Two major questions loom large over the latest from Sony Pictures Animation: Does the world really need another superhero movie, and more importantly, does it really need another Spider-Man movie? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse answers both of these questions early and often with an emphatic “yes.”
This is not only the most electrifying superhero film of the year, but it’s also the best on-screen version of the web-slinger that I’ve ever seen. Packed to the brim with vivid and vibrant animated flourishes that call back to the rich comic book heritage of this series, this is a film that honors the mythology of its central character while expanding on it beautifully.
At the center of this Spider-Man story is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a bright teenager who develops unusual abilities after being bitten by a genetically modified spider.
While this part of the story is certainly familiar, the new twist this time around is the introduction of a particle accelerator that allows for access of parallel universes. This leaves the gateway open for other inter-dimensional iterations of Spider-Man, including Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), among others. Together, they all have to come together to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), along with two other major foes, as they try to destroy New York City.
The design of this film is unlike any other that I’ve seen from another animated picture before, weaving together the aesthetics of various genres from anime to Looney Tunes-era cartoons in a spectacularly clever manner. It also incorporates the use of purposefully misaligned colors to out-of-focus objects in the background, which replicates the look and feel of comic books from the 1960s where Spider-Man was born.
On top of these homages to other mediums, the film is also astonishing in its implementation of cutting-edge computer animation, especially during the climactic showdown that shuffles objects from one dimension to another.
It would be enough if this was simply the best-looking Spider-Man movie, but thanks to co-writer Phil Lord (also behind last year’s similarly hilarious The LEGO Batman Movie), it’s also the funniest. The movie respectfully pokes fun at the different interpretations of Spider-Man that have appeared in comics through the years, from 1930s detective styled Spider-Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) to Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), who has the power to “float in the air at the smell of a delicious pie.”
It also has some fun with superhero tropes like the down-to-the-wire heroics; at one point, Parker quips, “There’s always a little time before people die and that’s where I do my best work.”
What I appreciated most is that these jokes and the accompanying kinetic animation style don’t detract from the fact that this has an excellent origin story at its core that, spider-bite aside, is very different from what we’ve seen in a film up to this point. The self-referential humor can be cheeky but not in a way that tries to tear down the myth behind the superhero; the trio of directors behind this movie clearly have a great reverence for the character and his lineage.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the most invigorating superhero film I’ve seen since The Avengers in 2012 and proves that even in an over-saturated market, fresh ideas can still be found.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Turn to page 5 in this issue of Whatzup to read my feature story about the five big movies being released for the Christmas holiday season.v