The 1962 debut of your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger almost didn’t happen because one of the original editors Martin Goodman thought that the audience would find the subject of ‘spiders’ distasteful. As luck would have it, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko convinced Goodman to put the character into one of their failing Amazing Fantasy comic books. For over five decades, Spiderman has been ‘Everyman’, a superhero who struggles with the same mundane everyday problems that you and I struggle with. Writers at Marvel have since, explored a myriad of spin-offs with alternate versions of Spiderman, each with their own unique back-story, keeping the underlying theme true to the original.
This was a bold reinvention of a character which had essentially had a white culture built around him. Audience reaction was mixed with some calling Miles Morales, a publicity stunt to garner political correctness, while others called it a shot at cultural appropriation.
Until the appearance of Miles Morales as Spiderman in the 2011 edition of the issue Ultimate Fallout # 4, Spiderman had always been a gangly white kid from Brooklyn. Created by writers Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli who drew inspiration from the 44th President of the United States (2009 – 2017), Barack Obama, and American Rapper Donald Glover, Miles Morales became the first ever (Latino) black Spiderman. This was a bold reinvention of a character which had essentially had a white culture built around him. Audience reaction was mixed with some calling Miles Morales, a publicity stunt to garner political correctness, while others called it a shot at cultural appropriation.
Considering the controversial background of the character, it is actually amazing that it took Sony merely six years to green-light a Miles Morales feature-length film. And I couldn’t be more glad for it. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey (also directed Rise of the Guardians) and Rodney Rothman (writer for 22 Jump Street), Into the Spider-verse is an animated origin story that brings Miles Morales to the big screen for the first time. Interestingly, the story of Morales is a lot like ours. He exists in a world where Peter Parker is Spiderman. Being a teenager he is fascinated by the antics of the wall-crawler, a sentiment not shared by his cop father who sees him as a vigilante who comes in the way of the Police. Miles is close to his Uncle Aaron who treats him like a friend, giving him advice on how to overcome his awkwardness and talk to girls in his school. During one of their secret runs into abandoned New York subways, Miles is bitten by a genetically modified spider with Archemax written on it, which he kills and brushes off of his hand.
As the poison starts showing its effect, Miles’ starts hearing a constantly running commentary inside his head. Things start sticking to his hand and he starts feeling the characteristic tingle that would warn him of any potential peril. Now, remember that a Spiderman already exists in his world and so do the classic Spiderman comics. In the pages, Morales finds an uncanny similarity between what was written in the comics and in what he was feeling. If only he could make sure that he wasn’t imagining things. He traces his way back to the dark subway to see if the dead spider was still there. Little does he know that at that very moment an underground battle ensued between the Peter Parker Spiderman and a giant mutated version of Green Goblin, as the former tries to destroy a Particle Collider built by Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin. Miles finds himself an as an involuntary participant in the melee. He is even saved by the web-slinger a few times who puts him out of harm’s way. In front of Miles eyes, Spiderman is eventually captured and killed by Wilson Fisk. But before he dies, Spiderman hands a USB-stick which contained a circuit-board that could stop the collider.
Morales universe is not the same anymore though. The collider experiment has ruptured the space-time continuum and New York becomes the centre of convergence for several universes that coexisted without our knowledge. While visiting Parker’s grave, Miles is racked with guilt that he couldn’t do anything to save him. This is where the alternate Spiderman finds him. Peter B. Parker has the same origin story as Peter Parker except that he is now 40-years old and has fought crime in New York City for over two decades. He has separated from his wife Mary Jane and has buried Aunt May not long ago. Peter B. Parker is a lonely middle-aged man with a paunch to show. The new Parker learns about the collider from Miles who asks him to teach him how to be Spiderman but Parker is more interested in using the collider to get back home. However, things were about to get far more complicated as four more Spider-people who had come from various universes would make their appearance.
Into the Spiderverse is a passionate homage to comic-book art, and to the ethos of Spiderman. Even though this is essentially a Miles Morales story, it is also the story of what Spiderman means to his fans. The opening shot is an animated montage of all the iconic scenes from the Sam Raimi films, where Spidey gives a quick rundown of his story. The screenplay feels more like an artist’s story-board where sounds and reactions trigger a running caption in the background. If you look closely enough, you can even see the dot-matrix print on the faces of characters. The film uses a high-contrast neon colour palette that brings up New York City on the big-screen in exquisite detail. The web-swinging sequences where Morales tries to get away from one of Fisk’s henchmen called the Prowler, shows him jumping over the yellow cabs, gliding over the glass windows of New York office buildings, sometimes just falling through the skyline into a kaleidoscopic mishmash of colour. Although the frame-rate feels like you are flipping through the pages of a comic-book, the chase sequences are very fluid and a treat to watch in 3D. Characteristic to any Spiderman film, a lot of attention has been paid to retain the comedic element into the screenplay, giving each spider-verse character their own brand of humour.
Shameik Moore provides a lot of character to Morales character throughout his journey of discovering himself from a shy teenager to a more confident next-gen web-slinger. Oscar winner Mahershah Ali voices Uncle Aaron who draws parallels to Peter Parker’s relationship with Uncle Ben. Jake Johson as Peter B. Parker does an authentic portrayal of a mid-life-crisis Spiderman who becomes a reluctant mentor to Morales. Hailee Steinfield as Gwen Stacy aka Spider-woman adds a spunky, rebellious flavour to the gang.
Underlining this spectacular project is the glorious soundtrack that adds another layer of personality to the film. Blackway and Black Caviar’s – “What’s Up Danger” becomes Morales’ anthem as he takes on the mantle of Spiderman in his universe. Lil Wayne and Ty Dolla $ign’s – “Scared of the Dark” is a heart-pumping dose of fearlessness. Beau Young Prince’s – “Let Go” explores the awkward teenager phase of Morales.
Check out the complete soundtrack here (individual song timestamps provided in the YouTube description:
Needless to say, I cannot wait for upcoming spin-offs and sequels that this treasure-trove of a film will generate. Spider-geddon is already in the works, and also a series of Spider-Woman films. I don’t know if you’d agree with me, but kicking off this re-invented Spiderman has been the best decision that Sony has made in years. When you own the rights to such an iconic character, this is how you justify it.
P.S – Wait for the post-credits scene
– Your friendly neighbourhood blogger