CineMaierson: Into the Maier-Verse
January 6, 2019
We four saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with a group, and we all adored it (and so did the Golden Globes!), despite our very different tastes and varying levels of superhero appreciation. We loved the film so much that we felt only a very special edition of CineMaierson could do the film justice. In addition to Eli’s normal review, Online Editor-in-Chief Ryan Chang and guest writer Gray Watson share their thoughts on the film from the perspectives of longtime comic book fans. Online Editor-in-Chief Sophia Kontos discusses why Into the Spider-Verse is an amazing film for everybody, even those with little to no superhero knowledge.
Eli: Why Into the Spider-Verse is a cinematic triumph
Take notes, Aquaman.
New York City is a town with attitude. There’s a certain fellowship amongst the millions of commuters; it is a city of hard-workers with determined, persevering mindsets.
That’s why Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero — he’s barely a superhero. He’s not some lofty, all-knowing god far above our mortal problems, nor is he an ultra-rich isolationist. Unlike most other comic book characters, Spider-Man is a man of the people and a reflection of the society he exists in. He eats pizza, rides the bus and has everyday relationship struggles. He’s the most relatable hero; as the film states, “it could be anyone behind the mask.”
With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, relatability takes central stage. Equipped with a dazzling, free-flowing animation style, a solid multiverse story and a genuinely hilarious and risk-taking script, Spider-Verse stands as one of the best superhero movies of all time and easily the most honest and true depiction of Spider-Man ever.
On a technical level, the film is gorgeously rendered. The animators took extra care in detailing the CGI by hand, and that passion and creativity are prevalent in every second. I especially appreciate the imagination used amongst the many Spider-People; all seven heroes remain clearly distinguishable. Spider-Ham has a more cartoonish, kid-friendly shine, Spider-Man Noir is constantly rendered in black and white and Peni Parker, a robotic Japanese take on the hero, is given an anime-inspired look. Every animation choice feels deliberate and services that character’s traits and personality. The on-screen onomatopoeias (*bagel!* *thwip!* *dap!*) were so lively and exuberant I smiled all the way through the movie, and I felt as though I was rediscovering my love for comics.
Before the film came out, a Spider-Man story not starring Peter Parker made me nervous. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Despite my early hesitations, Miles Morales proves himself to be an engaging, funny and above all relatable protagonist. His transformation from nervous, reluctant teenager to courageous, powerful hero is an absolute joy to witness. This is the first superhero movie since Guardians of the Galaxy where I’m dying for a sequel.
Miles’ origin story is so original and captivating that it barely feels like an origin story. All the typical Spider-Man tropes (Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility) are given exciting and occasionally surprising twists. The villains are also unique and often given an extra layer of backstory that deepens their characters.
Finally, after endless generic ones, we have a well-written superhero movie. The humor is a refreshing deviation from the usual, quippy one-liners that plague most Marvel and DCEU films. The jokes aren’t silly lines any character could say, but rather stem from likable characters; it’s personality-driven comedy done to perfection. While John Mulaney as Peter Porker was an excellent casting choice for absurdity, I thought the funniest character was Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir. Some of his lines made me wish I could re-do my senior quote.
My complaints for Spider-Verse are few and far between. I suppose I didn’t think the soundtrack was Post Malone’s best material, but I adore Vince Staples’ contribution (I’m listening to it as I write). I also didn’t love that the film repeats previously spoken lines as thoughts in Miles’ head, but I understand how it might be helpful for younger viewers.
It is significant that there is no stereotypical or comic-accurate Peter Parker in the film; the only versions we see in the film are a blond in his 20s and an overweight, moderately-despondent man in his 40s. There’s no standard for what the hero has to be. It could be anyone behind the mask. The only requirement? “Spider-Man always gets up.”
Ryan and Gray: Into the Spider-Verse is the perfect comic book movie
2018 was an incredible year for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther was one of the biggest cultural phenomena in recent memory, Avengers: Infinity War represented a decade of amazing movies and universe-building, and Ant-Man and the Wasp was a solid, reasonably entertaining superhero team-up that gave the world more Paul Rudd, which everyone can appreciate.
Despite Marvel Studios’ incredible three-peat this year, the best comic book film of the year (and possibly all time) is none other than Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. We, as long-time comic and superhero fans, want to share our stories, and why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse resonated with us more than any other comic book film.
Growing up, superheroes were my idols because, beneath the flashy costumes and crazy powers, they were role models using their incredible gifts to do good simply because it was right. I could particularly relate to Spider-Man’s nerdy demeanor and his typical teenage struggles with insecurity and loneliness. It was inspiring to watch the socially awkward Peter Parker selflessly swing into action, protecting the innocent because it was his responsibility. Comic books made me feel like I could be like my superhero idols or, at the very least, channel their heroic spirits.
The main theme of Into the Spider-Verse perfectly encapsulates this sentiment: no matter who is under the mask, anyone (even a down-on-his-luck kid from Brooklyn, a Japanese schoolgirl from the future or an anthropomorphic pig) can be Spider-Man. The mid-credits scene, which displays a poignant quote from the late Stan Lee, best sums up the message of this incredible film: “That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done and because it is the right thing to do is indeed, without a doubt, a real superhero.”
Superheroes are my happy place. They have always been a part of my life. In my house, you could find a picture of me watching Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man as a six-year-old while wearing a Spider-Man costume at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma, a Fantastic Four Thing mask with accompanying Thing fists, and not one, but two Batman costumes, as well as a Robin costume when I wanted to be an “alternative” superhero fan among my second grade friends.
As I entered middle school, I worried I would be judged by my peers for my geeky and nerdy tendencies, so I suppressed my love for superheroes. I would venture to Nan’s Comic Shop to get the newest Spider-Man comic and hide it if a friend was coming over. I watched the entirety of the Teen Titans TV show in middle school but told no one.
But then came the fateful day when one of my best friends asked me to see The Avengers with him. He wore a comic book T-shirt—I could tell he knew his stuff. That’s when it hit me: no one cares whether I like superhero movies or not. From then on, I decided to embrace it. I went to every superhero movie with my friends, pushing them to watch all the MCU has to offer (going so far as to make a comprehensive order they should watch the MCU in and which movies they could leave out). I binged Jessica Jones in a day.
Superheroes are my form of escapism. While reading about Batman saving Gotham from the Joker for the millionth time or seeing Hugh Jackman fight his way through crowds as the Wolverine, a smile always falls on my face. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is so meaningful to me because it reminds me of the days of reading comic books under my covers late at night. Watching the movie truly feels like reading a comic book, with the witty dialogue, unbelievably beautiful art style, and strong relationships. It’s fun. It’s captivating. It’s meaningful. It’s pure escapism.
Sophia: Not just a good superhero movie
I’m not a superhero person. When I tried to list all the superhero movies I’ve seen, I referred to Spider-Man: Homecoming as “the latest Superman movie.” So, yeah. I’m definitely not someone who keeps up with the Marvel (or DC) Universe.
As you might’ve guessed, I had incredibly low expectations going into the movie, but I was proven wrong. Into the Spider-Verse worked incredibly on so many levels, but most importantly for me, it was accessible to people not versed in the comics or the Marvel Universe. Unlike during Infinity War, I only turned to my comic-loving neighbor to ask a question (and not a necessary one at that) once when most people in the theater gasped at the name Doc Ock. Who’s that?
Aside from being comprehensible to a complete superhero novice, this movie does many things well, but I’m going to focus on the three that made the movie for me.
- The Aesthetic: I like to fall into movies and exist in their ethos for a few hours. My favorite movies have hyperspecific color schemes and shot set-ups (think Call Me By Your Name, Arrival, any Wes Anderson film). Into the Spider-Verse fits into the same category: it is visually beautiful and coherent. The comic book flourishes bring the story to life. Also, that comic book feel helps the movie avoid one common pitfall of superhero movies: tacky fight scenes. Instead, we get the beauty of Aunt May hitting Tombstone with a baseball bat (plus all the wonderfully dynamic fight sequences throughout the film). Along with the beautiful visuals, the music keeps the (already strong) plot alive, giving a pulsing rhythm to the beating heart of Miles’ story.
- The Humor: It’s a funny movie. I laughed for most of its 117-minute run (when I wasn’t anxiously begging Miles to beat Kingpin). The jokes were well-written and well-timed, using each character to their full advantage. With John Mulaney as Peter Porker, the opportunities were endless (see: “What a pig!” “Hey, I’m right here.”). The humor was well-integrated into plot and character development. Some jokes reinforced a deeper struggle of a character (such as Peter B. Parker, who had split up with his universe’s MJ, talking to a different universe’s MJ about bread for her table sort of). That’s why the jokes worked. They weren’t just funny; they were aware of the context in which they occurred, and they were smart.
- The Humanity: I dislike superhero movies because they seem out of touch. Hulk is a giant green monster, Thor is a god (I think?), Captain America survived at the bottom of the ocean. Into the Spider-Verse has radioactive spiders and a multiverse, but the true heart of the story is Miles, a kid figuring out his new world. I can’t fly between buildings, but I relate to Miles’ awkward half-humming, half-singing. This movie is great because of its relationships. We see the struggle (but also love) between Miles and his father (the “I love you” scene in front of Miles’ new school was especially charming). We see Peter B. Parker regret how he acted towards MJ. We even see the tragic motive for Kingpin’s actions: getting his family back. Ultimately, the movie works because it’s grounded in relatable struggles of people trying to connect with one another. The awesome fight scenes (and the spider-skills) just so happen to make the movie a superhero one.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was not just a good superhero movie, it was a good movie, period. It might even be one of my top movies of 2018. Even if you’re not a superhero fan (believe me, I can relate), this movie is smart, funny and charming as hell. Give it a chance. Miles Morales (and the other spider-people) won’t let you down, even if every other superhero has.