Miles Morales takes center stage in a brand new Spider-Man adventure on the big screen and manages to deliver not only one of the best Spider-Man films to date, but also the year's best animated film. Come inside for my full review!
Before seeing Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse my hype was through the roof. Hell, the trailers for the film itself were better than ENTIRE movies I've seen this year. To say my expectations were high is a bit of an understatement. Even so, Spider-Verse managed to shatter those lofty expectations and is easily one of my favorite movie experiences this year.
I don't say this lightly, considering some of the amazing films we've received this year. Even so, the animated film manages to strike a stunning balance between fun, emotional weight, and important themes. Let's break it down:
I'm going to do my best to veer away from major spoilers here, but there are some important things that happen early that form the basis of plot...which are almost impossible to not mention. I'll still keep things to a bear minimum here, so don't worry overmuch.
Those who've read the Ultimate Spider-Man comics which introduced us to Miles Morales will know some of the basics of this story already, though there are notable differences that keep it from being an adaptation. Miles takes the focus of the story, and we see how he's trying to adjust to life in a new, high-end, school. There's the typical awkward teenage moments, punctuated by cultural life in his part of town (which are handled incredibly well).
Things get worse when he's bitten by a different radioactive spider which imbues him with the same powers as Spider-Man; with a couple extras thrown in. As he's trying to cope with the sudden changes to his body/life, he stumbles upon the real Spider-Man trying to prevent the Kingpin from opening a multi-dimensional portal. As such, Miles bears witness to Spider-Man's final battle and is with him as he dies.
He wants to fulfill Spider-Man's last mission to stop the Kingpin, but without any idea of how to be Spider-Man, he feels helpless despite his powers. When a Peter Parker from a different dimension (one more bitter and cynical from crime-fighting) shows up, he finds a reluctant mentor to help him. Things get complicated as more Spider-People from different dimensions arrive, but they’ll have to work together to stop Kingpin and his cronies.
The resulting story makes for something more than just a simple origin tale. In it, we’re also getting a coming of age tale. Miles isn’t just dealing with his new set of powers, he’s also figuring out his place in the world (in general). Adjusting to the new school, coming to terms with his overbearing father and learning how to make his own mark is as much a part of this story as the superheroics.
It's this aspect that elevates the film to another level. Not only do we see Miles along his journey, we get to see changes in the other Spider-People (mostly Spider-Gwen and the other Peter Parker) and how they can make things better in their own dimensions. This provides some surprisingly emotional moments in the film, hitting you even as it keeps the humor rolling. There were no less than three scenes in the film throughout that had me choked up, and a couple of those have stuck with me days later. Long after the credits have rolled, I find myself thinking back to various moments in the film.
The action is insanely engaging and the humor is placed perfectly every time, lifting up heavier moments without taking away the emotional impact. There's so much going on, but you never feel lost or like you're playing catch-up. It keeps you riveted from beginning to end and will leave you aching for more (in a good way).
The voice cast is phenomenal, selling every piece of story/dialog in the film while making their characters stand out. Technically, they're all different versions of Spider-Man, but each of them feels entirely different and the cast makes the difference. The minor characters like Aunt May, Rio, and Jefferson Morales also feel authentic and alive.
Each character brings something to the table in this film while a handful drop in (literally) to the story, they're almost instantly engaging and interesting. I loved them all right off the bat and a big key to that, was how solid the writing and voice work was.
For instance, Aunt May plays a smaller role in the movie, but even so, she's one of the characters I loved the most and think back to often. For that matter, Peni Parker (the anime universe Spider) isn't given a lot of setup either, but I loved seeing her in action and felt for her during the final battle.
Coming in at just two hours, Into the Spider-Verse has a lot of characters and story to deal with. At no point, however, did it feel crowded or disjointed. It handled all of its elements masterfully, keeping the flow of the movie while still making sure the spotlight was exactly where it needed to be. More than just a fun story, Spider-Verse is a master class in handling multiple important characters for a single story.
Spider-Verse looks ridiculously good. I'm trying not to use too much hyperbole here, but it's insane how impressive the animation in the film is. It's almost like a comic book come to life, but even that seems like I'm underselling it. The film incorporates a bunch of different animation styles throughout the film, but manages to mesh them together seamlessly, giving it an altogether unique feel that's vivid and refreshing.
The attention to detail is evident in every scene. The colors are vibrant and help sell certain ideas/emotions in the film (particularly as Miles learns about his powers). The city is fully fleshed out and feels alive in a way that not every animated film can manage, and that we normally only associate with live-action films. The background characters are constantly doing something, "living" their own lives and interacting with the city in individual ways.
The animated nature of the film also allows the filmmakers the chance to craft some over-the-top action set pieces that would be nearly impossible to achieve in live-action. It allows for some of the most intense, and uniquely Spider-man, action ever put on the screen. It delivers a plethora of "holy crap" moments, while still taking time to highlight the smaller details. It's an impressive piece of work and the care the animators put into the project is evident in every single frame.
The overall story and character motivations help hammer home the core themes we've come to associate with Spider-Man about great power and responsibility. More than that, however, Spider-Verse also delves into the idea that ANYONE can make a difference if they believe they can. Sometimes saving the world comes down to being the last person standing, or being willing to stand up and say "no."
There's so much more going on in the film thematically, but I won't get into since some would involve spoilers. The point is, Spider-Verse isn't a simple animated superhero film. It doesn't have those big action scenes simply to look cool. Everything in this film has a purpose and goes towards moving the characters and central themes forward. It has a lot to say and manages to do so in a way that's clear without being preachy.