Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a towering achievement that represents a watershed moment in animated storytelling
by Patrick Greene
We all see movies for different reasons. Some of us want to escape. Some of us want to learn. Some of us want to laugh, to cry, to question. To feel part of a shared moment. To feel more alive. To feel like kids again.
Every once in a while, a film comes along that manages to do all of those things. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those films. But what's perhaps most remarkable about Spider-Verse is that it accomplishes all of this while being insanely audacious.
Nothing about Spider-Verse is typical. The animation style—full of contrasting screentones, textures, expressionistic colors, and dimensionality—is overwhelming to behold. Inspired by the comic work of Sara Pichelli, the artist who (along with legendary writer Brian Michael Bendis) created Miles Morales (Spider-Verse's protagonist) back in 2011, the visual language of this film is unlike anything else I've ever seen on a movie screen. I've heard it described as "a comic book come to life," but it's really so much more than that. It's like the constituent components of a comic book's art—the linework, the CMYK printing, the digital textures, etc.—are constantly dancing with each other. It's like the essence of a comic is coming to life on screen. It's just absurdly cool.
The story, too, is anything but expected. In the comics, Miles Morales exists in the Ultimate universe—a parallel but distinct dimension from the mainstream Marvel comics. His story begins with the death of Peter Parker in the Ultimate continuity; from there, his journey unfolds in a distinct but familiar fashion. He's bitten by a radioactive spider. He loses a loved one. He's a nerdy outsider, but he has heart and he's brave and he always gets up.
But Morales has become a beloved character in Spidey fandom because his story brings so much newness to the mythos while feeling completely of a part with it. He's Afro-Latino. His dad's a police officer and his mom is a hospital administrator. He listens to hip hop and loves graffiti art. He doesn't tie his shoes. His powers are similar to Peter's, but with some twists (used to great effect in Spider-Verse).
So in making Spider-Verse, Sony could've easily chosen to create a safer movie by setting this in a parallel continuity and just sort of ignoring the Peter Parker storyline altogether. But instead, they decided to embrace the strangeness of these parallel comic universes completely and wholeheartedly, and that's how we end up with a film where five or six universes collide and coexist.
And that collision is wonderfully liberating, because the filmmakers are able to tell a story unencumbered by audience expectation.
I first became aware of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller when I saw 21 Jump Street back in 2012 and laughed so hard I nearly passed out in the theater. Then again, in 2014, The Lego Movie had me completely in stitches—but also walking away feeling like I'd witnessed a genuinely deep artistic statement. In Into the Spider-Verse, we see the real fruits of what this pair can do with a story. It is so funny, so quick, and so full of life that you almost don't realize how profound it is until it's over and you lay in bed thinking about it. The screenplay, by Lord and Rodney Rothman (the latter served as co-director, alongside Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti), is just a complete triumph. Even though the realities of creating a film with a realistic duration (and budget) means that some of the multiverse characters are relegated to glorified cameos, they all have moments to shine. You won't forget them.
And the score. Oh, the score!! Experience it in a theater with the absolute best sound system you can find. It weaves seamlessly between heart-thumping hip hop beats and orchestral grandeur. A lot of films that try to integrate hip hop sound like manufactured garbage. Spider-Verse—somehow even more than Black Panther—is a completely wholistic musical experience. You're able to appreciate where these genres merge and diverge. You get to hear real hip hop and real orchestral soundtrack music (by the gifted Daniel Pemberton) and both feel completely honest and ravishing.
The fact that I have to wait another two weeks until this officially releases to see it again is killing me. It's already one of my favorites.
It might be the best superhero movie I've ever seen.