Alright. Let’s take it from the top.
Spider-Man is a comic book character created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko back in the 1960’s, appearing in Amazing Fantasy #15. He later went on to become one of the flagship characters of comic company Marvel, headlining multiple comic series, toy lines, television series, foodstuffs (including an infamously crummy popsicle) and various other marketing ventures.
Then, in 2002, Sony made headlines by creating a big-budget blockbuster based on the character, which was massively successful. They did it again, and it was another massive hit. Then, they made him dance, and it killed the franchise. They tried it again in 2011, and it worked. Then, they made him fight a Tesla ball played by Jamie Foxx. It did not go well.
By this point, you’ve probably realized that I’ve not mentioned at all what Spider-Man does, what his powers are, why he does what he does, and even who the heck he is to begin with. That’s because you all know who Spider-Man is. Everybody does. Kid gets bitten by a spider, gets super-powers, Uncle Ben bites it, “With great power”… to explain it would be a redundant endeavor.
But, what if I told you that there was a Spider-Man story that could make that idea, simple and ingrained in our public consciousness as it is, into something mind-blowingly profound?
The only answer to that question, friends, is to journey into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man Too: 2 Many Spider-Men
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (released December 14th and directed by Peter Ramsey, Rob Persichetti Jr., and Rodney Rothman) follows the journey of mild-mannered teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), as he initially struggles with his artistic aspirations and his stern father’s (Brian Tyree Davis) expectations as Miles manages to land a place in a top-tier preparatory school. However, it isn’t long until a twist of fate leads Miles to develop strange powers overnight, and he is forced to team up with a small fleet of Spider-People (and a pig voiced by John Mullaney) from across the multiverse to stop the scheming Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and claim his stake as the Spider-Man his world doesn’t just deserve, but needs.
To put it bluntly, it is somewhat hard to describe this film’s plot both without either sounding plainly incoherent or giving away massive spoilers. It is another superhero origin story, and with that comes the trappings of such. However, the spices that this film puts into that story not only breathe new life into this tried and true formula, but revolutionize it. Spider-Verse is actively aware of how overdone its’ base narrative is, to the point of making it a key factor of the plot. Miles is a legitimately endearing protagonist, and his journey toward accepting his newfound role in life as a hero and a person feels realistic and, most importantly, earned. The rest of the cast more than earns their keep as well, with Jake Johnson as a “janky, broke” version of Peter Parker who becomes a foil for Miles early on. Also present is arguably one of the greatest Nicholas Cage roles put to screen.
The only real flaw I have with the film’s story (outside of one or two nitpicky missed opportunities) is that we don’t really get enough time with the ancillary cast to really pay off in the finale. That isn’t to say that we don’t get any time with some of these other characters (especially the extended Spider-cast), but the characters on display are so strong that you’re left wanting more. However, even with these shortcomings, what you get is one of the strongest and most inspirational superhero narratives put to screen this year. It’s utterly astounding.
A helluva light show
…This film is a living comic book.
There is no better way to describe the visual aesthetic of this film than just saying that. Characters are animated with less fluidity and no motion blur, textured with Ben-Day dots and smudges in the linework. The backgrounds distort in shades of red and blue as they go further back, making anything out of focus look almost like an out-of-sync 3D movie. Text boxes for inner monologue, onomatopoeia and motion lines- the film opens with a Comics Code Authority logo for cripes’ sake! Despite what this may sound from description, these details (compounded by a surprisingly versatile animation style) lead to one of the most unique and beautiful animated films I have seen in my entire life. Be it emotional moments (or some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen all year), this style is consistent throughout the entire film, and gives the overall piece a cohesive identity that cannot be mistaken.
Most major animated films released nowadays have taken an extreme emphasis on “realism” in how everything looks and moves (most of the modern Disney-Pixar catalogue is admittedly guilty of this), however Spider-Verse completely rejects this line of thinking in favor of pushing everything in its’ toolbox to its’ breaking point. Models frequently distort and “glitch,” foreshadowing one of the most psychedelic climaxes I have ever seen. It needs to be seen to be believed.
Can he say that? Like, legally?
To say anything more of this film would be to rob the sheer surprise and spectacle that awaits around every corner of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The story is spectacular, putting a fresh face (literally!) on both the superhero origin story and on the concept of Spider-Man itself. The animation is amazing, forgoing any sense of realism to bask in a technicolor comic book landscape that perhaps feels more real than most of the cape films released to date. The cast gives our heroes a friendly, neighborhood quality to them that you can easily latch onto and, ultimately, care for until the end credits roll.
The fact of the matter is that Into the Spider-Verse is one of the greatest animated (let alone Spider-Man) films ever made. Go see it. There are many films coming out this Christmas that say they are events, but this IS one.
Featured Image: IMDb
Graphic: Evan Williamson
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