Spider-Man is back …again. This time the Webslinger’s toughest challenge isn’t stopping a supervillain, it’s feeling fresh in a crowded superhero cinematic landscape. Lucky New York Comic Con attendees got to see for themselves how innovative Spider-Man could be. The crowd erupted into cheers when they learned they would receive an exclusive first look at the opening 35-minutes of the upcoming Sony Pictures animated feature, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” To the crowd’s delight, the film provided the freshest take on Spider-Man, perhaps ever.
A Miles Morales Story
Producers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (“The LEGO Movie”) introduced the footage to the audience. They explained the monumental challenge of creating a unique Spider-Man film, especially since it’s the seventh in just 16 years. “It had to be something super fresh. We could not play it safe in any way,” Miller stated. “We said we would not do it unless it was the Miles Morales story.” The very mention of the Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) character was met by uproarious applause. Fans were ready to see a new kind of superhero in a new kind of superhero film.
Even those unfamiliar with the Miles Morales, like myself, were quickly engrossed by his exhilarating journey of self-discovery. It starts as your typical teenager struggling to fit in during high school. In addition to the riveting action, what retains the interest throughout is the refreshingly poignant mix of both heart and humor.
Parental Guidance Is Suggested
Like most teens, Miles is surrounded by many, often conflicting, influences in his life. His caring mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), is gentle and affectionate. Aaron (Mahershala Ali), his rebellious uncle, provides a different, less-orthodox perspective on life. His father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), a police officer, has a lot of heart under his tough exterior. At one point Jefferson embarrasses his son by saying “I love you” in front of his classmates, then demands a response… over a megaphone.
As Miles navigates through daily life, it is literally turned upside down when he is bitten by a radioactive spider. Overnight he develops superpowers previously only possessed by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). We venture along with as Miles experiments trying out his newly-acquired superpowers – the perfect metaphor for puberty, where suddenly your body is changing faster than ever before and you just have to try to keep up. Imagine the awkwardness of your first year of high school. Now, throw in a dash of super strength and the ability to climb walls and you may get the picture. No problem. It’s all fun and games until your extra-clingy Spider-hand gets caught in your classmate’s hair. When you’re unable to remove them without the use of scissors, suddenly those superpowers are not as appealing.
The audience ate up the masterful blending of these coming-of-age moments, edge-of-your-seat action and boundless wit. The combination creates some of the most human superhero moments to date. Fans of the previous iterations of Spider-Man, of both TV and film, will take pleasure knowing that they are cleverly referenced in ways so skillfully handled, I would not dare spoil them here.
Producers knew that to properly tell this story it was paramount the film had a visual style all its own. They worked alongside digital artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks to combine mediums. The team mixed the latest computer technology with the look and feel of the source material, Sara Pichelli’s hand-drawn comic books. Christopher Miller knew, “It would be awesome to see something that feels like a comic book come to life.”
Producer/Writer Phil Lord added, “We had a theory it could be done. Sony Picture Imageworks people worked really hard to make it happen. They were never like, no. They were totally behind us.”
The result of their efforts are groundbreaking visuals that perfectly emulate the source material. It’s as if the comic book that has magically come to life and jumped on screen. These certainly should be remembered during awards season.
More Than Meets The Eye
The rich, expansive palette of colors are combined with artistic lighting, shading, and textures. Together they create a depth that helps transform every frame into a piece of art which would not feel out of place hanging on the walls of MOMA. The visual style is more than state-of-the-art eye candy, it becomes an integral part of storytelling. It allows more comic book-like content to be squeezed into every shot.
The impact of the stunning visuals is amplified when fused with a soundtrack that had the audience grooving in their seats. The deep bass of tracks, such as Biggie Smalls’ “Hypnotize,” pounded through the theater like the heartbeat of the film. Together, they breathe life into the on-screen New York neighborhoods, becoming supporting characters in their own right.
Brian Tyree Henry, who is having quite a year with three Oscar-buzz-worthy films (“Widows,” “If Beale Street Could Talk” and now “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) shed a couple tears in a mashup of joy and disbelief as the screening began. After being a lifelong fan, he is now part of the universe (or should I say Spider-Verse).
The film’s themes resonated with Henry. He sees an opportunity to deliver fresh perspectives – to connect with people previously relegated to the sidelines. He proudly spoke to it saying, “This is going to someone’s first experience seeing Spider-Man and Miles is going to be the only Spider-Man they know. We need this representation because we need to see these families reflected and to see these neighborhoods reflected.”
This is not just another superhero film. This film is part of a movement for inclusivity and representation for groups often ignored by popular entertainment. As Luna Lauren Velez emotionally explained, “Art leads the way. Inclusivity is very important. People need to see that, especially today.” The film adds another enthralling chapter of the Spider-Man story. More importantly, it does so while filling the screen with a diverse range of people that make up this world.
One More Thing
One last fresh approach that differentiates this version of Spider-Man from the rest is that Miles comes from an African American/Puerto Rican family. In other words, there is no difference to get hung up on. As Shameik Moore said, “Anyone can change the world. It’s about what is underneath the mask.”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” swings into theaters with its fresh blend of action, style, and humor on December 14th. Hopefully, when it does, what resonates most with audiences will be the message that chance anyone can be a hero if given the chance.