By no means is Miles Morales, the lead comic book character in the latest Spider-Man themed film (this time animated) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (a title reminiscent of a great Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt joke), meant to be representative of a child on the autism spectrum. And yet, some of his experiences in adapting to powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider reflect the overwhelming stimulation of the senses that people on the spectrum feel. A little after gaining his abilities, all of Miles’ senses are coming at him ten-fold, even to the point of causing pain. Visually, the movie expresses this with panels within the frame, speeches in bold caps, and multiple tracks in the audio, giving us the sensation of high anxiety, the kind our new hero must be feeling. Maybe it’s puberty, as he thinks?
Into the Spider-Verse does not feature anyone in particular with visible or invisible disabilities, but still, I begin this review with such a notation. It reminds me of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. There were many wonderful stories of autistic fans clamoring for the character and how much he reminded them of themselves. It wasn’t on purpose, but it did speak to the resonance that film and that character were able to hit. The same can absolutely be said for Spider-Verse.
For starters, it’s gloriously animated, full of bright lights and colors to match tone and emotion at a given moment. Almost like Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World or Baby Driver, where music and art inform turmoil and conflict as much as exposition and story, this movie accomplishes the same effect, splendidly splashing across the screen a musical of math and movement. At times, the cartoon can blend into itself, giving off a pseudo old school 3D look, but I gather this as a stylistic choice, considering the inter-dimensional nature of the story.
Counting Sam Raimi’s live-action Spider-Man feels as partially canon, Spider-Verse goes further by ramping up the “great power, great responsibility” trope, switching it on for a generation just out of reach of those films (man, am I old). The film plays with the nature and concept of a comic book multi-verse, showcasing its absurdity while having fun with it all, but also performs well within these confines, telling a story as fantastical and spectacular as it is intimate and primal. There may be two Peter Parkers (an A and a B) and a Looney Tunes Spidey-Pig, but this is Miles Morales’ tale through and through.
For a hero in training, Miles couldn’t possibly be more of a kid, which is exactly what he is. He’s a young novice to all of this, saturated immediately in mythology he respects but wanted no stakes in. When witness to a tragedy, he runs away as fast as he can, into the arms of his loving, if challenging, parents. When he asks about leaving Brooklyn, his mother responds, “We don’t run away.” He is thrust oh-so-soon into the trials and tribulations of growing up ASAP, at a time when that’s exactly what he doesn’t really want. Heck, no one really wants that. But, we have no choice in the matter, and just like Miles, we must leap into it on faith.
Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just the best-animated movie of the year; it may be the best movie of the year, period. This is quite the statement, especially since I voted Roma as a number 1 pick just recently (that review comes later). However, if we are to think of cinema as escapism, and we also consider what we’re escaping from and what we’re escaping into, Spider-Verse isn’t a mere crowd-pleaser; it’s a major accomplishment. Beyond it being a technical marvel (no pun intended), it’s a fittingly turbulent end to a year that, well, just was.
The Stan Lee cameo, one of the last we’ll ever see, is magical. Here, he’s a merchandise store owner, selling Miles a Spider-Man costume. When Miles remarks about the suit being too big, Stan says, “You’ll grow into it.” And man, did I want to cry right then and there. Into the Spider-Verse brings us to a peak we thought had already been reached, where we can now see several more waiting for us to scale. Us.
RATING: 5 / 5
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is screening at theaters all over the metro area.
Bill Arceneaux is the lead content writer for Big Easy Magazine. In addition to this, he has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Be sure to check out his film reviews and other articles here.