Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - Spoiler-free review
When I first heard Sony was making an animated Spider-Man film, my first thought was, "Ugh. Really? Have they learned nothing from their past failures with Spider-Man? Why can't they just leave creative control of the character to Marvel, and take whatever money Marvel gives them?"
Then, when I heard it would feature the Miles Morales version of the character (from the Ultimate Universe), I was even less interested. Even though I knew people really liked that character, I had stopped reading comics some 20 years before the character was created, so I had no connection to him. Peter Parker, as far as I was concerned, was Spider-Man.
Then, after the second or so trailer, I thought, "This has a pretty cool look to it." Better than the typical animated comic book fare. Early positive reviews, and the fact that one of the co-directors is an alumnus from where I work, sold me on the idea of seeing it. So while I was on vacation over our winter break, I did.
Now, I almost saw it in 3D. But 99% of the time, 3D is less-than-impressive to me. So since there were more 2D showings nearby, we saw it in 2D. In hindsight, maybe I should've seen it in 3D. But either way, I'm glad I saw it. Because Sony Pictures Animation (not to be confused with their live-action arm who made their other Spider-Man films), absolutely knocked it out-of-the-park.
Into the Spider-Verse is a lot of fun. It also has totally unique, and at times breathtaking animation. It's visual style is incredible. It probably looks great in 3D. It's probably one of the few films that really could.
The animation is difficult to describe - it's mostly CG animation, but with some traditional animation, and unique texture mapping that gives it a very distinct, illustrative look. This doesn't look like your typical rubbery/plasticky CG animation. This embraces its medium of origin: comic books. Not just embraces, but relishes, basks in, and fully celebrates comic books, using textures reminiscent of Ben Day dots, but in a way that works in CG, rather than on a flat, printed page. Besides the visual look, the animation itself is stunning. There's probably some performance capture mixed in there, but everything is so nicely stylized it never intrudes. There's also just some straight-up cartoony animation as well, and somehow, everything merges together into a cohesive whole. It's unlike any other animated film (or film, for that matter) that I've seen.
Visuals are all well and good, but what makes this movie work, or outright shine, are the characters. Marvel made its name because when Stan Lee created characters, he brought to life characters that were interesting as people. Not just as superheroes. The people behind the masks made the characters compelling and relatable, and that's what Sony Pictures Animation has captured here so well. The film centers around Miles Morales and his origin as (one) Spider-Man, and if this is how his character is in the comic books, then I can see why people like him so much. He's his own Spider-Man, with his own family, backstory, issues, and apart from a similar set of powers, isn't derivative of Peter Parker's Spider-Man. They're as different as two characters, or two people, can be. Bound by a common accident, but otherwise completely different.
The basic story of Into the Spider-Verse centers around Miles, and other Spider-characters (including Peter Parker's Spider-Man) who are brought together to fight a common foe (of course). Without going into detail, suffice it to say they're all very different characters than the Spider-Man you're used to. Some are more serious, some are played more for laughs, but each are entertaining and engaging in their own way. Stylistically, they're all very different too, as if the movie knows they were all pulled out of different genres of comic books, and is perfectly okay with that. The animation styles for each matches who they are. Given how different they are, it probably shouldn't work. In a live-action film it would be a hard sell. But in an animated film, you can get away with it. Everything is blended perfectly. Cartoons are a wonderful thing.
There's great action, great humor, and genuine heartfelt moments. Some of the Spider-characters have less to do than others, but that's okay. The filmmakers knew who to focus on, and when. There's nothing wrong with having some comedy relief, and it's far better when a film like this uses it appropriately - as a break in the action, to lighten a moment, or just for sheer entertainment value - rather than overdoing it and detracting from a main character. Or worse still, using a sidekick as a crutch when the main characters are weak (I'm looking at you - Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Bug's Life, and more other animated films than I can count).
The voice casting and acting throughout is excellent. There's not a weak link in the bunch (and Nicolas Cage was a particularly inspired choice). And the post-credits scene is my favorite so far of any movie. Period. Top that, Avengers: Endgame.
I don't want to go into any more detail about the movie, other than to say go see it. Set your expectations aside, and just go. It's fun. The animation is a rare, unique treat. The characters are compelling. I'd recommend seeing it in a theater, for the sheer visual experience of it. Maybe even in 3D - and I rarely recommend that.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands on its own, apart from any other superhero film, animated or otherwise. If you love comic books, see it. If you love animation, see it. If you just want to kill a couple of hours with a bucket of popcorn, see it.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gets a 10/10.
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