2019-01-03 / Around Town

'Into the Spider-Verse' Injects New Life into the Franchise

FILM REVIEW
By Loren King


The colorful characters in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” include, from left, anime Peni (voiced by Kimiko Glenn), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage). The colorful characters in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” include, from left, anime Peni (voiced by Kimiko Glenn), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage). As someone who generally dislikes superhero movies because they’ve become so generic, I went to see “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse” because of the widespread critical acclaim for this animated adventure. The movie lives up to the hype, taking a tired, bombastic franchise and turning it into a fresh and exhilarating thrill ride. I’m still not crazy about superheroes, but a quality film of any genre is something to celebrate.

“Into the Spider-Verse” boasts three directors, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, and some 150 animators. But clearly everyone was on the same creative page. The movie’s retro but hip sensibility is similar to “The Lego Movie” (2014), an animated delight that also blended wit with honest emotion. “Into the Spider-Verse” writer-producer Phil Lord and producer Christopher Miller co-directed “The Lego Movie” and bring the same spirit to the new project, one that doesn’t condescend to kids or forget that adults watch these movies, too.


The dazzling visuals of “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” blend comic book anarchy with depth and detail. The dazzling visuals of “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” blend comic book anarchy with depth and detail. “Into the Spider-Verse” is eye-popping and engaging, but also grounded in human emotion. It centers on ordinary Brooklyn middle-schooler Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who worships Spider-Man (Chris Pine) and sports his costume for Halloween. At the urging of his mom (Luna Lauren Velez), who works in a hospital, and dad (Brian Tyree Henry), a police officer, Miles transfers to an elite private school, where he struggles to fit in. One day, while deep in a subway tunnel spray-painting with his uncle, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider. He returns to school and endures all sorts of bizarre physical reactions that only heighten the usual humiliations and social awkwardness of adolescence.


Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. The fact that Miles is Afro-Latino, a first for a Marvel comic book movie adaptation, is part of the fresh appeal of the film. That this “breakthrough” is treated without fanfare and as just another organic component of the film makes it all the more noteworthy.

Miles suddenly finds himself with super powers, much like his idol Spider-Man. When he attempts to find the superhero, Miles is swept up in the machinations of an evil mastermind known as the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who is trying to control time and space and eliminate Spider-Man in the process.

Without giving anything away, let’s just say that another Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) appears on the scene as Miles discovers a parallel universe full of eclectic characters from different dimensions, all packed into a cohesive story that nods to various animation styles.

Besides a pair of Peter Parkers, there are other twists on Spidey, including an anime Spider-Girl (Kimiko Glenn); an old-school, wise-cracking cartoon pig (John Mulaney); a black-and-white film noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage); and a memorable Spider-Woman, a.k.a. Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld).

The movie matches these lively and original characters with a completely fresh and dazzling look. Rather than go for the latest in CGI animation, the film’s creative team seems to have found more freedom by going back to Spider-Man’s comic book origins. This is the closest a movie can come to visually replicating the anarchic visuals of a comic book, with word balloons and sound effects and giddy asides, but also the subtle pixilation of every frame. It looks like print yet has texture, depth and detail.

The film was in production long before Spider-Man creator Stan Lee (who makes a cameo as the owner of a costume shop) died in November. What a fitting tribute that a film that combines visual flair and emotional heft would inject new life into his enduring vision.

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