Superheroes are meant to be rebooted.
What does it take to change how the general populous sees a fifty-five-year pop culture icon? In our current age of social consciousness and a more keen awareness of our respective places in this world, the answer is a lot, but also quite a lot. The internet has wished and demanded many things into existence (and cancellation) in a brief time, but given its nature, it can be hard to find the thread that connects all of our perspectives and universes into one clear narrative. In this weekend’s release of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, we’re presented a funny, thrilling, and often times head-spinning tale that is the culmination of a lot of internet culture, and a lot more Marvel comics.
Threading the web that connects Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse from pre-production to audiences in theaters this weekend is... surprisingly complicated. This film is not only the product of reportedly 140 animators (the largest team ever for a Sony Animated Picture) but also of clueless movie executives, North Korean hackers, White man-babies on Twitter, the cultural consciousness constantly trying to calm them down, and of course Donald Glover.
Last year, Sony Pictures in collaboration with Marvel Studios brought us the third on-screen iteration of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man through the exciting, zippy, but ultimately fluffy Spider-Man: Homecoming. In my review of that film, I mention Donald Glover’s brief cameo as Aaron Davis, a suspect in Spider-Man’s attempt to stop the Vulture, and its subtle significance that reaches beyond fan service. Through Glover and the mentioning of his nephew who lives in the neighborhood, the Marvel Cinematic Universe confirmed not only the existence of Miles Morales alongside Tom Holland's Peter Parker but paid homage to the multi-hyphenate artist who inspired him in the first place.
While #Donald4Spiderman was ultimately unsuccessful in casting Donald Glover in 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man reboot, in hindsight the Twitter campaign seems instead... quaint. It was among the earliest instances of Media paying attention to the demands of Social Media, and started a cultural conversation that reached Hollywood creatives and the industry as a whole.
The comics industry — usually the first to take note in creating diverse spaces for their publishing, went to work right away. Not only did Marvel Comics debut Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Puerto Rican fifteen-year-old from Brooklyn in his own title (thanks again, Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli), they also explored nearly-infinite versions of Spider-Man through what’s now known as the Spider-Verse. Obviously, this should be where Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes in, but it's not. Not yet.
In the wake of the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures by members of North Korean intelligence and The Amazing Spider-Man 2's disastrous box office returns mere months earlier, emails about the future of Spider-Man were leaked for the world to read, and they were hilariously tone-deaf. Sony had no idea what to do with Spider-Man as a character, but they did know who to hand it off to. They eventually finalized their deal with Marvel Studios to bring Tom Holland's Spider-Man into the Avengers fold (and then kill him, I guess) and gave animation keys to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the kings of taking on 'bad ideas' from the 21 Jump Street reboot, The Lego Movie, to even getting fired from Solo: A Star Wars Story. Lord was given a writing credit on Spider-Verse, while the director's chair was shared between Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman.
Concurrently, Sony also developed and released Venom back in October which apparently was a film we all saw for some reason. And while Venom is not yet connected to Spider-Man in any way, the implication is that Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock is one of many spider-people connected to the shared Spider-Verse, along with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in their respective universes as well. Clever.
The end result of all of this internet debate and corporate brand strategy is, surprisingly, a masterfully paced, gorgeous film with not only jaw-dropping animation unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but a tender emotional core that solidifies Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse as not only the best animated film of 2018, but one of the best features overall.
The textures and vibrancy of both the script and visuals remind me of The Lego Movie’s gleeful overload of pop and color. There’s a weight in each frame that communicates how painstaking the animation actually is. Spider-Verse devotes itself not to building a universe or setting up sequels (plenty of that comes organically), but to making you fall for Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) the same way you did Peter Parker three times before.
Into The Spider-Verse feels remarkably like a retaliation of some sort. It easy to imagine Porky Parker (you’ll get to meet them later) is dropping an anvil on the notion that representation and diversity in comic book stories is anything but a great thing. Many dumb idiot man-babies on Twitter would like you to feel otherwise, but Spider-Man has been permanently altered for good and for the better. Like impassioned graffiti, Miles Morales leaves a mark on viewers young and old with a protagonist charisma not unlike Marty McFly from Back to the Future. And while both have excellent taste in music and sneakers, their greatest charm is in being just as curious and dumbfounded as the audience, asking all the alternate dimension-related questions we can’t. The theme of the film is poignant and universal: no matter the background or universe you come from, you too can be the hero.
There’s no real need in getting into the plot details, the movie itself labors at the thought of rehashing an origin story, despite telling at least six Spider-Something origins of its own. The basics are: in the multiverse there are infinite spider-beings, a handful of which find themselves trapped in Miles Morales’ universe with only one way out. What ensues is a hilarious, self-aware adventure and coming-of-age story that may feel familiar, but the film takes every step imaginable to tell it in a way you’ve never seen before.
I don’t think this can be stressed enough, please see this in IMAX 3D if you can. You may be sick of 3D or inflated premium ticket prices, but trust me when I say it’s worth every penny. Admittedly, I watch as many movies in 3D or IMAX as I can, because it’s not like they make 3D TVs anymore, so believe me when I say that this is bar-none the best 3D you’ll see in theater in 2018.
This film, essentially, started as a hashtag; a question poised to the internet collective. Why does Spider-Man have to be white? Eight years, two reboots, and an entire social consciousness movement later and we have the answer: he doesn’t.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse 4.5/5*
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is in theaters now.
Tyler Scruggs is a writer and musician living in Atlanta with his partner Mark. When he’s not churning out internet content, he’s paying too much for coffee and buying movie tickets weeks in advance. Feel free to validate him on Twitter (@TylerScruggs), Instagram (@Scruggernaut), and YouTube.
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