Note: Spoilers ahoy in this Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse review.
I’ve just watched one of the most refreshing, vibrant takes on Spider-Man to hit any form of media. I’m talking about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse of course. You need to catch this aesthetically alive, breathtaking dive into the Spider mythos while it’s in theaters. Satisfy your inner art appreciator and watch it on an upgraded giant screen like IMAX–it’s that beautiful. Though it’s anchored in gorgeous visuals, the character development and sheer personality in the film really make it a memorable, authentic Spider-Man movie.
It’s got heart and it’s got style. I’d proudly put it next to any of the best live action versions.
Graphic Delights, Comic Style
The animation is unlike any other comic based movie you’ve seen–it highlights and accentuates its comic book roots instead of going the straightforward film route. There’s a strong emphasis on visual style in the movie, which meshes well with the references to street art in the movie and the main character’s own use of graffiti art to express himself. It feels effortlessly hip, youthful, and cool in the visual smorgasbord on display.
The animation uses 3D and 2D at the same time, which I initially found slightly jarring as my brain was trying to decide whether I was watching a cartoon or CG rendered characters, but I adjusted quickly. I had to get used to the slight choppiness of the character’s movements as well, which was done to emulate the look of actual drawn old-school animation frames put together. Looking into this more, it seems traditionally films move at 24 frames per second, whereas here they animated at 12 frames per second to get more visual impact per frame. The choppier movement is only really noticeable in slower scenes and for large movements, like when Miles walks around school. The frame rate becomes more fluid and smooth during the faster action scenes and in smaller, detailed movements.
The movie uses techniques like visible half tone textures–specifically Ben Day dots–in its visual language which will be familiar to fans of graphic art. Half tones are typically patterns of dots of varying sizes that creates a gradient effect when you don’t look too closely. Sometimes line patterns are also used, creating a hatching-like effect. Half tones are used in printing to create variations in shading and colors with only a few ink colors, though on modern printers, you’d be hard pressed to see the dots. In old vintage comic books, you can actually see the individual dots or lines of the pattern.
There’s a rich history to the printing techniques used in comics which I won’t go into detail here, but if you’re interesting in learning all the gritty details, Legion of Andy has a long post on the subject.
In Spider-Verse, these printing techniques are applied in all over the place: in the background, on some objects, in lighting glows, in shadows, on edges of things, or in selected swaths of color. It adds a unique textural quality to everything, creating visual interest in even mundane scenes. The effect is kept subtle, yet noticeable, creating a comic universe look that isn’t overbearing while paying homage to its roots on the printing press. One of the more direct references is the movie showing comic book covers as they reveal each Spider-Man version. It’s a device that’s used well, creating additional impact every time a character is introduced while acknowledging the parallelism in each character’s origin story.
Synesthesia of Comic Print
The translation of the printed page extends beyond just half tones. The movie also employs narrative text boxes to comedic effect, frame vanishing point lines to emphasize reactions, the onomatopoeias of action sounds written on the screen, colorful Kirby Krackle for the super collider, and scenes with multi-panel layouts that would look right at home in a comic book page.
Loud sounds are visually emphasized–some bangs or crashes are paired with sharply angled lines around their source to underscore their impact. Action scenes have frozen frames to mimic poses you’d see in print or on covers. It feels like a real comic book movie.
There are also more Spider-Man specific devices like the squiggly line semi-circle above Spider-Man’s head that signifies Spider-Sense usage and the on-screen text of the “thwip” web shooter sound effect. Stereoscopic vision effects (think old school 3D glasses with a color separated picture into red and blue, slightly misaligned on each other) are used to underscore the multiverse theme, but the film also commonly uses Spider-Man’s signature red and blue for the double images. Many of the visualizations of the multiverse also use web-like like visual designs, connecting the spider motif to the plot themes of the movie itself.
Another understated, but nice effect is the use of hand drawn resembling lines on faces–specifically for expressive wrinkles–and in some other detailed areas, like clothing. The lines contribute a hand drawn quality to the film, like an artist inked some of the details using their pen. It’s a nice touch that acknowledges the manual labor involved in drawing what are essentially long sequences of paintings on a monthly schedule.
I wouldn’t be remiss in saying every scene in Spider-Verse is like a painting, a sequential art canvas made blessed with movement. It might just be the most comic-faithful comic book movie ever made.
In Living Color
The color palette is fresh and energetic; it’s breathtaking. It pops with a neon sexiness in the night time scenes, feeling alive. Full props to the team behind the color choices in Spider-Verse. The strong color game meshes well with the references to graffiti and street art culture which depend on contrasting, eye-catching colors. I’m particularly fond of the purples, pinks, and blues used atmospherically as well as in character designs. They give a suave, almost Bladerunner-ish cyberpunk feel to the nighttime scenes. The colors also connect the movie to its comic heritage, with bright oversaturation of various colors that give it the fantasy feel of a world of superheroes and villains.
The colors help bring the city to life–Spider-Verse’s New York City is a character in itself. I’m impressed with the attention paid to making different times of day have distinct color themes–it’s easy to tell from the colors when scenes are in the evening, at night, in the day, or in the morning. They’re able to capture the unique varying quality of light throughout the day. It’s this attention to detail that gives such a painting like quality to each set piece. Nothing feels bland. Spider-Verse uses the power of color to effectively influence emotion on a base human level. I mentioned it before, but the use of purples and pinks in the night city scenes make it feel suave and mysterious.
Daytime scenes are bright and warmly toned, lending a comforting quality to the everyday life scenes. One particular chase scene features electric autumnal colors–reds, oranges, golds, yellows–that emphasize the intensity and motion in the sequence.
Villains and Rogues
Nowhere is it more apparent than in the character designs that Spider-Verse could only have been made in animated form. Both the heroes and the villains are full of personality, with perfectly exaggerated character traits. Each character’s appearance is an individual delight, with features that make them instantly recognizable.
Kingpin’s design has a straightforward power to it. He’s a massive mountain of a man designed like a large, singular, void standing in front of you like a wall. He exudes an aura of intimidation, an immovable object that towers over Spider-Man like an ominous danger. The viewer can easily understand Kingpin at first sight as the “big boss” of Spider-Man’s gallery of rogues–his sheer mass fits the threat.
Mixing up some of the villain identities with their own unique spins, like a female Dr. Octopus, a cyber-luchador Scorpion, or a colossally monstrous Green Goblin also helps to freshen up the roster of villains. After all, Spider-Man has had so many cinematic outings that we’ve already seen his classic enemies. The cartoon form really allows each villain to shine in their craziness and their differences. The movie isn’t limited to just guys in rubber suits like live action so they really go all out, to excellent effect. The movie also uses some of the lesser known villains in its cast, like Tombstone and Prowler.
The movie expertly translates the multiple versions of Spider-Man from their source materials to the big screen, utilizing unique animation styles to set each character apart. Spider-Verse pays homage to different branches of comic art here, with the traditionally illustrated Spider-Men/Gwen, the manga/anime inspired Penni Parker, the Looney Tunes-esque Spider-Ham, and the monotone mid-century style of Spider-Man Noir. The film playfully jokes about each Spider-Man’s unique background–I particularly laughed at the over-the-top edginess of Spider-Man Noir’s holding a lit match until it burns out to “…feel something, anything.” Spider-Verse realizes the tropes it’s playing with; it’s self aware.
As an aside, it’s nice that Spider-Verse gives creative billing to these more obscure Spider-Man storylines. This highlighting of other characters introduces the movie-going public to the idea of different Spider-Man franchises to people who are used to the single, monolithic take of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man. Spider-Man has always been a more street level, every-man kind of hero, kindred with the NYC citizens he protects. These differing Spider-Peeps bring a sort of diversity and electric energy that reinvigorates a story we’ve all heard several times before; it’s a refreshing and interesting take on Spider-Man.
The movie acknowledges the fact that any Spider-Man story is going to be in rehash territory by turning it into a plot framing device. Each version of Spider-Man narrates their own origin story in a parallel manner, challenging the origin story the audience has heard before with a different, unfamiliar version. It’s a device that plays with your expectations on Spider-Man’s origin.
Characterizing New York City
Circling back to New York City as a character, it’s nice to see the cultural references put in the movie. The city is more than just window dressing, they try to capture some of the swagger and the way of life. Miles’ walk to school at the beginning of the movie shows a part of the city that doesn’t traditionally feature in NYC movie settings. It’s not tourist friendly Times Square, Manhattan, or the Brooklyn Bridge, but an actual working-class Queens neighborhood where everyday people live and sleep. The neighborhood showcases the cultural synthesis going on in an early scene as he walks down the street, greeting people of multiple ethnicities. Even Miles himself exemplifies this with his Dominican-African-American background. NYC has a strong Dominican population, the largest single immigrant group at 7% of the population, while immigrant Africans, Caribbeans, and African-Americans make up about 25% of the city.
You can find African, African-American, Caribbean, Asian, Middle Eastern, Central-American, and South-American communities throughout the NYC, especially in Queens. These sides of the city frequently don’t get screen time even though they’re an integral part of city life. I’ve actually been to NYC a few times (mainly for New York Comic Con), but it’s amazing how different cultures have influenced the various neighborhoods. New York is a historical port of entry for immigrants, so it makes sense. Take a walk through Harlem and you see how many African restaurants/shops line the streets or venture through the borough of Queens yourself to experience the most ethnically diverse region in the world.
Beyond the cultural aspects, there’s little details like the bus lines looking right, peeling paint on street curbs, the parking street signs, or the step up porches of the brownstone facades. The movie also acknowledges NYC’s vibrant street art and graffiti culture with Miles’ own juvenile foray using tagged up postal labels. There’s even a key scene marking Miles’ descent into the Spider-World where he creates a colorfully cool work of graffiti that also emphasizes his character conflict. Many big names in the graffiti scene got their start in New York City, after all. One scene even has background characters name dropping Banksy.
One of the most unique cinematic aspects of Spider-Verse that sets it apart from other Spider-Man movies, even other superhero movies, is how well they express Spider-Man’s superhuman agility. Other Spider-Man movies utilize a steady camera and long camera pans following the wall crawler’s movements. In Spider-Verse, every action scene is incredibly dynamic–the camera moves, cuts, and changes perspectives with Spider-Man as he swings around–making the viewer feel like he’s moving at a kinetic clip. It makes every jump, swing, fall, and web sling feel like an incredible feat of gymnastics. Directions of movement change suddenly and the viewer is made to feel his reaction time can barely keep up.
Here’s a short example:
It’s almost like you have a GoPro body cam or a drone shadowing Spider-Man. Everything flows and angles constantly change. The film manages to give you the sense of moving in all 3 dimensions, nearly making you feel superhuman yourself. Perhaps that’s the goal here–to make it feel like you could wear that mask. The few scenes from a first person perspective are feel fun, giving you the same sense of vertigo and accomplishment Miles feels as he falls a hundred stories off the top of a building to swing right over car roofs at street level.
It’s absolutely thrilling to watch. This is energizing cinematography.
Spider-Verse’s sensual delight extends to its sound direction as well. The movie has a cool, fresh soundtrack with a hip hop and electronic backbone that connects with modern youth culture and it has already gotten some deserved recognition in the press. These jams complement Miles Morales’ younger, less mature, but hipper kind of Spider-Man–they’re songs you could imagine Miles himself listening to. The hip hop soundtrack also meshes well with the graffiti culture references since the two share common urban DNA. These street influences help the Spider-Man mythos feel more in touch with the society to today’s adolescents.
It sounds like NYC.
The soundtrack boasts a mix of moody atmospheric rap, punchier anthems, and homages to hip hop classics. As one notable example, a remixed part of What’s Up Danger by Blackway & Black Caviar accompanies Miles’ transformation into Spider-Man move from brooding to a full on power ballad of a song as the scene unfolds. It’s an inspiring sequence of personal uprising that is only heightened by the forceful crescendo in the music. It’s a song that captures the absolute tension and release of Miles’ leap into superherodom.
Grab a listen of this rap anthem:
The rap songs used also made me realize just how much electronic dance music influence there is on contemporary rap–the production polish and danceable beats. That fact shouldn’t be a surprise though (I’m admittedly not the most up-to-date on music) since the DJ has always been a core part of hip hop culture. As the movie opens, the EDM influence is particularly apparent with a dramatic dubstep-like title scene. Looking through the gem that is the official soundtrack, the electronic inspiration is also apparent in the song Home by Vince Staples with an intense thumping beat and uplifting orchestral big room vibes, playing in the trailers/closing credits for the movie. There’s also the integration of some sick guitar riffs for an old fashioned rock n’ roll good time. In the film, you can hear the rock influence in scenes like Spider-Gwen’s reveal. The trailers have also used The Boogie by Outasight, which features some heavy guitar supplementing strong funk, R&B, and soul influences. It’s a total feel-good-tap-yo-toes-get-out-on-the-dance-floor song that perfectly matches the pure fun of Spider-Verse.
There’s a Spider-Verse music playlist on YouTube, but here’s a sample treat:
Even the background track and sound effects for one of the villains, Prowler, feels sharp and distinctive. He’s accompanied by distorted roars that amplify his presence, giving the viewer a sense of tension and danger. Other examples include scenes featuring the particle collider which demonstrate an electronic otherworldly, yet fast paced percussive beat that gives an impression of frenetic activity. Remixed parts of What’s Up Danger also return during the climactic final battle, swelling up like a victory cheer that feels like an accomplishment attained after a long road. Daniel Pemberton, the composer for the movie’s score, does a marvelous job in general for all of the film’s accompanying music.
I want to pay special attention to the film’s opening scene and the accompanying track, Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee, since it connects to some of the themes in Spider-Verse. It’s also Miles’ favorite song and the audience’s first introduction to Miles, so the scene is important.
They play an abridged version of the song lyrics, roughly the following:
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh (Ooh)
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Needless to say, I keep it in check
She was a bad-bad, nevertheless (Yeah)
Callin’ it quits now, baby, I’m a wreck (Wreck)
Crash at my place, baby, you’re a wreck (Wreck)
Ooh-ooh, some things you just can’t refuse
She wanna ride me like a cruise and I’m not tryna lose
Then you’re left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya
You’re a sunflower, I think your love would be too much
Or you’ll be left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya
You’re the sunflower, you’re the sunflower
The straight interpretation of the song is a guy knowingly treating a girl that likes him poorly, yet the girl perseveres despite the difficulties, staying by his side. The sunflower is used as a metaphor for the girl, since it’s a bright flower that continues to bloom even in harsh, difficult conditions. It’s a bit of a toxic relationship.
In the movie’s context, the song takes a different meaning. Miles sings the song to relax because it symbolizes his desire to avoid his responsibilities–the expectations everyone has for him. The song actually foreshadows this anxiety over expectations as a recurring theme in the film. Miles is the wreck in the song who doesn’t have his life quite together and the sunflower is the call to grow up, to mature, and live up to expectations. The sunflower is the great power with great responsibility that he must learn to embrace. He doesn’t want to change, but it’s something that is inevitable, like the lyrics say, it’s something he just can’t refuse. It becomes literal with the Spider-Man powers being thrust upon him, but the whole Spider-Man story has always been a metaphor for adolescence and growing up. By the end of the movie, he moves from being a kid afraid to move on in life, to someone who owns his identity–owning the mask he wears. He has to become like a sunflower for New York City as a beacon of hope that defies the tragedy and evil around it.
If you look at the people behind this movie, you’ll see some strong names. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, notable for directing the hilarious 21 Jump Street reboot and The Lego Movie, are producers for Spider-Verse. You can feel their influence in the style of humor, so if you found Jump Street or Lego Movie funny, you’ll appreciate the comedy stylings here. They’ve also said that they wanted the movie to have a distinctly comic book art style, so they definitely helped in making Spider-Verse’s art so strong.
Speaking of the art, they’re releasing an art of the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse book if you want dive deeper. Here’s our link to buy the art book on Amazon if you want to help support our website. They also have the soundtrack for sale, which is just dropping some hot fire out there on your ears. This here’s our link for buying the Spider-Verse soundtrack on Amazon which will also help support us.
And if there are any doubts on the quality of this film, Spider-Verse was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature. So yeah, you should probably go see it.
With Great Power Comes…
No Spider-Man story would be complete without mentioning responsibility and Spider-Verse is no different. We all know the saying: “with great power, comes great responsibility”, and that’s what really makes a Spider-Man story, beyond the superpowers. At the heart of Spider-Man’s myth is a coming-of-age tale. There’s always been strong metaphors for adolescence with a teenage superhero navigating a changing body and unfamiliar powers he must take responsibility for. The bite with a radioactive spider becomes the catalyst of change, much like puberty. Spider-Man must develop, accepting new powers and a metamorphosing body, as he embraces a new adult identity.
It’s not Spider-Boy.
Miles of Expectations
The film begins by following Miles as he deals with the expectations and responsibilities of growing up. In the opening, Miles just wants to draw and stay in his care-free cocoon of music when his parents (and the expectations they bring) interrupt him to get ready for school.
He’s a mess who has barely packed as he rushes out the door to start his day. Even more significant is how he feels about his school, not wanting to leave the comfort zone of his regular neighborhood even though the private school he attends is better tailored to his intelligence level. Throwing graffiti labels on parts of the neighborhood as he walks further shows how he isn’t yet capable of accepting responsibility for his actions, even as his father tells him he must clean them up on the weekend. His father even says a variation of Uncle Ben’s famous phrase as he talks about Spider-Man during the car ride to Miles’ school, underscoring the central theme of responsibility.
At the school itself, you see Miles assigned the novel Great Expectations, a knowing reference to the central themes. You see a lot of pressure being put on Miles in his classes as he struggles to keep up, foreshadowing the struggles he will face in the future. Yet, he isn’t struggle because of a lack of ability, he’s struggling because he isn’t committing or accepting his potential to do greater things. Nowhere is this more evident then when he intentionally scores a 0/100 on a true or false multiple choice test. The teacher recognizes this, noting answering completely randomly on a true or false test would statistically still get you 50 points. Miles wants to fail–he wants to avoid his responsibility to live up to his potential. Multiple people point out to Miles that his shoelaces are untied, yet he continues on with them, hinting at his self sabotage. He even skips out on the personal essay his teacher assigns about who we wants to be, choosing to hang out with his uncle Aaron instead.
From there, we’re treated to an artistically exhilarating scene where Miles paints his a street art mural on a wall. His art reads “No Expectations” with his body’s outline as the missing piece, pointing to the central conflict of the story: Miles must find who he is and create his identity.
What’s clever here is how smoothly it connects to the next time you see him create art, which is at the climactic moment he fully dons the Spider-Man mask. He takes a Spider-Man suit and repaints it, literally and metaphorically creating his identity, his presentation of himself to the world. Through his art, he expresses his Self.
You can see after he takes the leap and truly becomes Spider-Man, he starts embracing who he is. He doesn’t fall; he rises. He no longer walks with untied shoelaces and starts committing to his new school. He embraces the responsibilities that come with growing up, realizing that the most powerful expectations he faced were the ones he had for himself. From being frustrated at his lack of control over his powers, to fully owning his abilities, he starts taking responsibility for himself in every aspect of his life.
The culminating scene where he ascends to the mantle of Spider-Man is the most powerful part of the movie. You can’t help but cheer with him when he takes that leap off the building and into his first successful web slinging through downtown. The scene ends with a comic book cover of Miles’ Spider-Man hitting the table. Showing his comic is a clever use of the previously developed narrative framing device used to explain the other Spider-Characters’ origin stories, where a comic book cover of the alternate universe Spider-Man is revealed. That moment truly reinforces him as a successor to the Spider-Man legacy. The comic hits the table with a heavy, satisfying thud, like an announcement of his debut into the world of great power and great responsibility. He has begun writing his own legend.
Old Legend, New Journey
Miles has an amazing journey of character development. The viewer really feels like they go through the journey with him as he becomes Spider-Man. Spider-Verse pays so much respect to the original Spider-Man source material even as they build something fresh and new with Miles Morales. His story shows that Spider-Man is about being human, that anyone can wear the mask, that even you could wear the mask. Miles feels a reinvention of Spider-Man, even as the movie recreates key factors that define the Spider-Man mythos like the death of the uncle, the challenges of developing maturity, and the need accept responsibility. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the freshest takes on Spider-Man in a long time, treading new ground as it honors the foundation of the past.
If you hate fun, then don’t see this movie. Otherwise, you know what you have to do.
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