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A few years ago, Sony emails leaked to the public, revealing dozens upon dozens of internal communications regarding their films and franchises. One of the more glaring pieces of info from the communications was that Sony seemingly had no idea what to do with their Spider-Man franchise. They’d successfully run it into the ground with the tedious attempted universe-building of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and were looking to Marvel Studios for any help they could get.
Now, far removed from that debacle, Sony has given us a live-action Spider-Man integrated within the MCU, a Venom film that was so bad it was kind of amazing, and now Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as its crowning achievement for the year. Spider-Verse is, quite simply, one of the best films of the year and should be in the conversation for one of the best superhero movies of all time, animated or otherwise.
Spider-Verse introduces the audience to Miles Morales, a young boy of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage, and his newfound spider powers. It seems that the Kingpin is playing with dimension-breaking technology, accidentally merging realities and bringing no less than five other Spider-beings into Miles’ world. The heroes from alternate dimensions team up to take the Kingpin and his many cronies down to return home before all of the realities are forever ruined.
Being an animated film, the voice cast is simply outstanding in every way. Sure, certain performances are given more time to shine than others, but everyone is at top form. Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, and Hailee Steinfeld are all wonderful as the three leads, with John Mulaney, Nicholas Cage, and Kimiko Glenn serving as excellent supporting Spider-people from other realities. Liev Schreiber is a near-perfect Kingpin, and Katherine Hahn makes for a great gender-swapped Doctor Octopus. Supporting roles from Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Lily Tomlin, as well as many others are filled with not only the playful nature of the animated medium, but also have a surprising amount of depth and emotion when the scenes call for it. Despite its kaleidoscope of visual imagery, Spider-Verse doesn’t shy away from quieter, tender moments that are all the more rich because of the performances behind them.
The animation in Spider-verse is nothing short of breathtaking, using numerous techniques to bring to life a vibrant, energetic comic book feel that embraces the action of the franchise as well as the meta-humor from producer/writer Phil Lord and his producing partner Chris Miller. Retro dots fill the screen, onomatopoeias litter the proceedings as they would the pages of a comic book, and small, subtle adjustments, such as removing frames from character movements to make them appear more tangible, give an exciting life to the visual poetry on display.
By the end of the film, Spider-Verse is a brightly-colored symphony of orchestrated chaos, using the animated medium to pull off visuals that would be nearly impossible to do with live action without the aid of massive amounts of CG. The effects of realities invading one another is breathtaking, and the heroic moments of Miles learning to use his newfound powers are thrilling.
Technically, the film is on another level. The visuals are dynamic and borderline indescribable, you just have to see them for yourselves. The soundtrack, with an excellent score from Daniel Pemberton as well as a wonderfully diverse number of hip-hop songs, keeps the pulse racing through the scenes of action. The art direction, editing, and creativity that pieced everything together is nothing short of astounding.
But sights and sounds aren’t everything. A story has to have heart to connect with audiences, and Spider-Verse has boatloads of it. From a script written Phil Lord and co-director Rodney Rothman, and under the direction of Rothman, Peter Ramsey, and Bob Persichetti, there are so many delightful layers to each character that give them meaning and purpose. From Miles’ relationships with his policeman father and his Uncle Aaron, all the way to Kingpin’s motivations, there is no lack of depth to the characters on display.
Helpfully and hilariously, each Spider-Person gets a brief intro to their own origin story, using these to not only inform the audience of some of the more obscure characters (Oh, Hello, Spider-Pig!), but to also poke fun at the never ending cycle of origin stories that superhero films seem to force upon audiences. It uses our collective social knowledge of Spider-Man in general for not only wonderful sight gags and meta jokes, but also deeply profound, emotional story beats. Jokes are funnier, tragedies are deeper, all because Spider-Verse can aptly call on our existing relationships with these characters from previous cartoons, tv shows, comic books, and movies.
The film deals with the idea of finding your place in the world, and offers up a beautiful reminder long championed by Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, that anyone can put on the mask and be a hero. Miles’ journey from doubt and frustration to confidence may not be new, but it’s certainly dynamic and captivating all the same. Miles, an animated character, has deeper and more believable relationships with his friends and loved ones than most films could only hope to capture.
I came into Spider-Verse expecting quite a lot. The hyperbole was set very high, and I am more than happy to find that it met and exceeded every one of my expectations. Everything, from the characters to the action to the humor hits on all cylinders and proves that not only is there a Spider-Man (or Woman, or Pig, or whatever) out there for each of us, but that they can keep telling fresh, energetic stories of them for many many years to come.
The Final Pop
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a roller coaster thrill ride featuring kinetic, breathtaking action and animation. Its striking visuals are all the more enhanced by deeply realized characters, deep emotional stakes, and blistering humor that is sure to please all. Perfect Popcorn