What if I told you that an animated Spider-Man movie would be so stylish, so well done, so dense and so thoughtful that it would be one of the greatest animated movies of all time? Well, you better believe me because Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse exists and it totally whips.
This movie is a masterpiece overflowing with style and care. I don’t remember the last time a movie had so much style that I kept thinking about it. On a rewatch all I wanted to do was pause and take in every single scene and setting. Most movies have scenes or sequences to that affect, but another movie that is end to end as stylish as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse? Honestly don’t think it exists. This movie is excellent on so many levels it’s impossible to spill enough digital ink on it.
This may be my new favourite animated movie. It’s right there with The Lion King. It won a freaking Oscar. It captures all the best parts of an animated movie in a time where Big Hollywood seems to want to make everything that was animated into “Live Action” at the expense of imagination.
It’s a Spider-Man movie that doesn’t even follow Peter Parker. We’re following Miles Morales, the half African American and half Puerto Rican Spider-Man through his origin story. A super hero origin story in 2018. That isn’t rote.
Miles is an awesome character. They do a great job establishing him as his own hero. He isn’t just the new Spider-Man. He wears sneakers, a black suit, hoody, doesn’t tie his laces. He has confidence even as a kid. He’s into graffiti and is creative. He’s so much more than “Black Spider-Man”. He’s a real character.
And he’s still a high school kid. High school Spider-Man is so much fun. Spiderman should always start in high school. He can move on and grow, but you got to get to know Spider-Man when he’s a kid. Spider-Man learning to Spider-Man as a kid is integral to the character. He’s a young teenager going with the suffix “Man” when that is typically reserved for ambiguous 30-something’s like Iron Man, Batman, Superman, etc.
Miles’ personal style is woven into the storytelling and visuals. I don’t think this movie works with a Peter Parker at the center of it. It feels like the movie is entirely in Miles’ perspective and you see the world as he sees it.
Can’t overlook how refreshing it is for a super hero to have parents that are alive and supportive. It provides new avenues for the hero to work through the conflicts and motivations that give a unique take on being a vigilante. The story moves, twists, turns and satisfies in so many different ways with this flexibility.
We’re living in a Spider-Man exclusive New York. It is helpful to distinguish this world from the live action films (RIP now) where Spider-Man is hanging out in a New York where Doctor Strange, Iron Man, the Avengers and everyone else seems to room on the daily.
Getting the weird fringe Spider-Man’s into the movie is radical too. Peter, Gwen and Miles are pretty mainline at this point, but Noir, Ham and Peni are pretty obscure. It’s neat to see them get some time on screen instead of this being more of a Batman family style movie where you get Peter, Miles, and Gwen hanging out with like Kane Parker, Flash Thompson, etc. and whatever other dudes find themselves adjacent to mainline just Peter Parker.
The movie gets meta in a fun way. Sometimes it’s a gag that subverts your expectations. Other times it’s a small love letter to everything Spider-Man at some point: how many times Uncle Ben has needed to die, the spider bite that gets everyone, dancing emo Peter (which I defend) and a great post credit scene that memes out .
The visual style is the main attraction to this movie though. It does some weird 2 frame play, 1 frame hold, 1 frame skip type look to give it movement as if it’s a flip book or a motion comic but also keeps fluid animation. It takes a bit of time to get used to, but after a little your brain adapts and gets absorbed by it.
There is so much to look at. The base animation mixes with comic panels and hand drawn inserts for flashes. Thought boxes, onomatopoeia words coming and going, panelling in and out. Backgrounds are “drawn” but the characters look 3D. Elements of cell shading and Ben-Day dots/halftones mixing with CGI creates a sharp focus in part of the frame, while having the background look as if it’s a 3D film when you don’t have the glasses on.
Every frame is packed in detail without being distracting. The colour work is phenomenal. So much pop but also keeps the scenes distinct. There’s impressive use of long takes, which is typically unimpressive in an animated movie. There is so much “Show, Don’t Tell” storytelling going on. The directors, animators and cinematographer really outdid themselves.
The score is rad and the mix of hip hop totally fits the style and tone of the film. The music melts right into what you’re looking in every frame and raises the visuals. The voice cast whips and is only outdone by the art style of each character. Nic Cage, Mahershala Ali and Chris Pine in the same movie? And they’re all varying levels of secondary supporting characters? Damn man.
Shameik Moore never falters as Miles. Jake Johnson is perfect as Peter. Hailee Steinfeld couldn’t capture Gwen better. Brain Tyree Henry nails being a father in the soft moments and the harder ones.
An issue you could have in a movie like this is “how do you differentiate what are basically six spider people?” Just have every single one of them radiate their entirely own style. Miles has his modern hip hop fusion from the suit and his movements. He has his own set of distinct abilities on top of the base Spider-Man ones. Peter A Parker as the ideal and Peter B as the “I’ve been at this for so long” shlub version. Gwen’s mix of punk rock while moving gracefully like a ballerina. Noir being… well very noir with the suit and classic “Put up your dukes” fighting. Ham is full on Looney Tunes and Peni gets the anime treatment complete with posing, mannerisms and a 2D style.
This carries through the villains too: from the behemoth that is Kingpin to the fluidity of Doc Ock to the precision of everything Prowler does. The freedom of imagination and creativity is on full display and while you might not pick up on everything, your brain is noticing and picking up every bit of subtlety. Every character has a distinct silhouette so despite the richness on screen you can still pick up everything going on. The action isn’t a mess.
I can go forever. The movie is so damn good. There are more layers to this film than an onion. I also have the same pair of Nike’s that Miles wears.
If you’re already seen the movie and want to just get more about how great it is then make sure you watch this video. You won’t spend 15 minutes better today.