Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Hype is something that’s not to be trifled with, especially when going to the cinema. It can create a series of wants and promises for an audience member, and not always are they met exactly the way they were expecting them to be. This is especially prevalent (and problematic) in today’s mainstream film market, where people establish a series of expectations that they desire to see from their favorite properties, while consequently making the creators of these films anxious and pressured. It’s a clash of ideologies and a thin line to cross: the filmmakers want to freely tell the story that they want to tell, and the nostalgia hungry market want to re-experience the media that they remembered in their youth. Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse puts the matter of fulfilling or failing expectations directly into the forefront, while also delivering a visually and narratively intensifying.

Meet Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), New York teenager and technical genius who wants to have his own style on his work and not feel obligated to follow anyone else’s apprehensions, most especially his kind hearted but just as draconian father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry). Things soon start to escalate for Miles as a similar radioactive spider that bit the local web-slinging hero bites him, and sooner or later he’s joined by the man himself Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). Although he’s not the same Peter Parker, as you would think, hailing from another dimension in which he’s more of a raggamuffin and less of a superhero. But he’s more than willing to show young miles the ropes (or webs, har har) of being a wall crawler, and soon the two team up with four other Spider-People from uniquely different dimensions: including the upbeat but no nonsense, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the mysterious and brooding, Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), the hyperactive and intelligent, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) along with her sentient spider robot, and the oddball, literal cartoon character, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Together the team try to put an end to the amoral and unstable experiments of the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), in the hopes that each of them can return back to their own homes before interdimensional havoc starts to rain onto the city.

The animation is stylized and awe inspiring to look at, taking great influence from its comic book counterparts, while at the same time adapting its own identity and integrating it as an integral plot point within the story. The designs of the characters are distinct and imaginative, with my personal favorite being Wilson Fisk, appearing larger than life at times. The film is colorful, atmospheric, and takes full advantage of its own medium by creating very dynamic and impressive visuals and shots.

The film nearly covers nearly the entire history of the famed Spider-Man, and the humorous amount of merchandise that he’s been synonymous with over the decades. However, the exploitable amount of Spider-Man commodities that’s inserted in the film is not only designed for comedy sake, but also doubles an important narrative device. After encountering him, Miles makes a promise to fulfill the dying wish of his universe’s Peter Parker, not only taking up the mask, but to also shut down Fisk’s malevolent dimension jumper. But as the story goes on Miles is pressured by the responsibilities of taking Peter Parker’s position as the hero of New York City, as Spider-Man is not only worshiped as a heroic figure, he’s also a marketable brand. Multiple times Miles is let down and disappointed by his fellow wall crawlers, including his lackluster mentor. It’s only until the end when Miles hears from his own father that he’s free to use his potential however he wants, that he’s able to rise above and become the friendly neighborhood, Spider-Man.
The theme of expectations applies to other characters as well. Officer Davis holds the responsibility of being an incorruptible member of the police force in New York, and with that job come the expectations from the general public: that he’ll do what’s best for people. It is a detail that Miles doesn’t relate to as much as his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), as he’s the kind of person who’s more contemporary with what he does, and isn’t concerned with meeting the expectations of anybody, including his own nephew and brother. It’s only until Aaron discovers who his nephew really is (and vice versa) that he fully understands the significance of being an important figure to someone - for better or worse. And that worse happens to be his employer, Wilson Fisk: who expects Aaron to execute whatever plan he’s been assigned to, including murder. And speaking of Fisk, he’s someone who embodies the toxic side of desired expectations. Determined to bring back his deceased family by searching through thousands of dimensions until he finds one that best suits him, his intentions are not only inhumane but also ignorant. He expects that he deserves a satisfying cherry-on-top for his ideal sundae, but the truth is that cherry-on-time only exists in his perception of reality and nowhere else in real life; chasing fantasy and ignoring reality. In Peter B. Parker’s dimension, he expects himself to overcome any obstacle that comes his way, but life is something that cannot be controlled. And as such he becomes and overweight mess, pushing away everyone who supports him and condescends to both others and himself on the rare occasions.

The theme of expectations transcends into the social discourse. There has been a lot of discussion in regards to wondering if expectations are even essential when it comes to adapting properties (the most notable example in recent years among the discourse has been Star Wars: The Last Jedi). But this film recognizes both the pros and cons of expectations, and devises the ultimate compromise to the circumstances. It acknowledges that promises can hold meaning to a lot of people, but at the same time, trust is critical for the mutual relationship between the artist and the consumer, if anything of actual quality is looking to be made. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the ultimate compromise between being a satisfying narrative for the fans to appreciate, as well as being a solid film with a unique voice and style to compliment the analysts.