In any other year, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would be not just the best animated film of the year, but also the best comic book film.
From a pure comic book sense, Into the Spider-Verse stands as the most spectacular and amazing big screen take on Spider-Man yet.
Spider-Man (Chris Pine) has done whatever a spider can for so many years he’s hailed as a respected hero and celebrity. Little does he know high school student Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, Dope) has also encountered a radioactive spider that grants him fantastic powers.
Taking inspiration from Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles is forced to take up the mantle of a hero long before he’s ready. Good thing he’s not alone as a freak accident has brought other spider-powered heroes from various universes.
Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) is a Spider-Man in his 40s who reluctantly takes Miles under his wing. Peter fought the good fight, but sacrificed a lot along the way. In Miles, Peter finds a new reason to be inspired and take a mighty leap of faith.
In her reality it was Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) who got the powers of a spider, not her best friend Peter Parker. Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage, Mandy) hails from the 1930s where he battled criminals in a black and white world. Penni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) hails from the future and fights crime in her spider-theme mecha while Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) exists in a cartoon reality.
This is a job too big for any one Spider-Man to handle and it’s going to take all of them to return to to their proper universes. But to do that, they’ll have to take down Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and his allies Tombstone (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III, Black Lightning), the doctor (Kathryn Hahn), Scorpion (Joaquin Cosio) and The Prowler.
Kingpin’s plan is a little vague, but honestly Spider-Verse didn’t need a scene-stealing or showy villain. On that front, The Prowler proves far more effective and menacing.
Screenwriters Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman happily throw in as much comic goodness as possible from caption blocks, sound effects and Easter Eggs. The script is hilarious and retains that sense of fun throughout the film’s nearly two hour run time.
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Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rothman do an amazing job of capturing the feel of a Spider-Man comic book brought to the big screen from the fluid movement of web slinging, Spider-Man’s dynamic physical movements, the use of actual comic book panels, vibrant shifts in colors and an overall lively and energetic flow.
This was a very ambitious effort and the aesthetics really offered a true comic book vibe. Miles’ universe features an intricate dot matrix visual like the old comic book printing technique. Taking that concept further, each of the various Spider-Men/Women have their own unique animation style. It’s such a clever idea that really plays up the idea of different spins on Spider-Man.
Even in a year with Black Panther it still feels like a revelation to have a comic book film starring an Afro-Latino who celebrates his heritage. It was also nice to see Miles have a complete family unit with his police officer father, Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry, Widows); nurse mother, Rio (Luna Lauren Velez) and uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali, Green Book).
The film also featured a great soundtrack that felt contemporary and less nostalgic. It’s kinda cool watching a comic book movie with Notorious B.I.G., Swaelee, Nicki Minaj, Vince Staples, Juice Wrld and Ski Mask playing in the background.
Emotions might be high considering the timing, but Spider-Verse might feature the best Stan Lee cameo. It’s fitting and highly appropriate that this was Lee’s first cameo since his death last month.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse not just unapologetically embraces its comic book roots, but enthusiastically celebrates its source material. That carries over to the post credit scene, which definitely has to be in the running for best post credit scene in a comic book film.
You’re not going to find a better comic book movie that’s this consistently fun and lighthearted than Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. With its understated message that anyone can be a hero it’s exactly the kind of feel-good film needed to close out 2018.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Sony Animation