After the total mess that was Venom, I certainly would not have said I was confident in Sony’s ability to do anything worthwhile with their rights to Spider-Man and other Marvel characters. Thankfully, they have proven me wrong with the wonderful new animated outing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This is not only one of the best movies starring the web slinger, it is also one of the most creative and exciting comic book adaptations I have ever seen.
The protagonist is Miles Morales, a teenager with regular problems such as starting at a new school or being embarrassed by his parents. Then, he gets bit by a radioactive spider. But the real complicated part comes when the villainous Kingpin tries to open up a portal to another dimension, threatening the stability of Brooklyn. This brings Miles into contact with a surprising amount of spider-powered superheroes from various realities.
This story, as confusing as it could have been, is unexpectedly funny and very clever. It does a great job satirizing Spider-Man, explaining his appeal and creating several world’s worth of potentially interesting stories. This is not a traditionally structured superhero story. While it does go through Spider-Man’s origin, it does so in a way that acknowledges how tired viewers must be with it. That is among the best of its running gags, though pretty much all of them land. I did not expect a whole lot out of Spider-Verse from a dialogue or character standpoint and came away impressed by the writing.
What I did expect was great animation and it did not let me down. The most ambitious and fascinating aspect of this production is the various styles of animation on display. In many cases, it is several different styles in the same frame. The Spider-heroes all look completely different. Miles is drawn like a comic book character. Peter Parker is made to look like a fairly standard CGI-animated character. Gwen Stacy is closer to Miles, but a little less realistic. Spider-Man Noir is designed like he came straight from a 1930s detective movie. He is in black and white with an excellent use of shadows to create a mood around him. Peni Parker is an anime inspired creation who travels with a robot sidekick. Finally, there is Spider-Ham, who has been drawn in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Every single one of them looks different, moves different and has a different tone to them. It is a collection of characters that seem to belong in separate movies. The fact that the filmmakers found a way to make a group this diverse fit together on-screen without even once taking away what makes any of them a unique individual is pretty astounding.
The goal of almost any superhero movie is to spawn sequels and/or spinoffs. Into the Spider-Verse (106 minutes, plus a post-credits scene) gives us six characters who could theoretically star in their own story. They have created a concept that can sustain an entire expanded universe of content. And they introduced it in a really good movie. It looks incredible, but is also intelligent and captivating. It critiques Spider-Man in a way that illuminates his relatability, making him feel fresh and fun again. Spider-Man: Homecoming brought the character into the MCU safely, if energetically. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tries a completely new approach to this world and hits it out of the park.
4½ out of 5
Shameik Moore as Miles Morales
Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker
Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy
Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis
Mahershala Ali as Uncle Aaron
Liev Schreiber as Wilson Fisk
Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir
John Mulaney as Spider-Ham
Kimiko Glenn as Peni Parker
Lily Tomlin as Aunt May
Kathryn Hahn as Doc Ock
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman
Screenplay by Phil Lord