With great power comes… okay forget it. You know the rest. And the filmmakers behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse know that you know the rest. Since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released in May of 2002 breaking box office records, there have been five more films.
That’s six Spider-Man movies in a 16-year span. On average, that means we get a Spider-Man movie every 2 ½ years. Add in the fact that there have now been three different iterations of the character in that time with three different actors portraying the wall crawler and I’d say Spider-Man fatigue is a real thing. And we’re getting another one next summer so buckle up!
But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is different. The first observation is that it’s the first animated Spider-Man movie. But it’s also a fresh and unique take on the character thanks to its outlandish story, specific visual style and energetic sense of humor.
The story takes place in a multiverse where teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider. Before he has time to even develop these sudden powers, his dimension’s Spider-Man is killed shutting down a collider that opens the multiverse (Multiple universes for the uninitiated).
The original Spider-Man is successful, but not before a number of Spider-People enter Miles’ dimension. Now Miles must get them back to their dimensions while also living up to these newfound expectations.
And ultimately, the film is not about responsibility, but expectations. Before becoming a reluctant superhero, Miles is trying his best to flunk out of his new prep school and go back to school in Brooklyn. He doesn’t know what kind of person he wants to be to himself or his parents.
One of the Spider-People, Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), is also wrestling with expectations. Despite being a mentor to Miles, Peter struggles with whether he wants to be a father or not. Both characters bond as the film progresses and they learn to handle greater challenges life brings them. But the emotional stakes aren’t the only unique thing to this film.
Live-action superhero movies, for the most part, steer clear of recreating the pages of the comics on a literal level. There have been exceptions. Ang Lee’s Hulk and the first Thor movie feature many “dutch” angle shots where the filmmakers attempt to make the panels in the comics come to life. Even Zack Snyder’s Watchmen features shots taken directly from the graphic novel.
But while fans of the comics appreciate that level of detail and recognition to the source material, they don’t necessarily want it. Comic books and movies are different mediums.
In animation however, there’s more room for creativity on a visual level. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a millennial/punk/cotton candy aesthetic. It’s not that the animation is better than a Pixar or Disney Animation film. Spider-Verse is just distinct in its Banksyesque color palette. The street artist even gets a mention in the film. The way the characters are illustrated and highlighted in the foreground while the background is sort of blurry may be jarring at first, but it’s visually dynamic.
The set pieces also illustrate the wonderful animation. When Miles first learns to web sling (Wearing his Air Jordans), he does it through fall trees that are acid-drip orange juxtaposed with pillowy white snow on the ground. In one of the more comedic sequences, an elevated subway train drags Miles and Peter B. through the streets of New York. As they crash into cars, buildings and the train, word balloons pop up on the screen with words like “Honk,” “Crash” and “Bang.” It’s a great nod to the comics. To describe the visuals would be akin to jumping in a gumball machine.
Speaking of the comedy.This is by far the funniest Spider-man movie and one of the best comedies of the year. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The duo behind The LEGO Movie) act as a writer and producer respectively. They bring their wonderfully self-aware humor to the story. The film acknowledges past movies, including a terrible scene in Spider-Man 3 and they throw in easter eggs and plenty of terrific voice-over work from the likes of Kathryn Hahn, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage and Liev Schreiber. And the voice-over bench is much deeper than that. I won’t spoil who else shows up.
It’s also a wonderfully diverse movie featuring a main character who is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent and multiple female characters including a female Spider-Man (Spider-Gwen).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes that static feeling of flipping through the pages of a comic book and brings them to life thanks to a breezy and confident plot that subvertes the origin story we’ve seen countless times. The animation is eye-popping and the meta humor is delightful. It’s also the best animated movie of the year.