Animation Marvel Movies Reviews

Spider-Man Enters the ‘Spider-Verse’

I can’t believe I live in a world where I was able to see both Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in the same year. Just as the warmth of the Wakandan sun was beginning to fade, I’m swinging through Brooklyn (my birthplace) with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore is Miles; an amazing performance) the Spider-Man of Earth-1610. And I couldn’t be more elated.

Before for I go any further, I feel it is necessary to address some of the critiques that have been floating around since the move dropped.

The Givens:

  • 98% of all superheroes were created by white men — including Black Panther. We are all aware, despite their best intentions, that white men aren’t going to portray Black people in the fullness and depth we deserve — or any other POC, for that matter.
  • We are living in (rightfully) hypersensitive times and any portrayal of Blackness in relation to criminality and/or law enforcement is a dicey prospect that has to be approached with a very deft hand.
  • In our increasingly hyper-polarized racial climate, any kind of white over Black hierarchical/domineering relationship will have folks side-eyeing and ready to pounce. But sometimes a teacher/student relationship is just that.
  • Comic book audiences and comic film audiences are not the same crowd.
  • Post Malone’s music is trash and this was the oddest musical choice in the film. Biggie, however, was an inspired one.
  • There is a mythic/folk illiteracy that has stopped many of us from seeing the ‘meta’ influence, meaning and necessity of popular culture.

The Story:

  • You know I hate to spoil anything for you, so here is the general breakdown: The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber needs to voice more things) wants to accomplish a very particular and personal task — he wants to make his pain go away and fill the hole caused by lonliness. To do so he hires a bunch of scientists led by Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hahn who made Doc Ock creepier than ever) to create that old Marvel cinematic standby — A GIANT MACHINE! — to accomplish this. This machine, when turned on, tears through the multiverse, causing all the Spider-Folks of said universes to wind up on Earth-1610: Spider-Woman (not that one — voiced by an assured Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage — yes that one — who was hilarious in every scene), Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham (comedian John Mulaney), the past-his-expiration date Peter Benjamin Parker, Earth 616’s Spider-Man (voiced with vulnerability and world-weariness by Jake Johnson), and Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn — all Kawaii and manic anime). Along with Spider-Man Noir, Peni is the Spider I wanted to spend much more time with. These Spider-Folks team up to stop the Kingpin and return to their various ‘verses. But there’s a wrinkle: Miles Morales. The nascent Spider-Person who is inexperienced and may be a detriment to #TeamSpider’s efforts.

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Why I feel that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is necessary viewing for everyone, regardless of age, race/ethnicity/gender.

  • It is adventure filmmaking at its absolute pinnacle. Your stomach will turn with the loops and dives as you’re swinging with the various Spideys over and through NYC, a forest, a debris strewn chaotic multiverse collapse.
  • It is witty. The dialogue is spot on. It delivered on every joke.
  • There are genuinely touching moments in the film. Touching like I’m in there with tears in my eyes.
  • Not sure if your theater will do this but the Stan Lee cameo caused the sold-out crowd to rise to their feet and applaud.
  • It shows the costs and results of true heroism and that everyone can be a hero.
  • Spider-Woman is such a great character. She’s arguably the most competent of all #TeamSpider.
  • The sheer glee with how all #TeamSpider’s similar origin stories are told.
  • Visually, no other comic book film can touch it. Granted it is animation and you can do a whole lot more than in a live action film, but my goodness. It is a visual treat.

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Why I feel that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is necessary viewing for POC, especially Black folk.

  • Being Black and smart is tough. And parents with smart/gifted Black kids will do what we can to nurture this. Miles’s parents, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry was so good) and Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez — New York Undercover stand up! Mami needed way more screen time) send him to a predominantly white live-in institution to get the education and intellectual challenge he deserves. This is a real struggle. It sucks that so many of us have to trade functional diversity for a “good” education — that you have to essentially leave your world behind to get what should be readily available is sickening. As a parent of a gifted Black child, this hit me in the gut.
  • I cannot recall a film where a Black boy received love and affection from two different types of Black men. Miles’s uncle, Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali — who nails the loving street-wise uncle and the menace of the villain Prowler) and his police officer father. Two scenes have been burned into my psyche: Uncle Aaron recognizes Miles’ ability as a graf artist and takes him to a secret spot in an abandoned subway tunnel to bomb a wall. The scene is touching, thrilling, and vibrant. In the other scene, Jefferson goes to Miles’ dorm room to inform him of some news. He knows Miles is there, as he can see the shadow under the door. Instead of kicking the door in or demanding he open it, Jefferson lowers his voice and pours out his love and support for his son. He gives Miles the space and time needed to deal with…whatever he is dealing with. A scene that could have traded on the aggressive Black male stereotype subverted it by showing tenderness — how so many of the Black men in my life are now, but not when I was Miles’ age. I was a puddle of tears.
  • Miles’ story arc is, granted, centered on Black maleness. But he is every Blerd out there. Miles is the every-person trying to find their way in a world that feels a little like high-water pants: the waist is fine, but my ankles shouldn’t be showing — I’m uncomfortable and want to leave this place before I’m made fun of.
  • An Afro-Latinx superhero on screen? As a Jamaican/Puerto Rican member of the Afro-Latinx contingent, I approve this message.
  • Peter Ramsey is one of the directors. He is the first African-American to direct a big budget animated film, Rise of the Guardians — a film I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Quibbles:

  • Got a little too ‘use the force, Luke’ in the second half. Believing in oneself is a necessary thing, but the constant reinforcement of the idea got a tad bit tiresome.
  • Black women are still underrepresented in comic cinema.
  • Miles’ AAPI roommate (presumably Ganke) had zero lines. But the door is open for him to be a key character if there are sequels.
  • Most of the villains — Green Goblin, The Scorpion, and Tombstone — were kind of afterthoughts. Needed much more depth from them.
  • Mary Jane Watson felt out of place in regards to the larger narrative. It is high time we stop making women relationship MacGuffins.

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Final Thoughts/Reactions:

  • Hands down, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie. Better than Homecoming, better than the Raimi films. Not dissing what came before, but Miles is the Spider-Man we need and deserve and have been wanting for: a Spidey of and for our contemporary moment.
  • This is the most hip-hop film since Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. From Miles’ mannerisms, his clothing, and how he wears it, to how Uncle Aaron carries himself, to the sheer spectacle of it all. Lee, Ditko, Sienkiewicz, the Kirby crackle, a few nods to McFarlane’s run, the combination of art styles, the soundtrack — if this film was called Spider-Man: Mixtape, I wouldn’t even be mad. There is a pulse there that I truly don’t think a white director could have captured.
  • The look on my 10-year-old’s face while watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verseand Black Panther solidifies why I do work in the pop/geek/nerd space.
  • When the girls and POC kids (and adults) look at the screen in awe, wonder, and gratitude — this is why this film matters.

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Challenge:

  • I have a challenge for you. From today until December 31, 2018 at 11:59pm PT, I want you to use the following hashtag: #YouCanBeTheMask and document how you help others. I don’t think we give enough shine to the heroism, bravery, compassion, and mentorship of everyday life. Tag us here at @TheNerdsofColor and we’ll storify all of your exploits so we can begin 2019 with a positive bang.

2 comments

  1. yessssss i love when we come to the same conclusions. awesome write-up!!

    even just taken as a piece of visual art, this film is a must-see for comics fans. it’s the furthest an animated feature has come to expanding the magic and joy of comic books.

    Like

  2. Mary Jane was fine. She is integral to Peter’s story. She could not be ignored. We also don’t need a three hour movie to develop her.

    Like

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