Thwip! Thwip! It’s finally here! Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has swung into theaters but can this new animated take on a superhero, who’s already had three other film franchises, stand out from the sea of other superhero films? That’s a resounding “Yes.”
Normally, at this point in the review, I would go into the story and plot of the film but I think it’s more important to instead discuss the first thing you will notice when walking into the theater: Into the Spider-Verse’s incredibly unique and stunning art direction.
This film leans heavily into the ‘pop art’ comic book style, meticulously crafted and designed with this style in mind. From the colors and cell-shading to perfectly timed onomatopoeias flashing on the screen, this film FEELS like a comic book. The film even opens with the classic Comics Code Authority stamp of approval as if to say, “You are about to watch the most comic comic-book-movie you’ve ever seen.”
The animators frame shots by purposefully obscuring the foreground or background through imitating comic books printing flaws, and they even slow down the frame rate of the animation to evoke a “flip-book” feeling. It’s genius and Sony Animation know this as the company is trying to patent their new techniques from this film. This style might not be for everyone, just like anime or stop motion art style isn’t for some. In any given scene there is a lot happening, especially during some of the heavier action scenes, and it may be unclear what’s going on for some moviegoers. However, there is no denying that this art style makes Into the Spider-Verse stand out from any other animated feature film seen in recent years.This film is a love letter to Spider-man fans.
As with the film’s art style, the story leans into its comic book origins, and what comes out is a delightfully zany family action film. The film follows young teenager Miles Morales as he is trying to deal with average teen things like schools, family, and puberty when he gets bit by a radioactive spider, as one does. Then, a Spider-man from another dimension confronts him, and then another Spider-person from a different dimension. And then another. And another. And also a pig. Miles has to team up with all his new Spider-pals to defeat Kingpin and save Brooklyn and the Multiverse as they know it. If that isn’t the most comic book story ever to be told in a movie then I don’t know what is.
This over-the-top story is just what the genre needed. The problem with recent live-action superhero films is that they’re confined to, for the most part, real life. Those films try to emulate life as we know it. An animated film, on the other hand, is not boxed in by those rules and can explore whatever fantasy world wants. Into the Spider-Verse takes that ambition and swings with it.The entire voice cast fits their characters like skin-tight spidey-suits.
That doesn’t quite let the film off the hook, though. With origin stories as well as a story with multiple dimensions with multiple characters, it’s easy for a film to feel bloated and to cheapen the characters rather than enriching the story. Into the Spider-Verse dances a little too close to this line. There were a few times I wished I could have seen more moments between characters, specifically between Miles and his family. Moments are there, and they’re good, but I wanted the relationships to be built up a bit more. A few additional short scenes would’ve helped, but I can see how they might have prevented the plot from moving forward since the film has a lot of ground to cover. Despite all that, the film adequately juggles all its characters.
What makes all those characters work is that nearly every character has one or two awesome scenes. Whether it’s just a line or an action shot or two, each character gets a moment to shine. Even good ol’ Aunt May, performed by the fabulous Lily Tomlin of Magic School Bus fame, has some truly amazing moments. (Calling it now, Lily Tomlin best Aunt May on film. Fight me Marisa Tomei.) The film is still definitely a “Miles Morales” film though, so all of you Ultimate Spider-Man fans need not worry. The story does a great job of keeping him the heart and soul of the film, and Shameik Moore breathes so much life into Miles with his stellar performance. Really, the entire voice cast fits their characters like skin-tight spidey-suits.
This film is a love letter to Spider-man fans. There are nods and easter eggs that any level of Spider-man fan, whether you’ve read all the comics or just seen the 2002 Toby Maguire movie, will appreciate. This film is also a great jumping in point for the Spider-fandom, as Into the Spider-Verse introduces so many stellar characters that you can’t help but to go and find out more about them.
The future of this new Spider-man franchise is limitless with exciting possibilities. While the movie does indeed leave itself open for direct sequels, by opening the door to the Spider-Verse, Sony has now opened the door for so many new and creative comic book stories to be told! In fact, producer Amy Pascal has already confirmed a sequel, as well as a female-led spin-off starring Spider-Gwen in an interview with Vanity Fair, and I cannot contain my sheer and utter excitement (Silk and Jessica Drew are going to be in it)! If you are burnt out on superhero films, then this is the breath of fresh air you need. With a visually stunning art style, entertaining characters, a fun story, and a killer soundtrack that I didn’t even get to talk about, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse makes its mark as one of the best animated films of the year and, quite possibly, the best Spider-man movie ever made.