Let’s get this out of the way early. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best (if not the best) animated movie of the year. Its only real contender for quality and originality is Isle of Dogs, and it’s mostly apples and oranges at that point. Either way, this movie is fantastic and deserves awards. But more importantly, it deserves audience acclaim (it has all of the critical acclaim it could possibly desire by now). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the long-awaited breath of fresh air in the slog of superhero movies.
That previous sentence—or something quite like it—has been said quite a few times in the last few years. This is, in most part, because moviegoers have been inundated with superhero movies for about a decade now. So, everytime something even remotely mold-breaking or new comes out (Logan, Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok), audiences and critics alike can finally take a breath of fresh air. It’s difficult to maintain the enthusiasm, the excitement, or the wherewithal to keep seeing these terrible/appallingly-mediocre/just-fine movies over and over again. How many times can studios release a movie like Justice League, or Captain America: Civil War, or Ant-Man and the Wasp and expect people to keep showing up? Apparently unlimited times, but it’s getting real old.
So, when something actually, truly, really good is released, it’s basically life-affirming. That is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
The film begins with a voiceover by Spider-Man (a.k.a. Peter Parker) (Chris Pine), giving the barebones explanation of the world in which he lives. This is good, because everyone gets the gist of Spider-Man at this point. But audiences are quickly introduced and begin following a young teenager named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as he gets through his first few days at a new middle school. He maintains a loving but sufficiently-teenage-angsty relationship with his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse mother (Luna Lauren Velez). His true role model and the idol he looks up to is his uncle Aaron Davis (Mahershala Ali). One night, the two are spray painting an abandoned subway shaft with Miles’ art when he is bit on the hand by a radioactive spider. The usual ensues, in a fun montage that mirrors the classic comic books, in which Miles begins to feel strange, and eventually discovers some of his new-found abilities.
Meanwhile, Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) opens an interdimensional portal and kills the Spider-Man of Miles’ New York. At the same time, other Spider-people/things are brought into Miles’ universes—having been yanked out of their own. Miles meets one an older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and tries to learn how to be a hero. Along the way, he learns other lessons—and how to believe in himself.
The bare bones of the plot are fairly standard. It’s a superhero movie after all. Yet what is amazing about this film—this iteration of the classic story—is everything else about it. The character work is incredible—it seems like everyone important in the movie is relatable and meaningful. Miles is a wonderful Spider-Man, begging the question of why it took so long to pass the mask to him (hint: it’s because Miles is black and the world of mainstream superheroes has been predominantly white). The progression of the story, with the introduction of villains and other Spider-heroes, is natural. Newcomers to the multiverse of parallel dimensions might have been thrown off by the trailer, which features a looney tunes-esque Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Spider-Woman (a.k.a. Gwen Stacy) (Hailee Steinfeld), and a black-and-white noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage). Not to worry, the movie develops and introduces these subjects in an accessible and understandable way.
For that matter, the movie develops everything it does in an accessible and understandable way. Miles’ relationships with those around him, his inner thoughts, his actions and their consequences—everything in this movie makes perfect sense (which hard to achieve in a superhero film). And this isn’t even to mention the animation. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is animated unlike anything before it. It’s like walking into a comic book and looking around. The 3D computer animation is layered over with 2D art and everything just pops. It’s visually stunning, vibrantly colorful, and this style gives the movie every ability it needs to tell its story well.
If there is a family movie for the holidays, it should be this one. It’s fun for kids because it’s animated and features their favorite superheroes in a new and exciting way. It’s fun for adults because it’s simply a great movie with interesting characters and plot points. It’s even good for long-time fans of the comics because it finally incorporates characters from other dimensions that comic book fans are quite familiar with on the page, but have yet to see on the silver screen.
It’s easily one of the best Spider-Man movies yet. And yes, it’s better than Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Featured Image by Sony Pictures