Nobody was ready Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. We’re not used to superhero movies being masterpieces. We are used to mediocrity.
Superhero movies thrive on mediocrity. I always complained about superhero fatigue, now I embrace it. Go for your life, Marvel, make your three star movies a few times a year. At least they aren’t Rise of Skywalker. No, they are just mediocre and that is good?
Entertain your brain with the coolest news, from streaming to superheroes, memes to video games.
Unfortunately for Marvel, the occasional superhero movie hits theaters to remind you what magic looks like. To recalibrate your idea of what is ‘good’. In 2018 that movie was Into the Spider-Verse.
And by god, you have to look at it.
Brilliant. Let’s start.
Probably best to start with the aesthetics and visual design.
Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller wanted Into The Spider-Verse to have a unique look from the start, resulting in more than 140 animators combining computer animation with a hand-drawn style designed to mimic comic book art.
When I heard about this, I was cynical. Movies that take visual risks or pioneer unique art styles are rated well by default. “Here’s your cookie to try something different.” Things like this make movie critics salivate like Pavlov’s dogs.
But it’s not enough, right? Numerous animation films (*cough* Kubo and the two strings) have groundbreaking art styles, but are complete snooze parties. That is not the case here.
Into The Spider-Verse has an integrated aesthetic, but what really elevates the film is how inventive it is, how vibrant it is, with visual storytelling.
I always think of the above scene, when Peter Parker and Miles Morales, the two main ‘Spider-Men’, try to escape a villain’s lab. They are spotted and every scientist in the building jumps up and springs into action. Except one. Who just keeps eating her lunch. She’s seen all this before. This is a villain’s lair. There’s always a superhero trying to mess with their shit. This is just another day at the office. Literal. She just wants to finish her tea break.
It’s a split second, but betrays an insane dedication to detail. A commitment to be inventive, to subvert, to deal with weird ideas and to be brave with them. It’s a ghost that infects every frame of this film.
How about Kingpin’s visual design, which is almost comically oversized, yet exudes an incredibly intimidating look.
How about the fact that Into The Spider-Verse seamlessly blends characters from different universes (noir, anime, traditional 1930s animation), giving each of them their own unique visual flair, but somehow everything makes up for it. feels like it belongs in the same movie?
That’s ignoring how this movie moves — at a schizophrenic pace with action sequences that never end and never cease to surprise you. Like when Miles Morales holds one hand to an unconscious Peter Parker and another to a moving subway, and chaos ensues. Or when an inexperienced Morales must escape The Prowler by scrambling through abandoned tunnels with powers he’s only just acquired. Each sequence jumps off the screen with an intense, dramatically overactive sense of imagination. It feels at the same time meticulously planned, but spontaneously executed.
It’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen.
The writing is… [chef’s kiss]
It is not necessary the script that elevates Into The Spider-Verse. “Script” is just a collective name for the story, which takes the journey of a traditional hero and twists in all sorts of strange directions. It’s an abbreviation of how the traditional Spider-Man myth (man is bitten by a spider, man watches uncle die, man is inspired to grow in his responsibilities) and undermines it while preserving great respect for the timeless storytelling device it has become.
It even comments itself as an origin story, in a meta-sentence, without getting overbearing or robbing the audience of life in the moment of Miles Morales’ journey to become Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse juggles all these internal responsibilities (being cool, being funny, not taking oneself seriously, having heart, being sincere but smart, being sentimental but not sickly sweet) and doing it effortlessly. Or – at the very least – deliver an incredible performance mask the effort it takes to make a superhero movie that does everything perfectly.
In its own way, Into The Spider-Verse is a minor miracle.
Actually it is a enormous miracle.
It does all these things without rushing its welcome or staying too long. Most of his stories come visually, without exposition. It does justice to the stories of several characters. Miles Morales’ journey is beautifully told, of course, but so is old man Peter Parker, a Spider-Man we’ve never seen before: middle-aged, bored, depressed, broken by a failed marriage. A man who would rather take the bus than meander through New York City. Even Kingpin is a lovable villain, driven by a desire to save his own wife and children from death.
All the loose ends are tied up — fast, subtle, intelligent, hassle-free — in a way that makes almost every other superhero movie feel clunky and old-fashioned.
This movie feels real
For an animated film about six spider people from six different dimensions Using supernatural powers to defeat a 900-pound man and robotic cyborgs in suits, Into The Spider-Verse is remarkably grounded.
It’s a story about family, about what it means to be a father, what it means to be a son. What it means to struggle with the expectations of others and fulfill your own potential. More than any other animated film I’ve ever seen, it feels executed. It has the spontaneous energy and heart of a screwball comedy, the incredible scale of superhero action at its finest.
You should go all the way back to The Iron Giant or The Incredibles to find an animated movie that feels this real. A film that delivers almost every possible spectrum you could imagine, yet feels original and new.
If you haven’t seen Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse yet, you’re selling yourself short. Like me, you’ve probably spent the past few decades wallowing in the mediocrity of the superhero lament. That’s fine. Which is good.
But maybe it’s worth reminding yourself what it’s like to enjoy something great.