Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Premise: An animated film. Bronx high school student Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) is bitten by a spider and gains superpowers. At the same time, other versions of Spider-Man appear in the city because of a scientific experiment that threatens to destroy New York City.
What Works: With the possible exception of Batman, no superhero character has been retread by Hollywood as much as Spider-Man. Within two decades, Spider-Man has featured in no less than three live action film franchises and unlike Batman, whose films have some pretty radical departures in style, the Spider-Man films are all more or less the same. It’s in that regard that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is so extraordinary. This film looks unlike any other Spider-Man film or any other superhero or animated feature from a Hollywood studio for that matter. Into the Spider-Verse puts the “comic book” back in the comic book movie with panels and speech bubbles and other elements of comics. The animation is digital but it combines the 2D look of a comic book with the dimension and tactility of stop-motion, giving Into the Spider-Verse a truly unique look. The story includes several other heroes from the various Spider-Man universes and spinoffs including Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey, Penni Parker, Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Ham (voices of Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, and John Mulaney). Each character comes from a source that has a distinct style—Penni Parker is anime and Spider-Ham is a cartoon—and the characters retain their original look. The filmmakers incorporate all these characters and styles into the story in a way that is surprisingly unified. The other great strengths of Into the Spider-Verse are its characterization and humor. Despite its wacky conceit and unusual visual style, this Spider-Man is perhaps the most emotionally resonant of any of the character’s cinematic adventures. Miles Morales has a complex relationship with his father and uncle and the other heroes bring their own emotional baggage. Even Kingpin (voice of Liev Schreiber) has some complexity that makes him more than just a straightforward villain. Into the Spider-Verse is also quite funny and the humor and the action lean on one another to make for a very enjoyable adventure.
What Doesn’t: The overall story of Into the Spider-Verse is actually quite familiar. A villain has created a doomsday device that threatens to rip apart the space-time continuum and it is up to the heroes to destroy the machine before it’s too late. That’s not altogether different from a lot of other superhero movies and it’s the exact scenario of several Spider-Man features. The style with which the movie is made and its humor and characterization distinguish this film but the story is fundamentally something we’ve seen before. The climax of Into the Spider-Verse takes place in a universe-bending storm and the visuals become abstract. Although it looks great, the action can be difficult to follow because there’s no stable background against which the fights take place.
Bottom Line: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a fresh take on a familiar superhero. The story many not be so innovative but the visual style and the characterization and the fun of it make Into the Spider-Verse one of the best superhero films of recent years.
Episode: #732 (January 6, 2019)