Since 2012, the world’s seen two reboots of the cinematic Spider-Man hit theaters, each with their own triumphs and failures. When it was announced that a new film – albeit an animated one – would introduce another Spider-Man into the fold, there was a question of “do we need another Spider-Man origin story?”. The answer: a resounding YES. For the first time in cinema history, a film brilliantly, dare I say spectacularly, captures the spirit of the medium from which these characters emerge. Not only that, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a truly touching story which uses the vast Spider-Man history to weave an origin story unlike any other, one which acknowledges, even comments, on its own triumphs and failures, while setting the stage for something completely new. Audiences aren’t ready for this, but man are they going to be grateful for it.
Reluctantly brilliant Miles Morales (who first appearance in 2011’s Ultimate Fallout #4 and is voiced here by Shameik Moore of Dope) hates the idea of leaving Brooklyn, where he lives with his parents Jefferson (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio (voiced by Luna Lauren Velez), in order to attend charter school Visions Academy, not just because it takes him away from his friends, but because it gives him less time to focus on his art. After a particularly rough day, Miles sneaks away to visit his uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali), who takes him to a special spot where he can create without disturbance. While he and Aaron are having fun, a strange spider appears, climbs onto Miles and bites. Not thinking anything of it, Miles heads back to school, but starts to freak out when he develops powers just like Spider-Man. Returning the spot where the spider appeared, Miles discovers nearby an experiment mid-process in which Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. The Kingpin (voiced by Live Schreiber), activates a hadron collider to break through to other dimensions. When the process gets interrupted, however, neither Fisk nor Miles are prepared for the multitudes that await them.
The first thing audiences are going to notice is the style. Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman don’t just lift the pages and animate them, they make them come alive. Using a variety of styles, Miles’s New York pulses with color and activity, even in still shots, even while retaining the Ben-Day dots look of the printed page inside of the cell shading. This isn’t just style over substance as Miles himself is an artist and – though what we see is mostly graffiti tagging – this is his world, so it makes sense for the world to reflect his vision. For example, when we first meet Miles, he’s listening to “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee, tapping his marker on his neck. In this sequence, each time Miles hits his neck with the marker, small lines signaling strikes appear. Is this a necessary visual cue of action? No. However, it’s a tiny element that gives the audience an inkling of how tied this story is to the comics, as well as how the world interacts with Miles, and vice versa. What may at first seem like visual affectation, however, is revealed as a dynamic foundation once the dimensional barrier is broken and things start getting weird, cementing how the rules of this reality can be bent without breaking.
If the visual style doesn’t grab you, the level of detail within Into the Spider-verse certainly will. We’re not talking about the inclusion of dialogue boxes, the way the different styles of the Spider-people impact Miles’s world, or even the expected Stan Lee cameo (which may be his best one yet), you know, all the things that audiences expect from an animated version of a Marvel Comic. What we’re talking about is how scribes Phil Lord and Rothman craft a narrative which taps directly into deep Spider lore in continually subtle and surprising ways, even as it checks boxes expected from a Spider-Man origin story. Opening up with one of several “origin stories” within the film, Into the Spider-Verse explains who Miles’s Peter Parker is in a quick version of his entire career, including the cartoons, live-action films, comics, and even the horribly deformed ice cream popsicle. This not only fast tracks the set-up, but establishes what Miles knows about Spider-Man without wasting narrative space on exposition. Instead, it’s fun, flashy, and in-spirit with the frequently sarcastically humorous hero. Placing cell-upon-cell, the visuals scream “comic book,” but the content within the cells capture memorable scenes which the majority of audiences will recognize from the countless variations of Spider-Man history they’ve seen before. It creates an immediate bond between the audience and Spider-Man even before we meet Miles. But Miles is the focus here, not Peter, which means a shift must occur in order for Miles to become Spider-Man.
For anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s story, the spider bite gives him power, but it’s the lesson his late Uncle Ben taught him which makes him a hero: with great power comes great responsibility. It’s a tale of a hero rising out of tragedy and trauma to help others. In this regard, Miles’s story doesn’t break from convention, but where Peter had to figure things out on his own, Miles is given mentors in the form of Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson); Gwen Stacy, a.k.a. Spider-Woman, a.k.a. Spider-Gwen (voiced by Hailee Steinfield); Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Green); Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage); and Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney). Each of these Spider-people possess a shared trauma, so instead of the usual battle of supremacy that takes place when heroes first met, it’s a peaceful and, frankly, hilarious meeting of the multi-verses. Thematically, it also helps to demonstrate that the mantle of Spider-Man is more than Peter Parker, he’s those willing to take great strides to better the lives of their fellows. This is all elevated by phenomenal vocal performances from the cast which, of course, stretches to include the bad guys. Discussing the bad guys any further would get into spoiler territory and it’s best to find out those goods for yourself. On a lighter side, it should also go without saying that Into the Spider-Verse has got Easter Eggs for days. Frankly, it’s a treasure trove for new and longtime fans alike which will require audiences to look fast to catch them or utilize a steady finger on the pause button when this hits home release.
Considering this reviewer is old enough to have seen re-runs broadcast of both the original 1967 animated series as well as the live-action television series, to say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man non-comic book creation is not hyperbole. Into the Spider-Verse captures the essence of the comics and recreates it in a way that’s both familiar, yet fresh. Much in the same way Spider-Man: Homecoming felt authentic to Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter, punk rock rebellion and all, Into the Spider-Verse reflects all that is Miles in his wondrous complexity. Largely due to the incredible attention to detail, there’s not an inch of wasted frame, as everything feels ripped straight from the pages. But this is no motion comic, true believers, this is the real deal which not only lives up to the hype you’ve heard, but surpasses it. This is not only a nostalgic trip down memory lane for old fans of the ole’ web-head, but a dazzling, beautiful, touching, and, most importantly, incredible adventure which sets the stage for a new hero to take on the Spider-Man cinematic mantle.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to contact my local comics dealer and start a pull list.
In theaters nationwide on December 14th, 2018.
Final Score: 5 out of 5.