Rather inexplicably, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man film made to date. It is hard to imagine that an animated film about multiverse theory and multiple incarnations of a single comic book character coming together to fight a rogue’s gallery that is only recognizable to fans would not only be an inspired origin story for Spider-Man, but also be an entirely accessible experience.
Yes, it is a lot of information to take in, the plotting story churning forward endlessly without a breath. Those completely unfamiliar with Spider-Man and his world would have a harder time keeping up. But, at this cinematic moment, Spider-Man is a widely-known property.
It is refreshing, then, that Spider-Verse ignores origin stories. Sure, there is a spider bite, on young Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). But this formative moment is quickly dispensed of, as the story has much more to take care of. Notably, it is important that the plot get to Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and his particle collider, which, when fired, bends space time to the point where four or five other Spider-beings are transported to Miles’ dimension.
The result is a witty take on the Spider-Man lore. The in-jokes are fun, and, better yet, the film does not rely on its self-awareness to succeed. At this point in superhero cinema, with the likes of this and Deadpool 2 and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, we are reaching peak superhero reflexiveness. But the emotional arc of Miles Morales is more than enough to ground this film, making the self-aware jokes less of a crutch and thus more fulfilling.
What is more, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a phenomenal animation style. It looks closer to comic book panels put to motion than any animation before it, with dots and lines creating grooves and backdrops. It is an inventive and dynamic approach, one that is intricately constructed.
Perhaps, at times, this animation clouds the screen with too much stimulation. But, often, this is only painful when the over-stimulation is purposeful, as in the moment when Kingpin’s super collider goes off.
It is really the sheer amount of characters that clouds the screen. Not because there are too many, but because many of them do not get enough to do. Once the multiverse is introduced as a plot point, three characters rise to the top as the leads. The others, the more obscure versions of Spider-Man, are hilarious and perfectly-cast, but they are given very little to do.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is, I must reiterate, inexplicable. It is the non-canon, animated addition to a franchise that Sony has already admitted defeat over (as they allowed their prized character into the Marvel stable). On paper, this is a throwaway, straight-to-cable film. Instead, Amy Pascal and Sony bankrolled one of the most original animated films of 2018.
Frankly, it is a perfect corporate film. It convinces audiences that fringe comic books are worth reading and that a film with “Into the Spider-Verse” as a subtitle is not an entirely fan service engine. At the same time, it is a quality product in and of itself. It is a modest budget money-maker made with a creativity-forward mindset.
If you have any interest in Spider-Man as a character, then you will enjoy Into the Spider-Verse.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: B+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)