One of the first images on the screen at the start of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an “Approved By The Comics Code Authority” stamp, trailing right behind a glitched out slideshow of different studio logos. It’s a nod that comics history buffs will no doubt appreciate, both as a fun Easter egg, and as a perfect tone setting introduction. This is a comic book movie–not a movie based on characters from comic books. It is literally a comic book turned into a movie, and every single piece, from the character designs to the animation itself, has been designed from the ground up to make that possible. The result is visually stunning and completely unique.
Into the Spider-Verse is the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a slightly put-upon but otherwise unassuming teenager in Brooklyn who is struggling under the weight of his parents’ lofty expectations. However, during a slightly less-than-legal graffiti excursion with his slightly less-than-reputable Uncle Aaron, Miles’ life is turned upside down when he’s bitten by a dimension-hopping radioactive spider. Dimension-hopping becomes a recurring theme–it’s the basis for the titular “Spider-Verse,” an inadvertent convergence of Spider-people from different universes, brought about by a villain’s scheme. It’s all pretty sci-fi, but never too sci-fi, even for those who are less well versed in comic book science than others–especially not in the same year as Thanos’s snap or Ant-Man’s exploration of the Quantum Realm.
In fact, Into The Spider-Verse’s self awareness of just how over-the-top its own science is makes for some of the most clever gags in the movie. It’s brilliantly playful in introducing a supporting cast of various alternate reality Spider-people to the mix, like Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir, a nazi-punching 1930s detective who is animated in perpetual black and white; John Mulaney’s Spider-Ham, an anthropomorphic pig animated like a Loony Toon; or Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy–A.K.A. Spider-Woman–who carves her own path of cool through this film. At one point, Miles points out that Noir’s constant rain-slicked, windblown look makes no sense–they’re inside–but Noir shrugs and says that “wherever I go, the wind follows.” And that’s the end of that, even if Miles is practically left looking directly into the camera and contemplating how his life has gone so far off the rails.
The entire movie oozes this same sort of style. It’s an explosion of color–part motion comic, part music video, part traditional animation–with a driving, almost frantic energy that carries every scene. There are montages that pluck real life comic covers off the shelves, word balloons splashed on screen to represent internal monologues, benday dots smearing over shadows to convey depth–really, you name it. There seems to have been no limit to the aesthetic experimentation allowed here, and the end result is an animation style that feels completely and totally new. It may take some getting used to for the purists out there, but by the second act even the weirdest visual quirks manage to level themselves out and become totally endearing.
Somehow even more endearing is the relationship between Miles and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson)–not the Peter of Miles’ Earth, but one from an alternate dimension who is a little past his prime. Peter becomes Miles’ unwilling mentor, which builds into as many laugh-out-loud gags as it does genuinely touching moments. Sure, this Pete may be a decade or so away from the youthful exuberance of someone like, say, Tom Holland, but that doesn’t make him any less familiar–in fact, it really only makes him even more relatable for the twenty and thirty something crowd.
That relatability is really Into The Spider-Verse’s core, when you get down to it. The premise may be bundled in a sci-fi camp wrapping and served up as a desperately stylish, rapid fire visual extravaganza, but its heart is pretty simple. Anyone, anywhere, has the power to be as heroic and as special as Spider-Man. It doesn’t matter if you’re an angst ridden teen struggling through high school, a middle aged divorcee down on their luck, or a cartoon pig with no concern for the laws of physics–the ability to do good, the ability to make the world a better place, is universal. It’s multiversal, even. It’s a constant.
It may seem a bit saccharine, typed out in so many words, but it’s a message that superhero comics–that Spider-Man comics specifically–have been touting for ages, and something that’s been long overdue for a big screen debut. It probably wouldn’t work if Into The Spider-Verse weren’t just so funny, self aware, and bleeding-edge modern–but it is, and it does. It manages to blow right past the dangers of sinking into after school special territory by believing wholeheartedly in its own message and delivering it with appropriately genuine stakes. The end result is an instant animated classic, and, with any luck, the first of many of its kind.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Incredible, unique animation and style|
|Johnson and Moore’s hilarious chemistry|
|A great message|
|Almost too many easter eggs for comics fans to count|
|Interesting, new spins on classic characters|