For over ten years now the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a juggernaut of franchise filmmaking, thrusting superhero movies back into the popular culture and popularizing the idea of the “cinematic universe” for a modern audience. The template has been so successful that everyone from their direct competitors in DC Comics, to the ill-fated Dark Universe (RIP), has tried to adopt it.
And one of the worst offenders for this was Sony, whose grasp over Spider-Man and his supporting players lead them to attempt their own Spidey cinematic universe hamfistedly. This, of course, crashed and burned after the all-around disappointment of the Amazing Spider-Man films, causing the character to be loaned back to Marvel. But Sony wasn’t giving up that easy.
As they continued to threaten a slew of spin-offs, one unique project appeared on their slate — an animated Spider-Man movie from the dream team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, entirely separate from the MCU. While you’d struggle to find those clamoring for another reinterpretation of the character, Lord and Miller’s magic touch has proven people wrong before, and the more we learned about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the more appealing it sounded.
Miles Morales as the lead in a loose adaptation of Dan Slott‘s “Spider-Verse” certainly sounded like an appealing concept, and the film we got from directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman wound up being nothing short of a miracle. Having spent years stumbling over every effort to launch a Spidey equivalent to the MCU, Sony has finally made a step in the right direction.
When making the Amazing films, the studio’s priorities were all over the place–the then-new Spider-Man had to be moody and grounded so the films could compete with The Dark Knight. But after The Avengers more than doubled The Amazing Spider-Man‘s box office in 2012, Sony went into panic mode. The series was then completely revamped only two years later, as doom and gloom gave way to bright colors and lighthearted humor.
In addition to this, one of the biggest criticisms leveled at The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was that it was less a standalone movie, and more a series of promos for future installments. The film was a chaotic hodgepodge, the result of a tug of war between four writers and a studio determined to launch a franchise. Spending a great deal of its run-time setting up characters and teasing events that have no payoff, hoping that it would all make sense several spin-offs down the line. None of which saw the light of day.
But Into the Spider-Verse couldn’t be further from this way of thinking. The movie is, first and foremost, about Morales’s journey–one of self-discovery and finding the hero within. Even through all the wacky turns of events, we never lose sight of this, and everything here is in service of his arc. And while the film is far from shy about introducing us to a whole host of new Spider-people, none of them are afterthoughts. Each character serves the story in some form, while still leaving us wanting to see more from them.
Also refreshing is the standalone nature of the film. We’ve become so accustomed to being dropped into the same predictable world, one where everything is familiar, and we more or less know the outcome. But here, we’re dropped into a new world, one that’s already fully established–Peter Parker has been at the Spider-Man thing for years, and his rogues’ gallery is firmly in place. The film doesn’t need to explain or show the origin of Tombstone or the Green Goblin, assuming that we either know or can pick up what we need from context. It’s so rare to be dropped into such a vibrant, alive world like this and its the perfect jumping off point to tell a fresh new story, free from continuity or an established formula.
In contrast, the Amazing films’ clumsy attempt to build up all the villains as products of Oscorp was a bizarre undertaking. One that looked to do the MCU thing of building everything up piece-by-piece, but also to cram it all into one film and skip directly to the lucrative crossover. Into the Spider-Verse on the other hand, knows exactly what it’s doing–being a damn good movie first and a tease of things to come second.
Another essential step Into the Spider-Verse represents for Sony is reaffirming what makes Spider-Man special–he could be anybody. Peter Parker wasn’t born with his powers, nor does he have Tony Stark’s money, he’s just a regular person who got his powers in a freak accident. And as such, as the film so brilliantly affirms, anybody can wear the mask. Whether you’re a down on your luck kid or a pig from an alternate universe, you can be Spider-Man.
This is in direct opposition with the Amazing series’ take on the character, one who was destined to become Spider-Man because of experiments done by his father. In those movies, Peter was the only person who could gain those powers from the spider bite, not only making it an enormous coincidence that he did, but also cheapening the very idea of Spider-Man. But Into the Spider-Verse, with its anti-gatekeeping and pro-inclusion themes, gets Spidey more than any movie since Spider-Man 2, and represents a positive step for Sony.
While they’re still committed to making Venom a franchise (which considering its box office success, isn’t stopping any time soon) and refuse to let the Sinister Six movie die, Sony appears to have learned some crucial lessons where Spider-Man is concerned. And if we must get a continued stream of Spider-Man-adjacent movies, Into the Spider-Verse is the perfect place to start.