Updated: Jul 19, 2019
By Derek May:
YIN: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Years ago, after the perceived failure of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the subsequent collapse of Sony’s ambitious plans for its Spider-Man franchise, the whispers of an animated film seemed like a desperate grab to retain some sort of control, or to put it more bluntly, squeeze out a few extra dollars before Marvel Studios completely pulls Spidey back under their roof. But as the project developed, it seemed almost as if it might actually be worth something after all. Hooking Phil Lord and Christopher Miller following their red-hot success with The Lego Movie certainly upped the profile, and the announcement that the focus would move off Peter Parker and onto the lesser-known but highly regarded Miles Morales provided a fresh perspective. But after Lord and Miller’s highly publicized firing off the Solo movie, many began to wonder if Sony’s web of woes would continue.
Well fear not, dear reader. I can tell you that the makers have delivered not just a great Spider-Man film, but one of the smartest, best-crafted, and most visually stunning films of the year, and one of—if not the—best Spider-Man films of all time!
A bold statement indeed! So let’s examine the evidence. As a writer, I always look at character first, and every major character in this film is given a clear, organic, and significant arc. Our main focus is on young Miles Morales, and while this is an origin story, it’s also a smart subversion of that typical trope. While there are certainly parallels to Parker’s origin (bitten by a radioactive spider, familial and coming of age issues, etc.), Morales’s seems appropriately unique in context, and his decisions are personal and distinctive. Despite the inclusion of a number of “Spider-People” with their own baggage, the story never strays too far from Miles and his emotional journey. Make no mistake, this is his movie, and by the end you’ll be cheering for your new favorite superhero.
The inclusion of the various Alt-Spiders isn’t just a gimmick to offer screentime for possible spin-off characters or to placate the audience with a few more-familiar faces (though all of that is certainly clear). Their presence provides Morales with much-need mentorship and guidance, for better or worse, and the most-prominent duo of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy are the perfect yin/yang for Miles to emulate. Beyond that, each of those characters ends up learning something from Miles in return, cementing a richer reciprocal rapport than your typical noob meets sage advisor relationship.
Miles Morales is a modern young man on the cusp of puberty and dealing with the rigors of school, parents, and finding his place in the world. Actor, singer, and dancer Shameik Moore brings a street-smart innocence to the teen, effortlessly expressing his intelligence, bravado, and self-doubt while also giving him that wonderful exuberance and joy that comes with being Spider-Man. But Miles’s life isn’t all sunshine and webslinging, and he goes through plenty of tragedy, with Moore mining those subtle tones to bring out the heartfelt emotion behind the animated eyes. Miles learns, as all heroes must, to use that pain to help others, to step up and save the world when it needs you most, and especially to show others the way.
That’s exactly what he ends up doing for Alt-Peter Parker. This Peter has been through the ringer, and has just about lost everything, including hope. Reluctant to mentor young Miles, he eventually steps up, and finds the hero in himself as reflected in Morales. Bringing the character to life is New Girl’s Jake Johnson, one of my favorite comedians and a rising star in his own right. Johnson can be criticized, with some validity, for being a bit one note in his style and humor, but I suspect his turn here will force viewers and Hollywood alike to reassess. Even I had my doubts based on the trailers, as I suspected Johnson would simply take the easy route, but he stepped up and delivered, treading a fine line for his Parker who is at once crippled with self-doubt, depression, and at the end of his rope, yet cannot escape his innate heroicness and drive to help those in need. It turns out to be a complet