fact.
But let’s dig deeper than that. This Peter Parker, this Spider-Man, has to die in this movie because everything is going right for him and he’s making all the right choices. Because, as the fans know, that is not Peter Parker.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” and for Peter, with great responsibility comes great guilt and grief.
One of the key things to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run on the character and in a lot of the better Spidey stories is how Spider-Man is cool, but Peter Parker is not. Parker is an anxiety-ridden nerd most of the time, and his guilt over Uncle Ben’s death drives him to become Spider-Man.
Remember the “Evil Peter” sequence from Spider-Man 3?
The strutting down the street, the emo haircut and jazz club dancing? Those bits are infamous. But I think Sam Raimi and them knew what they were doing, because they understood the character. Peter in that sequence isn’t being an actual cool bad boy. He’s acting the way Peter, a totally uncool lame-o, would think a cool bad boy would behave.
Miles in Into the Spider-Verse has all kinds of anxieties that crop up throughout the film. The anxiety of trying to be cool when you’re not, of feeling not up to the moment, of feeling odd in an unfamiliar environment, and of wanting to please your parents even when who you are is opposed to their own beliefs and attitudes.
Comic-book supervillains work best in movies when they’re scary
Using Kingpin as the main villain worked great for Into the Spider-Verse, in multiple ways.
One, it gives the kids a Spidey villain they may not know as much about. Two, it gives those of us with Spider-Man fatigue a villain we haven’t seen in the movies before, which further sets the tone of this being a Spider-Man movie unlike any other. Three, it rewards the deeper Spidey fans who are familiar with how much the Web-Slinger messes with Wilson Fisk.
On that third front, the movie goes even deeper by its character design for Kingpin. Taking its cues from Bill Sienkiewicz’s drawings, Into the Spider-Verse made their Kingpin an expressionistic portrait of sophisticated brutality. Married to Liev Schreiber’s noo-yawk voice, Kingpin’s round head sits atop a block of black as if drawn with a fat marker. It exudes an experience of Kingpin.
By Sienkiewicz’s own words, you had to feel what Kingpin looked like as an 800-pound man who’s all muscle. Remember Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the strongman who plays The Mountain on Game of Thrones? He’s 6-foot-9 and 400 pounds, and you believe he could tear a man’s skull apart with his bare hands.
So imagine Kingpin, who is twice that size, twice the muscle, twice the strength.
He’d. Be. TERRIFYING.
And in Into the Spider-Verse, Kingpin is fearsome, not only by deed and reputation, but by his very appearance tapping into where emotions meet and warp reality. So it’s only fitting that Kingpin’s scheme – to steal a version of his wife and son from a parallel universe in order to replace the ones he lost – would be about his emotional response would result in ripping reality apart.
Where do we go from here?
Why couldn’t Miles Morales have had his own movie? He’s the center of this one, his hero’s journey is the main story here, and all the multiverse shenanigans do reinforce the idea that anyone can be a Spider-Man, for sure.
But I still want the next one of these to be his. No other Spider-People.
I’d definitely take more Doc Ock. Maybe in that one, we’ll find out what the relationship between Olivia “My friends call me Liv” Octavius and May Parker was? Or not, because that’s fine, too.
However, I will say that another movie in which Miles travels to the Earth where Gwen Stacy is Spider-Woman would be pretty dope. Let’s see those spins on the Spidey characters, focus the story on Gwen’s development as a hero.
But you know what I really want next from these Sony Animation/Marvel team-ups? A project that would be amazing in that animation style, with all kinds of wackiness, a kid on an emotional hero’s journey, aliens, monsters, a great POC protagonist and a grand opportunity to engage in Marvel’s deep bench of characters?
MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR.
Give me a Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur movie now, OK? Slip in some cameos from Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel, and even better!
You’ve already got in Lunella Lafayette a “fear of what’s hidden” storyline because she has the Inhuman gene, and she’s afraid of what will happen to her once it’s activated.
Marsai Martin, best known as Diane on black-ish, is waiting in the wings. She already looks like Lunella, so she may as well play her.
And the animation on those Afropuff pigtails is gonna be adorable.
Get on that.