There used to be a little thing called movie magic. You’d sit in the darkened theater mesmerized by the images on the screen and think “How did they do that?” Then CGI came about and everything that was once impossible was possible to bring the screen. In no time at all “How did they do that?” had the simplest answer: computers. Though all sorts of things that we long dreamed about gracing the screen, such as our favorite superheroes, were now possible, movies lost a bit of their magic along the way. Just the other day, I sat in a darkened theater and was mesmerized by the images on the screen and I was left to ask myself repeatedly “How did they do that?” While computers played a role in bringing the fantastical visions to the screen it wasn’t the catchall answer. The animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is a wild, joyous cinematic experience, a love letter to the character while capturing a real comic book sense of action and wonder. More importantly, though, Into the Spiderverse feels like a revolutionary work of animation, breaking new ground in technology and creating a whole new brazen style of storytelling.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is just a simple kid in Brooklyn. His father is Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), an NYPD officer who plays by the book, who wants nothing but the best for his son. Miles is about to enter a new private academy on the other side of the city where he’ll know nobody but will receive a top notch education. However, Miles likes to run off and meet up with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), whose past mistakes have estranged him from his police officer brother. Aaron shows Miles a secluded spot within the subway where the young man can work on his street art, something he can’t do because of his straight arrow father. It is there that the young man is bitten by a radioactive spider. The emergence of new superpowers makes an awkward teen even more awkward.
In searching for answers as to what is happening to him, Miles Morales stumbles upon a battle between the guardian of New York City, Spider-Man (Chris Pine), and the nefarious criminal mastermind Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). While they battle, the Kingpin has opened up a particle collider that merges alternate dimensions, wreaking havoc on the real world. Spider-Man asks Miles for his help in destroying the device. Then the unthinkable happens: Spider-Man is brutally killed by Kingpin. The city grieves the loss of a hero. Miles feels guilt and helplessness over failing to fulfill his promise to the fallen hero. However, the collider merged dimensions and when Miles meets Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), a disheveled version of the iconic hero, he suddenly realizes that he’s not alone. Soon the duo of Morales and Parker are joined by others from alternate dimensions – Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), and Penni Parker (Kimiko Glenn). Together these various heroes from various dimensions must defeat Kingpin and use his warped technology to return to their own dimensions.
If that plot summary seems a bit too dense, fear not, true believer, as the screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman moves with incredible speed, breezing along while establishing all of its characters and plot threads and, of course, featuring plenty of killer jokes. It’s a real testament to the creative team of Into the Spiderverse that they were able to assemble the many loose threads into a movie that’s hilarious, action-packed, and yet retains an emotional core for many of its characters. Kind of like last years The LEGO Batman Movie, Into the Spiderverse is a movie that examines the core of the Spider-Man mythology, celebrating and lampooning it simultaneously. There are some gags focused on some of the more derided aspects of past Spider-Man movies but done with a loving wink.
As witty and brilliant the script for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is, the real star of the film is groundbreaking animation work overseen by director Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti, and Peter Ramsay. This film is a visual feast. The character design, the cityscapes, and the action are done in such a fresh and unique fashion that you sit there in awe of seeing something that’s never been done before. Each of the various Spider-Men and Spider-Women have designs based upon their varying characteristics and origins. Making the film even more fascinating is the way each character and setting has a textured look unlike anything I’ve ever seen in animation. I can’t wait for this film to drop on Blu-ray in hopes that it features a lengthy documentary on the process that brought this film to life.
The eye-popping action of Into the Spiderverse is like a comic book sprung to life. It captures the very essence of the action that captivated us when looking at them in paneled pages. The action unfolds in so many different and vivid ways that even if it wasn’t so meticulously written you’d still be awe just by the look of it all. Along the way, the various heroes encounter a number of infamous faces from the rogues’ gallery of Spider-Man lore, often with new and brilliant design work.
At a time when superheroes are everywhere and many people have become jaded to the tales of costumed heroism, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse explodes onto the screen with a new lively take on the character and the genre. At a time when audiences aren’t wowed by special effects as CGI has sucked the magic out of the movies, Into the Spiderverse swoops in and presents a fresh, revolutionary form of animation that brings the magic back to the movies. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse gives us a new take on a classic hero, a whole new world full of limitless possibilities, and a perfectly moving Stan Lee cameo. While Avengers: Infinity War has the distinction of being the year’s biggest comic book movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse has the distinction of being the year’s best comic book movie. There’s never been anything like it before.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
A groundbreaking work of animation, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is so much more than a technical marvel with its eye-popping action, razor-sharp wit, and an emotional core driven by its characters, be they regular people or costumed superheroes.