Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is some kind of revelation. A western animated feature that creates a visual look that’s completely removed from the Pixar style that has remained the basis of the medium for over two decades and, even more notably, a super hero film that’s wildly original. Into the Spider-Verse is not only the best Spider-Man film since 2004’s Spider-Man 2, it’s one of the best Marvel movies period, and one of the best films of 2018.
The first thing audiences are bound to notice about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is its animation. Simply put, this is one of the most uniquely animated films ever made. It emulates the look of a comic book in a way no live-action film ever could. Although Spider-Verse is computer animated – as is the standard of today – it combines it with traditional hand-drawn techniques, and a unique cel shading to give it its aforementioned comic book vibe. It’s quite stunning to behold in motion.
Perhaps the best thing about Into the Spider-Verse is that its story nearly matches its visuals in the originality department.
Spider-Verse tells the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager who, like the more widely known Peter Parker, is bitten by a radioactive spider, which grants him super human strength and agility, as well as a ‘spider sense’ that alerts him to danger. Sure, it doesn’t matter who is behind the Spider-Man mask, we all know the origin story so well any reminder of it comes across like a joke. And in fact, Into the Spider-Verse makes the origin story into its biggest running gag.
Yes, we do see how Miles Morales becomes the famous web-slinger, but the tale is given more than a few new spins. For starters, the Peter Parker Spider-Man (Chris Pine) already exists by the time Morales gets bit by the fateful arachnid. And soon after Morales gains his powers, he stumbles across an epic battle between Spider-Man and the forces of the Kingpin (Live Schreiber), which include the Prowler and the Green Goblin (whom, in this highly stylized version, is an actual goblin-like monster). The plot gets an extra dose of originality by how Miles (and by extension, the audience) just kind of happen upon Kingpin’s evil plot as it’s unfolding, instead of having a good chunk of the first act dedicated to explaining Kingpin’s plans.
What Miles stumbles on, however, is Kingpin’s attempts at opening portals to other dimensions. Though the machine used to achieve these means collapses on itself – causing great damage to New York City and even wiping out some of Kingpin’s forces – it does succeed on a small scale, allowing the Spider-Man equivalent of five other dimensions to enter Miles’ world.
These ‘Spider-People’ include a cynical, down-on-his-luck Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), who is divorced from Mary Jane Watson and quite out-of-shape, and becomes a disinterested, reluctant mentor to Miles. There’s also Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), the Gwen Stacy from a separate dimension, who took up the Spider-Mantle in place of her friend Peter Parker, who was killed in her world. These two, along with Miles, make up the film’s primary characters. Though another trio of Spider-Men join the fray later on: Spider-Noir (Nicholas Cage), a gumshoe from a 1930s dimension; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese female Peter Parker from an anime universe with a spider-mecha; and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a pig from a slapstick cartoon universe who, in contrast to the rest of the group, was originally a spider before being bitten by a radioactive pig. As you might expect, it becomes the mission of Miles and his newfound Spider-Friends to prevent Kingpin from reactivating his machine and completely destroying New York City.
Admittedly, it is a bit of a shame that the latter three characters don’t get nearly as much screen time, seeing as they bring out the most style in this most stylized film. But I suppose sequels and spinoffs are already in the tank, so here’s hoping Spider-Noir, Peni Parker and Peter Porker can all star in their own movie, which can take advantage of their wildly different styles. Though hoping that the secondary heroes can get their own sequel is hardly a complaint, and is more telling of just how wonderfully realized Into the Spider-Verse’s heroes are that even the supporting cast leaves such an impression.
If there is one element that is a little disappointing, it’s in the film’s villain scenario. Kingpin is actually given a pretty unique motivation for a super villain, but his story ends up suffering slightly as it never really evolves beyond its initial reveal. Perhaps an even bigger misstep is that many of Spider-Man’s best villains, like the aforementioned Green Goblin and even Doctor Octopus, really end up feeling shortchanged as mere henchmen of Kingpin. Spider-Verse has some unique ideas for these villains, but by giving them bit roles, they feel wasted. Spider-Verse has an ace up its sleeve in regards to sequels in that, by introducing alternate universes, this series can continually reinvent these villains and promote them to the primary antagonist role. Though you do have to worry that the filmmakers may not go that route since they already used said villains.
These are ultimately small prices to pay for an otherwise stellar movie. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse continuously finds new ways to reinvent not only Spider-Man, but the super hero movie genre as a whole. It’s briskly paced, throwing Miles Morales’ story into the grander plot without slowing down for the usual super hero expositions. And the film is a constant barrage of style and flashy visuals. There’s not a single moment in Into the Spider-Verse that doesn’t burn its way into your memory with its flashy colors, vibrant effects and fun character designs (Kingpin in particular, with his massive body and relatively small head, looks like he walked out of a Sylvain Chomet film). It’s the most uniquely animated film since The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
In this day and age, where super hero films are a dime a dozen, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands above its contemporaries by creating a super hero tale that looks and feels stunningly original. Into the Spider-Verse tells a story that makes one of pop culture’s most enduring heroes feel fresh all over again, and it does so with every last frame being drenched in style.