One of the most iconic but also reused superheroes is the one and only Spider-Man. Since his creation by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, there have been thousands of comics, films, video games, and merchandise related to the friendly neighborhood hero. In the last 18 years alone we have seen 5 feature films focusing on Spider-Man himself (and another one slated for release next year), appearances in 2 other larger superhero films, a spinoff villain film, and plans for plenty more movies. With so much Spider-Man, things can easily get overwhelming for fans who always awaiting new releases as well as average moviegoers sick of constantly seeing these films envelop theaters. Among the Spidy mayhem this year came a breath of both familiar and fresh air with the animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from Sony’s animation studio in the Sony-Marvel universe. This project could have easily gone wrong, as many feel The Amazing Spider-Man films did, under ill care yet it likely would not have made it far without the creative animators and filmmakers who were behind it.
There is something so unique to this film that makes it an absolute joyride, and that is the fact that it is very unique. The film can seem so quirky and absurd, which is the first time we’ve seen such with a Spider-Man film. Marvel’s well executed and extremely enjoyable Spider-Man: Homecoming imbued loads of humor into the franchise on Marvel’s end, but to the extent that yet another young, white Spider-Man in live action can. Into the Spider-Verse strays so far away from being completely full of itself which both Sam Raimi’s and Marc Webb’s films were and that Jon Watts’s film couldn’t completely avoid. Rather than follow a beaten to death formulaic structure and nature, this feat of contemporary animation blows that from the water almost metaphorically parallels the recent Spider-Man overflow.
The film centers primarily around a pretty recent iteration of the New Yorkian hero, an Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn named Miles Morales who first appeared in Marvel comics in 2011. With a first half plot similar to the comic in which Morales appears, he is bitten and becomes a Spider-person before an accident that causes some abnormalities about the city. We are first given one of the many versions Peter Parker from the history of Spider-Man comic books who has appeared from another dimension and Morales befriends. Following a number of shenanigans on the behalf of those two, we meet Spider-Gwen from a universe where Gwen Stacy is bit instead of Parker. The three then meet with the three other Spider-people who have transported from other dimensions which include Spider-Noir (A great depression era pistol wielding Spider-Man detective), Peni Parker (A tech savvy Japanese American girl who controls a robot along with a radioactive spider), and my personal favorite: Spider-Ham (A cartoonish and anthropomorphic Spider-Pig). By shoving so many lovable versions of the superhero who was always depicted in one manner shows the diversity that the movie executes and the insane number of storylines and forms of Spider-Man that have only really existed through the comic books.
One of the most obvious successes of this movie is the gorgeous animation style. With a mix of both computer animation and hand drawn techniques, this film boasts an extremely smooth and visual serving of fast moving action and brilliant colors. The deep coloring and lighting help build the moods of certain scenes better than Tobey Maguire standing in the rain can. I think it’s safe to say that this is the first film that truly looks like a comic book, which others like Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk attempted with oddly angled and overlapping boxes of certain scenes to imitate comic book panels. Vibrant reds, bright whites, and colors which easily pop along with a constant halftone texture over the characters and in the background makes each shot feel like a different panel. Besides the more subtle imagery, there are plenty of speech and thought text bubbles or boxes which float above or move beside the characters. Exaggerated instances of onomatopoeia in explosions and crashes make the action more visually enjoyable and the detailed designs of villains such as the enormously sized (to the point of it being cartoonish) Kingpin and the grotesque, monstrous version of the Green Goblin.
Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t stop at referencing comic books or its own source material, but does so with culture as well. Numerous fake brands or film posters resembling companies such as Snapchat or movies such as Shaun of the Dead fill the New York electronic signs. The film gives nod to a number of memes like the infamous and always disfigured, melting Spider-Man popsicles as well as the image of two Spider-Men pointing at each other from the 1960s Spider-Man television show. The movie exists in such a self referential and meta environment that treats the character and the culture of its fans (And the general populous) with care and doesn’t fire nonsensical rips at more vague, business culture that few (including myself) can pick up on which was a pitfall of this year’s Deadpool 2. It uses the flaws and successes of other contemporary superhero films to boost itself above the competition, creating a much more family friendly yet still quality entry into the genre. What Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade did for the current internet and technology culture among youth, Into the Spider-Verse does for the culture of superhero moviegoers.
Underneath the enticing surface level of this movie’s visual standpoint, is actually quite the archetypal story. It gives us yet another story of a young man struggling to overcome an obstacle or two in order to become successful, and this is not the first time we’ve seen a hero film or more specifically a Spider-Man film follow such a plot. However, this formula only becomes non-enjoyable when it is regurgitated over and over again in similar form with similar conventions. It becomes invigorated with freshness with the inclusion of multiple villains and heroes with an unconventional tale of worlds coming together.
Into the Spider-Verse finds itself a perfect balance of adrenaline inducing action, well written humor, important messages about family and relationships, and dialogue that strays from becoming dull and monotonous especially thanks to the wonderful voice performances. The casting for the voices of the Spider-people was well executed, with Shameik Moore giving a heartfelt but powerful performance as Morales and others such as Nicholas Cage and John Mulaney giving such personality to their characters. Lily Tomlin’s Aunt May becomes one of the best characters with only a few short scenes and Liev Schreiber’s deep voice makes Kingpin such a sinister criminal that you also can’t help but sympathize for.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
With Spider-Man appearing multiple times as a cartoon in mediocre or lesser known venues or as a repeat of formulaic live action during the recent explosion of Marvel’s superhero, this was greatly needed. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the re-invigoration that the classic hero needed for a newer generation of viewers for whom Maguire’s emo dancing does not hold up. It is easily the best animated film of the year, and a possible contender for best film of the year.