It’s a good year to like Spider-Man… in some respects. Fans of Tom Holland’s portrayal will definitely call it a bad year, considering what happened to him in Infinity War (I’m still crying about it), and Venom was a strange blip, but, beyond that, it’s a good year. Sony just released a critically-acclaimed Spider-Man game for the Playstation 4, which fans love, and this month, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is gracing us with its presence. Since Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, and animation is my favorite medium of entertainment, this film captured my attention ever since the first teaser dropped last year. It’s safe to say I had a hard time keeping my expectations in check, but after walking out of the theater, they were somehow fulfilled. In fact, they were surpassed. I can say, without any reservations, that this film is excellent, especially for those who love Spider-Man, because it both pokes fun at the character and reaffirms why so many people love him, or, as is proven in this film, her, in some cases.
Unlike previous iterations, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s plot focuses on how different versions of the web-slinger come together to save the day, instead of just plain old Peter Parker. The original is definitely in the film, but Spider-Verse really marks the big-screen debut for Penni Parker, Spider Ham, Spider Noir, Spider Woman (or, as she’s most recently been renamed, Ghost Spider, or Spider-Gwen), and, most importantly, Miles Morales, the protagonist. Despite all the fun new faces, Into The Spider-Verse is really Miles’ origin story, and the film portrays this by delving into what’s familiar and important about the character, but in new, clever, and sometimes heartbreaking ways. This results in an experience that’s familiar at first glance, but is unlike any other Spider-Man film ever put to screen, a perfect combination of beautiful animation and impactful storytelling.
The first thing that immediately stands out is the unique animation style, and I mean “unique” in a very literal sense. Into the Spider-Verse is, quite frankly, an innovative marvel of the medium, with explosive colors, fantastic shot composition, fast action and comedy, and a comic book aesthetic that adheres so closely to the conventions of comics it actually looks like a bunch of pictures have sprung to life. Every single frame of the movie could easily be used as someone’s desktop wallpaper, or could be mistaken for a piece of artwork. The character animation is also phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such dexterous and emotive facial expressions in a 3D CGI animated film before, or a flexibility in style. I have to shower particular praise on how the film animated Penni Parker and Spider-Ham. These characters come from comics that mimic 2D animation styles, and you can tell, because they both look flatter than the characters that are more fully integrated into the 3D style. However, they still appear to fit into their environments, which I simply cannot believe they were able to pull off.
Another aspect of the presentation that is less conventional than most is the abundance of onomatopoeia and text boxes. These are used either to help the film transition between scenes, to emphasize internal monologues, or for comedic purposes. It works to help give the film much more of a comic book feel, and definitely contributed to some of the best comedic moments. I think my favorite example is when Miles tosses a bagel at a bad guy - the bagel hits the bad guy on the head, and the film emphasizes this by displaying the word “bagel” at the instant the thing collides with its target. The word itself is so tiny that it could almost be missed by the undiscerning eye, but it’s there for those who are really paying attention, as you should, considering how packed and detail-oriented the film’s writing is.
Into the Spider-Verse contains a story that throws a lot at you, introducing several important characters at once sometimes, but what amazes me is that it never felt too rushed or confusing. Since most of the primary characters have the same backstory - getting bitten by a radioactive spider, and then becoming crime fighters once they lose someone they love - it’s actually quite easy to follow. The film even makes fun of how all the Spider-People’s backstories are so similar, acting as a cool running joke throughout the runtime. I will say, it does perhaps rely on the premise that you’re familiar with the finer details of Spider-Man’s origin story, and all the pop culture iconography that comes with it. So, if you aren’t, and are interested in watching this film… firstly, I kinda want to know what rock you’ve been living under, but really, and more seriously, please do some reading. I think it’s worth it.
Another thing to look out for is the pacing, which, for the most part, is quite good. It’s certainly brisk, but it does leave room for heavier, quieter moments between all the impressive action scenes and comedic moments. There’s never a moment that drags for too long, and the finale doesn’t overstay its welcome either, like many other animated films. However, I do think the film speeds through plot points a bit too fast sometimes, and there’s one transition that’s too abrupt. There’s also a character death I think could’ve been handled much better, given its importance to the plot and Miles’ character development. I understand that this film is aimed at children, so the story can’t get too depressing (and the film already contains a lot of depressing moments as is, more than your average animated family film), but I think the overall product would’ve been stronger if the film had tapped into that emotion a little bit more. This is Spider-Man, after all - the character becomes a hero because he’s all too familiar with tragedy, and wants to prevent others from experiencing similar pain. Though, again, I do understand why the film wanted to remain on the lighter side, so it’s not a huge issue.
Also, even with that tendency, all the other heavier moments of the film hit really hard, because of how likable and relatable the characters are, particularly Miles. You can really relate to how increasingly overwhelmed and out-of-his-element he is as the movie progresses, despite all his efforts. You can tell he really wants to be Spider-Man, but, at the same time, he’s just an ordinary kid, and you can’t just toss an ordinary kid into life-threatening, world-ending stakes without stressing the poor guy out beyond belief. However, this disparity between expectations and reality is actually quite endearing, and Miles is just so likable that it’s hard not to cheer for him. He really holds this movie together, in the end. For all the likable characters, fun action, hilarious comedy, gorgeous visuals, and catchy music the film throws at you, it all really just goes to support one character’s personal character arc. It all boils down to Miles learning he has the capability to live up to Spider-Man’s legacy, despite all the pain life has in store for him.
Through this, the film really captures the idea that anyone can don the mask, however ordinary you are - you just have to be willing to take the leap of faith required to do what you want. And, well, that’s the main idea behind Spider-Man, and what drew me to him in the first place. Watching this film reminded me of the first time I watched Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, when I was in middle school. I really loved the idea that this ordinary, nerdy guy could be a hero, just like Batman or Superman. This film captured that perfectly, perhaps better than Raimi did, and it’s ultimately why I think Into the Spider-Verse is worth watching. Buy a ticket to admire the innovative animation, and stay for that, and everything else that makes this film great.