Sony pictures is very hit-or-miss when it comes to super hero films. Sam Ramey’s Spider-Man trilogy can probably be credited with kick-starting the modern superhero boom, in which Spider-Man 2 is still widely considered an exemplar. However, it’s been a bumpy ride. Fantastic 4 has had three films over two incarnations ranging from mediocre to unwatchabl–did you even remember there were Ghost Rider films? Spider-Man Homecoming was brilliant, but Marvel clearly had a guiding hand on it, and Venom was nothing short of terrible. Pair that with animation house that produced Hotel Transylvania and The Emoji Movie and you have me very sceptical. However, Into the Spiderverse defied all odds by not only being the best animated movie of the year but possibly the best Spider-Man movie ever. Let’s get into it.
I’ll start with the obvious. This film is gorgeous, the comic-book-mimicking style works exceptionally well, with expressive details like motion lines and thought bubbles fitting right in. I was struck by a moment where one of Miles’s thought bubbles actually bumps into someone in the background because it was both a funny detail most would miss and a demonstration of how much care went into every frame. The three less conventional Spider-Chaps are all animated in their own style, each distinct from the others while feeling consistent with the film as a whole. On top of all this, I cannot oversell how fluid this film is in motion, from the characters to the environment, it all just works. Through style and skilled direction sequences, what should be clusterfucks are clean and easy to read. This film has more artistic flare than anything from Pixar in the last ten years and is worth a watch just for that alone, but there’s more than one string to its bow.
Miles Morales is a highschool kid from Brooklyn who has recently transferred to a fancy boarding school across the city at the behest of his father. He is unhappy in his new setting and thus sneaks out one night to spend time with his uncle and gets bitten by a radioactive spider. This coincides with the activation of a particle accelerator which brings a series of parallel Spider men-and-women to his dimension. Now, they need to find a way to get them home before Miles’s dimension is torn apart. I could go into more detail, but A) I think you should experience this film for yourself and B) the plot is nothing too ground breaking, it’s the characters who really shine.
Miles is not just black Peter Parker, he is his own fully realised character with a history, thoroughly developed relationships with his family and a set of motivations and struggles which are at once his own while also fitting the Spider-Man mould. A lot of care went into adapting him for this film–and they absolutely nailed it, I think I may prefer movie Miles to comic Miles at this point though I’ll need to see the film a few more times just to be sure. Midlife crisis Peter Parker is great, while he is technically a secondary character the film makes sure to give him well-thought-out motivations and flaws which compliment his relationship with Miles. He is also an absolute riot, with an unending flow of hilarious lines just as you’d expect from a seasoned Spider-Man. Then we have Gwen Stacey making Spider Woman’s cinematic debut. Like with Peter, she has her own back story and drives, but bonds with Miles and develops because of it while also serving as something of a straight man to the rest of the team. As an aside, I realised there is going to be an entire generation of kids who will only know Gwen as Spider Woman and not as the most prolific dead girlfriend in all of comics. That’s a good thing by the way, a very good thing. All the other spider people get their moment to shine and just enough personality to make them memorable. Special mention needs to be made for Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man noir, stealing the show whenever he’s around. Each of the Spiders get their own introduction and back story in what are entertaining sequences in their own right while being a knowing nod to the audience. I mean, who doesn’t know the classic Spider-Man origin at this point?
I won’t go into the villains as much, partly because some things were kept out of the trailers, but Kingpin does a solid job as the imposing big bad. You understand his motivation, and he is distinct from other incarnations. Maybe not as good as the Netflix version, but he suits the movie perfectly. The rouges galley overall does a good job, and there are some standouts, but this really is the heroes’ show.
Don’t let my gushing make you think the film is perfect, there were certainly aspects that didn’t work. There is a moment or two which feel maybe a bit too convenient, and I find it hard to mourn while listening to Post Malone but that may just be me. However, the soundtrack is generally excellent and fit Miles’s world well. And that’s the thing, all my quibbles are nothing in the face of what a complete triumph of animation and storytelling this film is. It is so stuffed with little details, references (anyone else remember clone high?) and hints at a broader world that I had to force myself to stop writing. The good so vastly outweighs the bad. If you see one film this month, make it this one. If you see two films, make it this one twice.