Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Written by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman
Spider-Man is the main hero of New York City and has been for decades. Meanwhile, Miles Morales is just a talented kid reluctantly attending a boarding school for the scientific minded. During a late excursion to tag a prime piece of real estate in the subway tunnels, Miles is bitten by a strange spider and begins to develop strange powers as a result. When Miles returns to the scene of the incident, he ends up dead center in a battle between Spider-Man and a host of villains in the employ of the Kingpin. The fight ends with Miles squarely set to inherit the mantle and in need of training. The result of Kingpin’s experiments is that the fabric of the multiverse is broken and a host of other Spider-people have found their way to Miles’ dimension. The clock is ticking as reality crumbles, and in a very short amount of time, our protagonist must learn to be the hero his universe needs him to be.
Into the Spider-Verse is without question the best piece of Spider-Man media we have gotten to date. Even more than that, I am willing to say Spider-Verse is the Superman: The Motion Picture of this generation. Coming from me that is a massive compliment because Richard Donner’s original Superman film holds a very dear place in my heart. That movie was responsible for inspiring my love of comics and, contrasted against the bleak dreck of the current Warner Brothers heroes movies, is why I am so disappointed these days. Spider-Verse understands the fundamental ideas and moods that make a superhero movie click and inspire the kids in the audience. This is a hopeful film that also doesn’t pander. People die in this movie, multiple people who are characters with strong emotional connections to Miles and the audience. There are some genuinely dangerous moments, and the filmmakers are confident that the kids watching understand the themes woven through the picture.
Miles is a great protagonist who carries on the tradition of the naive, teenage Spider-Man. He struggles with his powers and responsibilities, with family issues creating another obstacle. He’s a brainy kid who feels awkward showing his talent because of how his peers might perceive him. There’s some great quick and simple establishment of stakes in the opening 15 minutes that gets us right there with Miles. It’s not on as grand a scale as the Krypton/Smallville pieces in Superman, but it carries the same emotional weight, and that’s what so many superhero movies are lacking today. The character first, superhero second.
Balancing the classical superhero stakes with modern sensibilities are the writing contributions and guidance of Phil Lord and Chris Miller. These comedic minds are responsible for the 21 Jump Street films, the Lego Movie, and its sequel, as well as The Lego Batman Movie. They were going to helm the Solo movie for Lucasfilm and did make almost the entire thing before their work was judged as too irreverent for the Star Wars brand, and they were replaced with much more workman-like Ron Howard. You have to think Disney is looking at that decision, comparing the receptions of Spider-Verse and Solo and kicking themselves. There so much genuine heart mixed with organic comedy and references to the larger universe without a single moment ever feeling cloying or fan service-y. The same cannot be said for the final product of Solo.
Spider-Verse is also one of the most aesthetically pleasing animated films I’ve seen in a long time. At this point, the major animation division of the movie studios has created a sort of house style that makes their film appear like factory produced products, and to some extent they are. Dreamworks Animation is the most notorious of these with very bland looking movies churned out quarterly. The concept artists and animators for Spider-Verse were told to make what they liked the resulting style is pleasantly jarring to the senses. Sound effects and text boxes from comic books are incorporated as well as Miles’ love of graffiti. There is kinetic energy that carries us through the film so that even quiet moments feel like they are moving us along instead of being a mandatory stop in the story.
This is simply one of the perfect superhero movies (alongside pictures like Superman and The Dark Knight). The filmmakers understand the core of the character and give us a story the centers around the themes that make Spider-Man tick. There are tons of new and original things that are added to the mix, yet everything feels organically like what Spider-Man should be. You can’t get better than that.