This may sound especially sacrilegious coming from me, a lifelong Spider-Man fan, but hear me out. Spider-Man has never been perfect, especially in terms of cinematic portrayals. I have a soft spot for the Sam Raimi trilogy, and I thought his recent addition into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming was especially entertaining. But each Spider-Man movie that has come out since 2002 has had minor and major flaws attached to them that holds them back. Whether it be acting, casting, choreographing, story, character designs, melodrama or just terrible ideas; if one these problems isn’t in a Spider-Man movie, they’re in another one. In my eyes, there’s never been a great Spider-Man movie made that truly captures the essence of Spider-Man without stumbling over its shoelaces. Until now, that is. I can safely say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is now officially the benchmark for a perfect Spider-Man movie. It only took 16 years for filmmakers to finally nail it down.
The film is about Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager from Brooklyn who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes his reality’s new Spider-Man. “His reality,” I hear you say? “What do you mean by that?” Well, we soon learn that Miles’ universe is only one in an infinite number of universes inhabited by different versions of Spider-Man. A “Spider-Verse,” if you will. After an incident involving the super villain Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) who tears a hole in the fabric of reality with a particle accelerator, a schlubby, thirty-something Peter Parker version of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) is inadvertently pulled into Miles.’ It’s up to Miles and his new and unlikely mentor to team up with other Spider-Men who have been pulled from their realities and stop Kingpin from causing further damage to the multiverse. Other versions of Spider-Man that we meet include Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), whose secret identity is Gwen Stacey; Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), a film noir detective version of Spider-Man from a universe where it’s 1935; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese anime schoolgirl who has a telepathic link with a spider who controls a giant robot; and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a cartoon pig version of Spider-Man.
This all probably sounds overcomplicated and weird to anyone who doesn’t read comics. Or for people who have rational minds. It is certainly weird, but the film rather impressively manages to sum up the rules, mythos and characters of this world in a comprehensive and enjoyable fashion so that even casual viewers will be able to follow the strange, yet captivating, storyline. The main characters (or Web Warriors as I like to call them) are given multiple moments of self-awareness as their backstories are explored. These moments are done in a tidy and hilarious way that fully embraces its comic book roots. In a lesser film like Suicide Squad, these introductions and exposition dumps are sloppy and feel rushed. But here, they fit the tone and are done in a more concise, meaningful and visually creative way.
And speaking of visuals, this movie looks beautiful. It’s a mixture of traditional hand drawn animation and computer animation, and it dazzles at every opportunity. Movement during action scenes are fast and fluid, the use of color and lighting are well implemented and creative, designs of characters and locations are distinct and there is a massive amount of detail in every nook and cranny. I’ve seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse twice already, and I still feel like there are some finer details and easter eggs that I’ve missed. As I said before, the film takes a lot of inspiration from the comic book style that inspired it, and it does so by using comic book word and thought bubbles, panels, and various other comic book effects to enhance its action and drama. While other films have done similar visual styles, like Scott Pilgrim for example, it’s the thematic timing of these elements and the unique visual approach to the style that makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stand out.
With a fairly large ensemble cast and a nontraditional plot for a Spider-Man movie, the film is dangerously at risk of being either unfocused or too bizarre for general audiences. We do have 6 Spider-people in the spotlight after all, and giving everybody an opportunity to shine or be useful is no easy task in a story like this. But the wonderful thing about it is that it has a very tight focus, is well paced, is weird enough to work and not a single member of the cast feels left out or underused. Everyone in the film has a purpose, and are given their own moments of comedy, empathy and drama. It’s amusing to see Miles discover his powers and mistake them for puberty. But we also worry for him as he’s thrust into this dangerous world of super heroics while slowly adjusting to his newfound powers which don’t seem to develop fast enough. Miles’ family are supporting characters and have some great comedic moments, but they are also the backbone of his development as a character and as a hero. We laugh at Peter Parker for his snarky and unkempt nature, but there’s moments in the film that clue us in on why he is that way. It’s a sad, but well executed, piece of character drama that makes for some great development. Even Spider-Ham, the goofiest version of Spider-Man that exists, is given a heavy line to deliver despite his cartoonish exterior. One of the most important lines in the film, in fact. I never thought in a million years that I’d hear a line from Spider-Ham and feel any kind of emotional catharsis.
As the movie progresses and these crazy personalities bounce off one another comedically, physically and dramatically, you realize that the film is essentially a love letter to the longevity of Spider-Man. Not only does it indulge in action and comic book madness befitting the character, but it discusses why he exists, why he’s endured, what makes him unique from other superheroes, his malleability and what it means to be Spider-Man. For me, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the perfect amalgamation of comic book movie fun and character depth that Spider-Man has always deserved in a movie. With great power comes great responsibility, and it’s my responsibility, nay, my duty to get this movie on Blu-ray as soon as I can. You should too.