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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE | Film Review (/The Problem with Miles Morales)

22 Dec

Bit of a hefty title, I know. But I actually saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse like a week ago, and after seeing it wasn’t sure I really had anything to say that others hadn’t said already. But now, I’m finally ready to jot down my thoughts in what is mostly a review, but also my opinion of the character of Miles Morales across the various mediums.

RELEASED: December 14th 2018
DIRECTED BY: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
WRITTEN BY: Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman
PRODUCED BY: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Christina Steinberg
MUSIC BY:  Daniel Pemberton
STARRING:
 Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoë Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicholas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber & Chris Pine

When this movie was announced, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. Sure, I love Spider-Man, and I’m always down for a solidly animated movie, and heck – I’ve yet to see a Lord & Miller joint that I didn’t dig. But there was still one glaring problem slap-bang in the middle of that trailer that stopped me from getting invested: Miles Morales.

Look, I get at this point, as someone of African descent, I should be celebrating the fact that we’re getting more diversity in our superhero flicks. ‘Woo, represent!’ and all that. Whatever. I appreciate a good black superhero. I love Luke Cage, and I enjoyed what I watched of Black Lightning. Heck, that Black Panther fellow’s pretty good too. But I could just never get invested in Miles Morales. I admit I haven’t read all of his comics, but I’ve tried to get involved. Repeatedly. And every time I’ve come away thinking he’s kind of bland. I mean, what’s his deal?

I think it speaks to the character when you can play a game like PS4’s Spider-Man or watch a film like Into the Spider-Verse and you come away with more of an idea of what motivates Miles Morales than you had after reading several comic books wherein he is the star. As in, it speaks to him having very little actual character.

Into the SpiderVerse1.jpg

And then there are his powers. Sure, he’s got the various powers of the regular Spider-Man. Fine. But then he can also turn invisible? Bit much with a Spider-Sense, but it’s okay, I guess. Oh, and he’s also got a ‘Venom Blast’ that can essentially put any villain down for the count. Overpowered, much? As I said, I haven’t read a whole bunch of Miles Morales comics, but in one of the ones I have read, he Venom Blasted a demon who had just defeated the Avengers and it knocked him right out. I mean what the fuck? Where are the stakes if he can just zap anyone and the fight’s over?

So yeah, in my mind, when I saw Miles Morales was to be the focus of a movie, I was bummed. Great, a bland overpowered character (some of you may say ‘well, what about Superman? But that’s a discussion for another time; I’ve already written a whole bunch more than I intended to) headlining the next Spider-Man movie. Fantastic.

I did later get invested with the release of the second trailer, however…

…when I got more of a feel for the actual movie, and the prominence of Peter Parker.

Into the Spider-Verse follows the exploits of Miles Morales, a teenager who is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him powers similar to Spider-Man. However, after witnessing the death of Spider-Man, Miles is forced to step up and save the city, but finds unusual allies in the form of five reality displaced Spider-Men and -Women including a veteran Spider-Man (Peter Parker), a teenage Spider-Woman (Gwen Stacy), the gun-totting black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Peter Parker), Japanese schoolgirl Peni Parker and her robot Sp//dr and the cartoon pig Spider-Ham (Peter Porker).

All-in-all, it’s pretty solid. The animation, in particular, is beautiful; it’s rich and vibrant, and the way the various different animated characters mesh together makes for a very unique and rewarding viewing experience. I greatly appreciated the redesigns of various characters, like the monstrously big Green Goblin or the mechanical legged Scorpion, which made it feel like we weren’t just watching another showdown between Spider-Man and the Goblin on film like we’ve seen… three times (?) in the past twenty years. There was this weird thing wherein part of the film looks like watching 3D without the glasses, which was kind of offputting, but apparently, that’s intentional, so kudos the Sony for being different, I guess?

Into the SpiderVerse2.jpg

I also very much enjoyed the soundtrack, like the look of the film, it’s dynamic and entertaining, and weaves in and out of the film seamlessly. Likewise, the jokes are great; this movie is genuinely funny, packed with laughs and witty one-liners (I particularly liked Nicholas Cage’s various gags as Spider-Man Noir and Jake Johnson’s deadbeat Peter Parker – who, in my mind, was the ‘classic’ Spider-Man). However, conversely, the film also has high stakes and serious themes and features more deaths than I would have expected from a PG-rated film.

It also, most importantly, has a lot of heart. I really bought into all of the characters and their various emotional struggles. One thing this movie does really well is tell a classic Spider-Man story, full of emotion and wit, all the while disguising it as something different (y’know, with the whole multi-dimensional aspect).

Because of all of these factors, for the majority of the movie, my disinterest in Miles Morales was abated. His powers were toned down as a consequence of his inexperience, and so he displayed the true Spider-Man trait of being the underdog, capturing the spirit of a Spider-Man story perfectly.

Into the SpiderVerse3.jpg

Until the end, when he suddenly comes into his own and could turn invisible and ‘Venom Blast’ people on command. At that point, Miles had returned to being the sole Spider-Man, and I felt my appreciation of the film wane a fair bit, as I realised for all the excellent work that had been put into the film, some of my grievances with Miles still remained. I’m not sure I can find Miles all that interesting when he can easily outdo Peter Parker (who in this film has had twenty two years of experience) after like three days of being Spider-Man himself. It feels insincere to me. I get it’s his movie, and he needs to shine, but must it come at the expense of another character?

Still, that’s a personal bias and is no fault of the movie (I guess), and for that, I give it:

5-stars

I’d happily watch another one of these (and look forward to watching this again on Home Entertainment), and for now, some of my faith in Sony is restored. I still have no desire to read a Miles Morales comic though.

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