MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: A-II
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5 reels
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a single amazing quality that easily justifies its five-reel rating. While it may not be the most sophisticated adaption of a comic-based property, it is the best film adaptation of the graphic novel format. Thankfully, the picture has a decent story and a strong, underlining moral framework as well. Many films take the audience out of their own world to temporarily enjoy another, but this one takes us to many worlds, all of them wonderful.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a typical Brooklyn teen. He comes from a bi-racial background, listens to hip-hop, dabbles in street art, and is constantly embarrassed by his parents. His life takes a radical 180 degree turn when he is bitten by a radioactive spider, achieves strange and uncontrollable superpowers, and discovers a secret particle collider that the crime boss Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) is using to open alternate dimensions – all in the span of forty-eight hours.
Fortunately, Miles has help in this transition. The collider unwittingly brought no less than five other Spider-Heroes from other dimensions (that is, other comic universes). The most significant is Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). Parker, of course, is the original Spider-Man, well-known to audiences ever since he was introduced by writer Stan Lee in 1962. Spider-Gwen comes from a third reality, in which Gwen Stacey was bitten rather than Parker. Together, they will teach Miles “the ropes” (pun intended).
Will Miles be ready to assume the mantle of Spider-Man, save the world from Kingpin, and return his friends to their dimensions by the end of the movie? There’s really no doubt that he will, but it’s a great ride getting there.
In film school, “mise-en-scène” is one of the first concepts a student is taught; it is a term that roughly translates “to dress the scene.” It refers to all the atmospheric elements (cinematography, editing, art direction, sound design, score, visual effects) that contribute and support the narrative. Into the Spider-Verse is a textbook example of how great mise-en-scène can elevate a conventional storyline into high art. The animation is slightly pixelated while the colors are bright and brilliant. The camera angles are constantly shifting depending on the action while tiny word bubbles occasionally appear. All of this imitates the style of a silver age comic book, which is when Spider-Man originally got his start. It’s an immersive sandbox that inspires laughter, joy, and wonder.
Due to the nature of the Incarnation, Catholicism has always relished this joyful and wonder-filled aspect of the imagination, as seen in sacred art ranging from icons to stained glass to statuary. Through art, man participates creates God’s invisible reality and participates in His creative mission to evangelize through the senses. Even secular, popular such as this film can portray goodness and truth in a way that is joyful and engaging. In addition, Miles’ archetypical journey is instantly familiar. Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and Daniel LaRusso have all been there before. The Old Testament prophets too began with reluctance and had to gradually learn their vocation. This does not diminish the film; in fact, I was relieved the filmmakers choose not to deviate far from the traditional model in an age where many are tempted to be different simply for the sake of being different.
Miles is also not the only one who learns to embrace the task before him. Mentoring this naïve hero gives Parker the confidence to improve his own broken relationship with his wife. Especially touching is Miles relationship with Gwen, which starts as a budding romance but ends with a beautiful friendship. Genuine love often means being content with a platonic relationship.
These thematic and aesthetic elements will likely fly over the heads of the film’s elementary-aged, predominately male audience. That’s perfectly fine. My five-year-old was enthralled from beginning to end. The lessons were simple enough to make an impression on him, while the execution kept me on the edge of my seat. This is one of the few films this year that I’m excited to see again—and again…and again.
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