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Toon Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Motion comic.

Now, when I say those two words together, what do you think of? Comic book panels with limited animation, often times cheap looking, and a books-on-tape sort of narrator, right?

Nuh-uh. Now that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse exists, that term needs to be repurposed because this film is the truest representation of a comic book brought to life there has ever been up to this point. I’ll take it a step further: when the trailers for the movie first came out, I thought…probably as you did…that this was just going to be your standard animated film…right? Well, standard for nowadays…which means a CG animated picture…but still. What I wasn’t expecting was something that feels revolutionary. As I sat through my first viewing, it was VERY clear to me that I hadn’t seen anything like this before…and who knows if I ever will again. Given the critical praise and the fairly healthy box office numbers, fingers crossed that I will.

So what’s the big deal? Why all the hype? Well, those are good questions. Because the answer is going to be different for whoever views the film. Is it the theme of inclusion? There are Spider-Persons representing more diverse backgrounds in the film. For young girls seeking empowerment, there’s Spider-Gwen and Peni Parker…speaking of which, if there are any Otaku in the audience, then Peni is also there for you. Our main character, the newly spider-fied Miles Morales, has a mixed black-latino heritage. For the 40-something out of shape comic nerds [A little self-loathing do we detect? – Ed.], yup, there’s a Spidey here for you too. And let us certainly not forget the underrepresented anthropomorphic porcine demographic.

Seriously. Dude. Spider-Ham.

Sure, it was revealed in one of the trailers that’s been out for a while…but goddamn it…SPIDER-HAM!

Yeah, even without it being all revolutionary and stuff, I’d still be in the bag for this one!

Let’s go over the plot really quick. We’re introduced to young Miles Morales who’s going through your standard teenage issues: friction with the parents, trying to fit in at his new school…so on and such. When his Uncle Aaron leads him to an underground wall to tag, well, enter radioactive spider. This ends up catapulting Miles into…dare I say it…a web of events. Turns out the Kingpin has scientists working around the clock to create a window into alternate Earths so that he can see his dead wife and son again and bring them to this reality. The initial attempt is interrupted by Spider-Man…but he ends up getting killed. However, his interference allows for Spiders from other Earths to be transported to this dimension. Can Miles become the Spider-Man he needs to be in order to fulfill his promise to the late Spider-man of this world and help the other Spiders to get home…all the while stopping Kingpin’s mad plot which runs the risk of tearing this reality apart?

Right…so why do I keep saying revolutionary? Well, I could go full-blown nerd on you and say that it’s the way that the film goes so far as to reproduce the look and feel of the old dot-matrix printing used for old-school comics. That’s just an example to the level of dedication the animators had…whether it was narration boxes that pop up and then just as quickly fade into the background or little things in the background such as a lab scientist getting hit in the head with a clearly labelled bagel. (I’m not describing that well, but you’ll know it when you see it.) Or I could laud the writing…how they managed to keep the pace of the film going even though you have to introduce 6 (or 7 depending on how you count) Spider-Peeps, the villains and their motivations, supporting cast…whew…and STILL feel some emotional attachment and investment. [Don’t forget the reality-hopping comic book trope! – Ed.] To say nothing of their devotion to the source material where every Spider-Character feels like a Spider-Man we know…and yet NONE of them are the Spider-Man we know from the comics…or from any of the other movies…or any of the other media (cartoons, video games). Ultimately, I have to point to the combination of these things. All of these elements meld into such an amazing blend that there were distinct moments in the film where I forgot I was watching animation. This…was REAL. That’s the clincher. And I’m not saying this as someone that looks down their nose at animation…I LOVE the medium! Take my beloved DC Universe Animated DTVs…they’re great and even if they’re overly Batman-centric, I’m there day and date, disc in hand. This though…whole different experience. I don’t want to be delusional and say that this film might be the one to break the ‘child-only’ stigma that still haunts animation. It doesn’t take one film to do that…it takes several. But probably the highest praise I can put on this film is that Sony brought a crew of sledge-hammer wielding musclemen to take a shot at that wall.

With the film coming out in what is traditionally Oscar season, obviously there’s talk. Let’s start with the obvious. Prior to this film’s release, I think most would agree that Incredibles 2 was probably a lock for the Best Animated Feature award…and…sigh…I mean, it was fine, but personally I still have a problem with how Pixar mainly does sequels as opposed to original works. However, if Spidey doesn’t get the nod…well, as much as I’d like to incite violence, let’s face it, I’ll just saunter off in disappointment. However, nerds are getting a little full of themselves and are chomping at the bit for Into the Spider-Verse to get a nod for Best Picture.

Not on your life.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t think it’s worthy…it’s a damn fine film that is certainly one of the best times I’ve had at the theater all year. But I’ve already talked about this. This is the season of powdered wig period dramas, films highlighting the horrors of war in a WWII setting or just arthouse shite that only ends up being in the theater for a week, viewed only by Academy members, reviewers and upper-middle class film snobs driving around in their Volvos. And to these people, no matter how fun or how heartfelt Into the Spider-verse is, this will never measure up to the pretentious dreck that this season is known for. [Unless they somehow convince Daniel Day Lewis to appear in a comic book film…then… Aha! – Ed.]

To get back on track and a little less rant-y, while I’m very obviously a DC fanboy, I gotta say it’s a welcome thing to see a Marvel animated feature that kicks all sorts of ass. For the longest time, well, you know the reputation the Marvel live-action films have compared to the DC ones? In animation, that’s reversed. DC has kicked all sorts of ass in the animation arena compared to Marvel…going as far back as Batman: The Animated Series. In my mind, the only times Marvel got close was during the era when you had Wolverine and the X-Men running on Nickelodeon, Spectacular Spider-Man coming from Sony and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD…but then the slate was wiped clean with Disney’s purchase of Marvel and the success of the live-action movies. The mandate came down to have the animated series more reflect said Cinematic Universe (well, and the shunning of anything X-Men as they were still under Fox). Thus, the aforementioned stand-out series were axed and replaced by some pretty generic offerings: Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble…which were just…ugh. And maybe that’s the really interesting thing here: this film is awesome…and it’s NOT from Disney. It’s from Sony. With as groundbreaking as this film is (for me anyway), here’s hoping the House of Mouse is paying attention…because it would be a fanboy’s dream come true to see genuinely good animation coming from both Marvel and DC.

Lastly, I do want to give a shout out to the voice actors who brought each of these characters to life. Most of the cast I’d never heard of…or at least most of the main cast. There are a couple of more notable names though. First, Nicholas Cage does a fine job as Spider-Man Noir…and I have to admit that it was his casting I was the most nervous about. Between her roles in Bumblebee and now this (as Spider-Gwen), I’ll admit that Hailee Steinfeld is growing on me. And, we can add another name to the Kevin Smith coined ‘Man-of-two-worlds’ club…as Chris Pine serves as the voice of our initial main Peter Parker. I wasn’t expecting that! And…going a bit Star Trek for a moment…you can DEFINITELY tell he’s doing his best William Shatner during Spidey-Bells. [Don’t ask. Just bask in it. – Ed.]

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those rare films that not only meets the hype, it exceeds it. While your reason for loving it may vary, it’s clear that the film sets a new benchmark for animation moving forward. This is something new and, to risk the pun, this is something AMAZING. Whether it’s for the breathtaking visuals, the inclusionary theme or just the sheer amounts of fun within the film, Into the Spider-Verse makes some very good strides in bucking the trends typically associated with American animation and hopefully will be remembered as the groundbreaking film that it certainly seems to be.

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