Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review: Swinging With the Best
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse review: Don’t let its animated roots fool you, the latest Spider-Man film is one of the best superhero movies of the year.
It has been a good year for superhero films. Sure, there’s always the threat of exhaustion, and some have even claimed that Marvel’s Netflix shows were a victim of this and a sign of things to come (although that’s probably not true, or at least not the whole story). But with six of the ten highest grossing films of the year all being superhero-related, that threat seems like it’s more academic than realistic. And before the year is done, that number may go up to seven with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
There are probably a fair number of people that will overlook Into the Spider-Verse, dismissing it because of its animated format. And in some ways, that makes sense. There are a lot of animated superhero films coming out each year (typically direct-to-home media), and while some of them are actually really good (DC’s animated films smash the live-action versions), they also tend to be one-dimensional. Most of them are basically just adaptations of specific comic storylines or storylines inspired by the comics, so even the
Into the Spider-Verse is a different beast than its direct-to-home media cousins. It’s closer to a Disney and/or Pixar animated film, or something like The Lego Movie – which isn’t that surprising given that Lego Movie’s co-director Phil Lord co-wrote Into the Spider-Verse. It isn’t just a good animated movie, it’s a good movie regardless of format, with characters that display depth and elicit emotion. That’s something most of the best live-action superhero films have trouble with.
Into the Spider-Verse also experiments with the animated format. It injects the odd comic thought bubble and adds a few text cues in place of sound. Colors and images aren’t just part of the visuals, they become part of the story itself – and these tricks are used sparingly, which increases their impact. It also shows that the trio of directors – Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman – know exactly what they are doing, so much so that their style will probably be imitated.
It’s possible to imagine this film as a live-action, but it probably wouldn’t have the same impact. Some of the humor would need to be adapted for flesh and blood actors, and it would also lose some of the heart – as contradictory as that may seem. The exaggerated facial mannerisms and too-smooth-to-be-real movements are used to convey emotion as clearly as any dialogue or storytelling can. When done right, animation can go in a direction all its own, just look at Pixar. Into the Spider-Verse is in that same neighborhood. It also allows for a more bizarre story that would either look weird in live-action or would at least require a lot of
In a move that may seem confusing but is actually right in keeping with the film’s narrative, Into the Spider-Verse simultaneously doesn’t exist in the Marvel cinematic universe and sort of does. It involves the concept of alternate realities, something Marvel comics have featured for decades now
Into the Spider-Verse is a Spider-Man origin story, something that has been done to dust, but the twist is that it’s not Peter Parker’s origin story. The focus is more on Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a smarter than average high school student who just wants to be a kid. When the pressure of being at an elite school starts to weigh on him, Miles turns to his “cool” uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). That eventually leads to Miles being in the right place at the right time for a certain type of spider to bite him, but the wrong place for a run in with Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and the Spider-Man of Miles’ world (Chris Pine).
It doesn’t take long before Miles realizes he’s different, and he’s not alone. An experiment being funded by Kingpin involves breaking dimensional barriers, leading to several Spider-People suddenly finding themselves in Miles’ world. With a little help from a slovenly, out of luck middle-aged Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), and a teenage Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Miles has to learn what it means to be Spider-Man, and he doesn’t have time to do it gradually.
Along with the obvious Spider-Man boy-becomes-a-hero storyline, it’s also a coming-of-age story for Miles, just ramped up with the fate of the world intertwined with puberty. It’s a rare superhero film that can make the non-superhero side of the film just as interesting as the action-fueled parts, but Into the Spider-Verse does. Miles is relatable and innocent without being stupid, while the older Spider-Man’s sardonic nature plays off Miles perfectly. Gwen adds a bit of heart, while the other Spider-People are mostly there as comic relief – and they are excellent at it.
It all balances out perfectly, with the humor and the drama finding equilibrium alongside the action. The CG-heavy animation style may turn off some people hoping for something a little smoother and more traditional, but it fits with the story. It also lends itself to a touch of surrealism, which helps establish the finale.
From the first moment to the last, Into the Spider-Verse knows the story it wants to tell and it knows how it wants to do it. And whatever you do, be sure to stay through the end credits for one of the best scenes of the film.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review Conclusion
Into the Spider-Verse may be relegated to a different tier of superhero films because it is animated, but it is one of the best superhero films of the year. It’s more comedic than most of the MCU films, but then again so was Thor: Ragnarok and that was one of the best superhero films of 2017.
With respect to Sony’s other Spider-Man films, Into the Spider-Verse may be its best. It would be great to see Miles Morales join the MCU (and it’ll probably happen one day soon), but if it’s a question of watching an animated Spider-Man film or another dancing Spidey infected by alien symbiote goo, animated is the way to go.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Review is rated PG and has a running time of 117 minutes.