Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best superhero movie of this decade. Period. There will be no fine print hidden somewhere in this review that tells you otherwise. This is a feeling that quickly solidifies within me halfway into Sony’s 2018 animated feature, and the latter half of movie had only confirmed my belief. I sat through the credits barely moving not for any promise of post-credit clips, but for the fact that I was stunned by Into the Spider-Verse’s excellence.
“Comicbook superhero movie” is currently the most popular and lucrative genre, and Marvel Studios dominates the market. During the ten years since the first Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios has built an entertainment behemoth spanning various media—foremost being the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe (which stands 20 films strong as of December 2018). To achieve and sustain the popularity, Marvel has honed their formulae to create the most crowd-friendly cinematic experience. Crowd-friendly, inoffensive, and unchallenging. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s sheer vitality is almost an antithesis to its Marvel brethren; it has the speed and energy unmatched by the entirety of MCU and an emotional center true to the superhero spirit as opposed to Marvel’s spectacle-based cinematic phenomenon.
Middle school student Miles Morales (voiced with tremendous sincerity by Shameik Moore), is the latest victim of yet another radioactive spider. Soon after Miles is granted powers similar to Peter Parker’s, the original Spider-Man, he gets involved in a conflict between Peter and the notorious crime boss Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Liev Schreiber). Kingpin’s experimental super-collider opens portals to parallel universes and accidentally pulls various Spider-People into Miles’s world during a confrontation between Spider-Man and Kingpin’s underlings. The team of Spider-People must now work together to find a way home and to prevent Kingpin from tearing the space-time continuum apart.
The story may sound like a standard superhero affair, but what sets Into the Spider-Verse apart from other Marvel flicks is its sharp humor, a personal coming-of-age story, and a poignant message that recaptures the magic of the genre and rekindles our love of it. Into the Spider-Verse is a love letter written in celebration of the superhero genre, and more particularly, of Spider-Man; it stands on decades worth of pop culture and looks back on its history and legacy (fans of Sam Raimi’s trilogy will be ecstatic; Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man gets a few nods). The film raises the question of the meaning behind the mantle “superhero”, and it reminds us of why we fell in love with it in the first place. Into the Spider-Verse fully encapsulates the hope and bravery a superhero represents.
Written by the same Lord & Miller who brought you 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street, and The LEGO Batman Movie (Spider-Verse shares a similar fourth-wall-breaking franchise retrospective sequence), Into the Spider-Verse is absolutely hilarious. The humor is quick and sharp (sharp, but not edgy)—a welcomed change of pace from MCU’s lukewarm jokes and their showy presentation. But most important of all, the humor never gets in the way of the drama. Don’t fret, the Spider-People are plenty quippy, yet the jokes in this movie never undermine the tension as they often do in MCU. The tone of this film remains coherent throughout its runtime, and it reaches greater emotional heights and depths as a result.
How can I review a piece of animation without commenting on its style? This is where a significant portion of the film’s energy lies. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse makes full use of animation as a medium, and it oozes style from its every crevice. From the very first second, the movie dazzles the audience with its visual brilliance. Into the Spider-Verse looks like a comic book in motion. The shadow is accented with halftone dots and hatching lines, and the film has a dash of chromatic aberration effect thrown in to mimic the printing error present in old comics caused by misaligned color palette, but it is not enough to strain the eyes. Captions and text popups are used for comedic effects. The color palette is vibrant and varied; each time of the day has a distinct hue. Nighttime New York is a neon-soaked looker. The bold use of colors is a delight, and the positively psychedelic climax is almost unthinkable in a mainstream blockbuster. Into the Spider-Verse is a visual treat.
The animation is a huge highlight of the movie. Sony Pictures Animation made subtle emoting possible in a level that is rare even within Pixar and Disney’s filmography. The on-screen performance gives Miles Morales’s personal struggles an extra human touch. The action sequences are also top notch. Think of the free-flowing acrobatics in the past Spider-Man movies, then dial it up to 11—not because there is more than one Spider-Man this time around (though the team-tactics are indeed a joy to watch), but for the excellent framing and choreography that keep the action readable when character animation moves at only 12 frames-per-second. By saying “readable”, I am actually selling the film short; the kinetic energy of Into the Spider-Verse is incredible.
It takes a genuine understanding of itself and a maturity to reflect on its past and future, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse successfully navigates old tropes of the superhero genre to explore and reaffirm its identity. It is bold and fresh, but at the same time, the film never loses sight of its roots, and it does all of this while looking mighty gorgeous.
There, I have kept my promise.
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