A new kind of Spider-Man movie swung into multiplexes and is saving the day for audiences, critics and studio executives with its fresh take on the character. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” takes the comic books’ element of multiverses and the alternate realities that a character like Spider-Man can share, turning it into an animated feature film. But for a production to try to do this effectively without confusing audiences is a gutsy move.
Somehow though, Sony pulls it off. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is fantastic.
After a couple of rough years at the box office, Sony seems to be getting back into the swing of things with its Spider-Man franchise. This is its second Marvel-related release this year, and after the success of Sony’s canonically unrelated film Venom, which made $852 million worldwide against a $100 million production budget, the studio is hoping to continue that trend with an unconventional animated superhero feature.
The story is set in an alternate universe where Peter Parker, voiced by Jake Johnson, isn’t necessarily the only web-slinging hero to walk the streets of Brooklyn. Our protagonist is teenager Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, who, after a surprising run-in with Parker and a subway spider bite, discovers this duality and sets off on an inter-dimensional adventure to reach his full potential.
The movie is helmed by filmmaking duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who began working on the project after getting booted off as directors of Disney’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story” for creative differences. After comparing the end products, and hopefully the financial payoff, of those two films, this should make them feel pretty snug.
Moreover, while this holiday season is jam packed with competition from the likes of “Bumblebee,” “Aquaman” and “Mary Poppins Returns,” somehow they and their team manage to make this little animated film feel like a must-see.
And for its uniqueness alone, it is a must-see.
Smartly crafted, clever and imaginative, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” builds on and reimagines everything we love about comic book movies but without ever straying from the beating heart of the genre. It does this by simultaneously paying homage to classic comic books and offering new interpretations for a modern audience.
Its real accomplishment is its animation. Every frame looks like it was ripped right out of a comic book but never in a manner that makes the film look cheap or choppy.
People have grown accustomed to the 3D style of releases from Pixar, stop-motion and even the hand-drawn look of classic Disney fairytales, but the artistry on display in this movie matches the best work from every single one of those categories, and in some cases, exceeds it.
The shots are rendered beautifully, from the colorful city landscapes to the character design to the comics’ accurate thought bubbles and graphics.
The talent and passion on display here from these digital artists is incredibly powerful. Some might be skeptical at first at the stylization choices because they certainly take a step back from more well-known animation techniques. The world we are presented with and immersed in is textured and lovely but never in a pompous, look-how-beautiful-this-is way. One of the most exquisite and beautiful sequences in the movie take place in a graveyard, and every frame is, well, frameable.
The brilliance of the animation never outshines what is a truly innovative take on a comic book origin story. Miles Morales never comes across as a Peter Parker rip-off but still manages to a achieve a similar innocent charm.
Relatable, quirky and kind, he fits right in with the rich world he occupies. Gwen Stacy, played by Hailee Steinfeld, and Peter Parker match Miles in energy and play well off him comically while providing for several truly emotional moments. Miles’ relationship with his father, a cop who is wary of heroes like Spider-Man, is particularly compelling, especially when contrasted with tensions the family has with Miles’ uncle, whose secret life doesn’t quite line up with the law.
The storyline is mature and the plot feels fresh compared with other recent comic book releases. This is because it plays with the genre’s tropes without neglecting the aspects that make it so effective for so many fans. Also, there are some truly fantastic comedic moments and more than one belly laugh to be shared. A unique cameo from Marvel legend Stan Lee provides for one of these humorous instances along with a truly special moment made even more poignant considering the creator’s recent passing.
In the end, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” might not convert non-superhero fans to the idea. But as one of the most vivid and distinctive releases of the year (comic book or not), it is definitely proof that in the face of possible superhero fatigue, there’s a lot of ground left to cover and a lot of great stories left to tell.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent
Traveler Score: A