The word masterpiece gets thrown around far too often these days when discussing movies. Everyone plays a role in this problem to some degree. Odds are you do, I certainly do and god know Kieran Fisher does. If we’re being honest, we maybe get 2-3 masterpieces released each year. The really good years can have upwards of 5. And as the years pass, those movies that earned that title upon their release either solidify their place in cinematic history, or they fade away, written off as a movie of the time. What this boils down to is there being a much smaller number of masterpieces than we think.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the winner for best Animated Feature at the most recent Oscars, is a film that I believe will eventually find its way into that smaller, elite category.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a pretty normal Brooklyn teenager. He’s a smart kid from a middle class family, struggling to adjust to all the awkwardness that comes with being a teen. Complicating matters is the fact that his parents have him enrolled in a private school for gifted kids that he really rather not attend.
The expectations on him are quite high. His father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), is a police officer, and his mother, Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Valez), is a nurse and they push him to do his best because they believe he can do anything. But Miles rather just spend time with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) and work on his street art. He just wants to be the normal teenager that he is.
Any chance of that happening is thrown out the window when he gets bitten by a radioactive spider which gives him special powers that he at first mistakes for puberty. And then, when he appears to catch a bit of a break by meeting Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Chris Pine) who agrees to take him under his wing, that is all ruined King Pin (Liev Schreiber) killing this Spider-Man.
Oh, I should mention that King Pin kills Spider-Man for trying to destroy a particle accelerator that King Pin is using, with the assistance of Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn), to open up a portal to an alternate universe that will allow him to save his dead family. And while King Pin’s family never makes it back, a bunch of Spider-people end up jumping into Miles’ universe. And by Spider-people I mean late 30’s Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Penni Parker/SP//dr (Kimiko Glenn), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage).
There’s a lot to unpack here, and it could easily get complicated dealing with multiple variations of the same character, but it never does. The film essentially boils down to a few different key elements. The main one, that helps carry our movie from beginning to end, is a buddy comedy between Miles and Peter B. Here are two people, from two wildly different backgrounds, that don’t want to be here, that end up building a wonderful bond as they work together to save the day. The chemistry between Moore and Johnson is one of the shining highlights in a movie of shining highlights.
There’s also a story about a father and son that love one another, but aren’t quite sure how to communicate. Early on in the film there’s a sweet, but embarrassing moment when Jefferson drops Morales off at school and make him say “Dad, I love you” in front of his classmates. It’s such a classic dad moment. Later, Jefferson visits his son at school and talks to him through his bedroom door, telling him how much he loves him and why he has to be hard on him. It’s a touching, emotional scene.
Side note: speaking of emotional scenes, there is a funeral for Chris Pine’s Spider-Man and I may have cried a little.
This is also a movie about how anyone can do anything. That’s the whole reason we have all these different Spider-people. Your background and where you came from doesn’t matter. This movie gives us a mixed race Spider-Man and two Spider-Women. Representation matters and this movie knows it. Everyone can be a hero. And the real beauty is these Spider-people are all different beyond their race, gender and background. They each have their own little quirks.
One of Spider-Man Noir’s quirks happens to be that he loves punching Nazis. Anyway we can transport him to modern day American? Think of all the Nazis Spider-Man Noir could punch in America, starting with those living in the White House. He’s a hero we could use right about now.
Not only is the script beautifully developed, with a multitude of layers that will make you laugh and cry, but it’s all brought to life thanks to some of the most stunning animation to ever appear on the big screen. Everyone that worked to bring this movie into existence, from directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman to producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller to the hundreds of animators and artists that worked behind the scenes deserve all the kudos in the world. This movie mixes 2D and 3D animation together in a way that has never been done before. It’s literally like a moving comic book, with vivid colors that burst off the screen. It’s a true sight to behold.
Finally, there are the performances that are so good across the board that I need every character to get a their own spinoff movie. Give me that Miles Morales movie. Give me the Jake Johnson Spider-Man movie. A Spider-Gwen movie? Sign me up! When do we get our Penni Parker anime? Peter Porker has an entire universe just waiting to be explored! And Spider-Man Noir, well he needs his own film noir!
This applies to the villains as well. I need to see more from The Prowler. And what about this Doc Ock, who in this world is Olivia Octavius? She’s the head scientist over at Alchemax. What other crazy things has she done over the years? I need to know!
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the best movie of 2018. It’ll likely be better than anything that comes out in 2019. In ten years we’ll look back and count it amongst the best of the decade. It’s that good.
The 4K UHD Blu-ray received quality treatment from Sony. For starters, it looks incredibly in 4K. If you didn’t get to see it in theaters, please do yourself a favor and watch this in 4K on the biggest screen possible. You won’t be disappointed.
On the special features side of things, this is a loaded release that goes above and beyond most standard big studio releases today. Not counting the commentary track and Alternate Universe Mode, the special features run just over an hour. A good chunk of them are behind the scenes, interview segments that discuss when into the making of the film. The are as follows:
- We Are Spider-Man (7:51)
- Spider-Verse: A New Dimension (5:09)
- The Ultimate Comics Cast (15:02)
- Designing Cinematic Comic Book Characters: Heroes & Hams (7:45)
- Designing Cinematic Comic Book Characters: Scoundrels & Scorpions (5:11)
These five segments feature Lord & Miller, the directing trio, storyboard artists and animators, producers and most of the cast talking about how the film came to be and what their various roles where. Moore gives a pretty incredible story about how two years before production on this film he had a notebook he wrote in to set a positive mindset and on the first page he wrote, “I am Miles Morales,” and on the last page he wrote, “I am Spider-Man.” He did so in hopes that when the time came for a Miles Morales movie he would get the part, and amazingly it came true.
Cage talks about the film noir actors that helped inspire his performance. Mulaney tries to explains how when he tells people he’s comedian it can be confusing but now he gets to tell people he’s in a Spider-Man movie, and that only gets confusing once he mentions he’s a pig.
Some of the more interesting parts are the discussions between the writers and producers about what things they decided to change from the comics. Some parts are pulled directly from the comic book pages, while other things were taken in completely different directions.
- Alternate Universe Mode
Alternate Universe Mode is a longer cut of the movie. Sort of. Before the film starts in this version, Lord & Miller give a little introduction. This version of the film has a lot of stuff that was cut out, the thing is not all of it is finished animation. Most of it is actually animated storyboards. A lot of it is stuff that you understand why it was cut, but it’s still cool to see the fun ideas they were kicking around. One of the longer cut scenes involved Miles going and renting a copy of a Spider-Man movie to learn about his new powers. In this movie the actor playing Spider-Man was Todd Crews. Genius.
- Caught in a Ham (4:01)
This is a fantastic Chuck Jones-style short cartoon starring Spider-Ham. It’s really fun and makes me wish movies still had cartoon shorts to play before them. Mulaney does some of his best work here and the cartoon actually serves as a prequel for the movie.
- A Tribute to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (8:34)
This tweet tribute to the co-creators of Spider-Man features the cast and crew sharing their thoughts on what Lee and Ditko meant to them growing up. Grab some tissues for this one.
- The Spider-Verse Super Fan Easter Egg Challenge (5:02)
Into the Spider-Verse has an insane number of references and Easter eggs hidden throughout. My guess is it would take viewing after viewing after viewing to spot them all. This quick little video calls a handful of them out but makes it very clear that there’s much more hidden deep within this world.
- Lyric Videos
Post Malone’s “Sunflower,” featuring Swae Lee, and Nicki Minaj’s “Familia,” with Anuel Aa and Bantu are both set to animation. For “Sunflower” most of the animation is directly from the film with the lyrics worked into the background. For “Familia” is more animation in the style of the film with the song’s lyrics. Both are cool, little fun additions.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a landmark film for animation, comic book adaptations and the medium of film as a whole, while the Blu-ray release is an example of physical media done right. Highly recommended.