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Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey
Screenplay: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Animation/Action/Adventure, Rated: PG
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: December 14, 2018
Greg, it’s yet another web of heroism that we venture into this week.
And it’s a weird and tangled web. Let’s recap:
We meet Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenage boy who is struggling to gain approval at his new upscale high school. He looks up to Spider-Man but his parents view the superhero as a menace. Miles seeks guidance from his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who brings the boy to a subway station to draw graffiti. While there, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and begins to acquire spider-like abilities.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is fighting the Green Goblin, Kingpin, and others who have built an interdimensional transporter that Kingpin wants to use to recover alternate-universe versions of his dead wife and son (whose demise he blames on Spider-Man). While the gate is open, Spider-Man sees multiple incarnations of himself spill into his universe. But before he can do anything about it, Kingpin kills him. The city and young Miles mourns the loss of Spider-Man. At his grave Miles starts to realize he has Spidey powers and meets Peter B. Parker from another universe and the two start an adventure to stop Kingpin before he destroys the city – and perhaps the universe.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a lively animated production containing everything you’d ever want to see in a Spider-Man movie, including a cameo from an animated version of Stan Lee. I say “lively” but the word “frenetic” also applies. It’s clear that this film is geared toward young people and assumes that moviegoers have an attention span of about two nanoseconds. Once I adapted to the movie’s obsessive aim to produce perceptual overload, I could appreciate its emphasis on a fine hero’s journey.
First and foremost, this film is a classic coming of age story, which taps into a deep psychological archetype about a growth and development from childhood to adulthood. People love, love, love to see stories about adolescents who learn (often the hard way) about what it takes to grow up and what it means to grow up. These tales call us, bewitch us, and have deep meaning for us, largely because they tell our own stories. Superhero stories in particular are metaphorically rich, because none of us literally have superpowers but we all have gifts that await our discovery, gifts that are key to our own personal transformation and will propel us forward in life.
This movie is valuable because it extends the Spider-Man universe to include people of color. The more inclusive our pop-culture becomes, the more we all benefit. Our Spidery hero is young, naïve, and in need of good mentorship. He receives it from his father and from an older, plumper Peter Parker from another dimension. Mentorship is crucial for coming-of-age stories, as none of us make it in this life without pivotal assistance from smarter, wiser elders. The story also features a cautionary tale of the dangers of the dark mentor, i.e., the older person who appears wise but who steers us down the wrong path in life.
I also felt the visual overload of this film. I loved the “comic book come alive” feeling. But one aspect in particular literally drove me to distraction: the use of blurry lines to convey depth of vision. Objects in the background were not “fuzzy”, but instead, were drawn with overlapping offset lines. Likewise for objects in the foreground. This gave me the feeling of watching a 3D movie – without my 3D glasses. Many times I could not focus on the story because I was trying to figure out if I needed to clean my specs – or if this was an intentional artistic choice. I never got used to it.
I’m a bit uncertain if I like where this film is taking us. Aside from a jaded, older, fatter, Peter Parker from (apparently) this dimension, we’re introduced to a female “Spider-Gwen” and a grayscale “Spider-Man Noir”. That suits me fine. But we also meet an anime “Peni Parker” who is mentally connected to a robotic spider and a “Spider-Ham” who is (apparently again) a Warner Brothers cartoon comedy version of Spider-Man.
The ultimate point of this movie is that anyone can wear the mask of the Spider-Man. It’s the image and spirit of stepping up to the responsibility of doing right that is at the core of being a hero. In a very real sense, then, we are all heroes – we can all be Spider-Man. But, frankly, if the future of Spider-Man is an unending stream of cartoon pigs and mind-controlled robotic spiders, I’m probably not going to follow along. But then, I may not be the intended audience.
Greg, despite not being among this film’s target audience of young Post-Millennials, I nevertheless enjoyed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Our hero is a likable and talented young teen who must learn how to adjust to his newfound superpowers and how to harness them and use them to save the universe. This film gives us a long overdue dose of multiculturalism, building on the trail blazed by Black Panther earlier this year. I’m not a big fan of cartoon movies yet this one worked for me, despite frenetically bombarding its audience with visual and auditory stimulation. I award the movie 3 Reel out of 5.
The hero’s journey is impressive, first separating the hero from his safe, familiar world and then throwing challenges in his way that force him to transform in order to survive. In keeping with Joseph Campbell’s stages of the hero’s journey, our hero Miles must defeat villains, seek help from mentors, and grow into the man he is meant to be. As befitting a hero, he acquires wisdom, strength, resilience, and resourcefulness. I give Miles a spidery 4 Hero points out of 5.
With regard to archetypes, we are exposed to the archetype of young foolish adolescence, the corrupt uncle, the embarrassing parents, the pure evil villain, and the high school love interest. I give these archetypes 3 Arcs out of 5.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse was a great animation achievement. I understand the directors allowed one artist to set the basic style of the film, but ultimately took over 140 artists a full year to create the final product. Making the comic book “come alive” really worked for this story which would not have been as effective in live filming. I wouldn’t mind seeing more films like this. I give this film 4 out of 5 Reels.
Miles is a classic coming-of-age hero who must connect with his inner strength to find his destiny. It’s a wonderful retelling of the Spider-Man origin. Using a variety of ethnic and gender types successfully delivers the message that everyone can be a hero. I give Miles and his Spider-Friends 4 out of 5 Heroes.
I don’t have much to add to the archetypes – I also award 3 out of 5 Arcs.