So you think just anyone can be Spider-Man? Well, you could be right according to 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a beautifully animated film with engaging voice performances. The screenplay is rigorously formulaic in ways that detract from the story but the visuals and performances more than make up for it.
A bizarre technological experiment results in a variety of alternate universe versions of Spider-Man appearing in one version of New York. But this New York already has two Spider-Men—a blonde Peter Parker (Chris Pine) with a remarkably happy life and a newly minted Spider-kid, a cop’s son named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore).
But blonde Parker’s killed early in the film and the untested Miles must take up the Spider-mantle. Like Tom Holland in the MCU films, Miles goes to a private school. I wonder when it was decided Spider-Man needed to come from a wealthy background. I guess it gives him the same advantage Bruce Wayne had and it better explains his ability to create sophisticated gadgetry. Still, I miss the idea of the character going to a public school.
A version of Steve Ditko’s cover for the first issue of Spider-Man appears in the film because Spider-Man in the film’s main dimension is a celebrity with his own tie-in products, including comics.
Unfortunately, Ditko’s art for the interior pages isn’t used. But that’s a tiny quibble—the film’s visuals are fantastic, a really neat blend of cgi and 2D animation while also using comic homage editing and panelling like Sin City.
Mahershala Ali plays Miles’ sketchy uncle Aaron, a far cry from Uncle Ben. When Miles tells him about a cute girl at school—who turns out to be Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld)—Aaron advises Miles to put a hand on her shoulder and say, “Hey” in a seductive manner. This was one of a few moments in the film where I instantly knew, “Oh, we’re going to be seeing this again and it’s going to suck.” And indeed, it’s a gag repeated throughout the film to persistently awkward effect but none worse than its appearance in the film’s climax as an emotional beat.
The main villain is Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) who owes a lot to Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of the character in the NetFlix Daredevil series. Which is a nice enough shorthand considering most of the film is busy dealing with multiple versions of Spider-Man.
Nicolas Cage plays a version of Peter Parker called “Spider-Man Noir”. Played mainly for gags, it’s fun hearing Cage doing impressions of actors from the 30s and 40s. The Wikipedia note for his character is amusing for the wrong reasons: “Cage based his character on the films of Humphrey Bogart, specifically the voices of actors from that era such as James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.” Yes, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson from the films of Humphrey Bogart. I mean, if you’d just said the films of Humphrey Bogart that could be anything, I guess you need to specify with actors who are not Humphrey Bogart? Maybe whoever wrote that thought Humphrey Bogart played other actors?
There’s also a forgettable anime parody version called Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and a really great Looney Tunes homage called Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
And there’s an alternate Peter Parker called Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) who reluctantly becomes Miles’ mentor. This Parker’s life hasn’t turned out so splendidly as blonde Parker’s and there’s a nice chemistry between this washed-up Spider-Man helping a new one come into his own. It’s formulaic but also sweet and it’s nice seeing them teach each other to have some self-esteem. Their final lines to each other are awkwardly staged and punch a little too hard but the relationship between the two is established well enough by the actors and the wonderfully expressive animation that it works.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is available on NetFlix.