Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is the epidemy of every troubled kid growing up. There’s a lot on his plate from new school syndrome to juggling his overbearing dad (Brian Tyree Henry) and idolized uncle (Mahershala Ali). One spider-bite later and he’s reliving the classic moments from the Amazing Fantasy 15 panel by panel: dodging cars, climbing walls, and crumpling pipes. If only he didn’t stumble upon a super-collider experiment funded by the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). After which, multiple Spider-people from other dimensions converse on New York: the pizza paunched Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), the living breathing Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), the colorblind Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the tech savvy anime student Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and the hot-dog craving swine that is Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
As of late, I’ve considered Marvel’s Spider-man on the Playstation 4 to be the definitive Spidey media after Sony abused the reboot button for too long. Every time a creative team works their magic on the character, they eventually fall prey to studio meddling in both live-action and their scrutinized animation department. Living proof is Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2and the polarizing Venom. But this managed to get nominated for best animated feature at the golden globes pre-release and for good reason. As I write this, I can’t say anything new that City of Geek hasn’t already pointed out. The animation IS straight out of a comic book and not some generic pseudo realistic computer animation holding a captive monopoly on the industry. Angular buildings that illuminate at night as if New York was the state equivalent of a Christmas tree. Character designs that range from realistic to exaggerated. And every frame rewriting the rules on going beyond the 3D comfort zone even when dipping into the single digits. When dimensions start to interact, that’s where the creativity strikes lightning multiple times in the same place. It’s a risk that might not pay off because a few distorted shots could lead to epileptic moments. But the conversion of computer animation to a panel stylization boasts the best variety in one package: cartoony, realistic, retro and futuristic. It’s at home on a fridge, in the lourve or on a college project.
The problem with past adaptations is each one handles one element better than the others, feeling like a divided pie. Raimi’s trilogy went all out with the villains, Webb’s duology had a great romance, and Homecoming had an authentic high-school atmosphere. This does all that and more. While it has the same tangled subplots on the surface, it still has a central connection to Miles Morales with rapid-fire jokes (courtesy of co-writer Phil Lord), a clever group of individuals, and high octane action aided by the unlimited control of the medium. I’ll even say it could school Disney on how a twist villain can do more than pull the rug over our eyes. The decision to make Peter Parker cynical rather than the do-gooder of his high school and college years is shocking, but it works in the long run when balancing the laughs and dramatic moments with his role as reluctant teacher, graduating him into new territory. All the while having an abundance of fan service on both the hero and villain sides. With so many reboots in this property everyone is at least a little familiar with the set-up and doesn’t require a lot of time to get familiar with the new material. The one question I have is are comic-books biographies in this world? Spider-Man swings around the city everyday and yet the comics detailing his life and secret identity are out in the open for anyone to read. Couldn’t any of the rogues gallery gain an advantage by just visiting a library or spending an allowance worth of money on a few comics? Speaking of which, Kingpin is an amazing antagonist, but with everything going on he gets the short end of the stick, even when his body takes up half the screen. It’s the next character evolution after what happened in the now cancelled Netflix Daredevil, but with so much focus on the heroes there’s not enough time to flesh out his strong motive.
Is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse the best Spidey movie? Yes. Is it better than Marvel’s Spider-Man? No. With everything having to fit the two hour mark, only a few opportunities fall to the wayside that a 10 hour video game could easily remedy. But there hasn’t been a better film adaptation with everything squeezed into a certain time frame, yet still flowing naturally. All the studio meddling is kept behind bars so the directors, producers and writers can come together like this team of superheroes did to make an unforgettable experience for both Sony and it’s animation department. It encompasses everything from the past movies in one fell swoop to display what makes Spider-Man the Mickey Mouse of Marvel: witty humor, evolving art styles, relatable characters, intimidating villains, timeless lessons, and countless opportunities to continue these adventures. Who knows, maybe I’ll see this as many times as I saw Avengers: Infinity War on the big screen. And that’s no small feet.
Note: If you can, stay through the credits to pay respects to the late Steve Ditko and Stan “The Man” Lee. After that there’s a bit of holiday cheer to relish in.
Pros: Miles and Peter, surreal animation, rapid-fire comedy, serious moments, central focus, lots of fan service, superhero group
Cons: Wasted Kingpin
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