Once in a while, despite all the anticipation, a film comes along that falls short like a rocket with no fuel. It is not groundbreaking or intelligent, exciting, sincere, or funny. I went to go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a week early, and by all measures, it is NOT that movie in any regard. I have heard it called the best superhero film of the year (beating Black Panther and Infinity War) and even the best film of the year period. It kept a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes until a few days before its release. Why has it earned such great reviews? Let’s swing in to see.
One groundbreaking part of the story is the animation. The revolutionary animation moves like you’d expect a comic book to (if the characters could jump off the page). It even has onomatopoeic phrases for punches and kicks which briefly appear (in addition to Spidey’s classic thwip, a character in the movie, after getting hit by one, produces a bagel!). It has remnants of those walls of dots and lines in classic comics, yet also has elements of new animation. The city and practical effects appear realistic and beautiful at the same time. The dots for the dimensional portals give an interesting appearance in the vein of Silver Surfer’s power cosmic. But by far the best part of the animation is how it differs between characters of different dimensions. Peni Parker and SP//dr, a half-schoolgirl-techno-wizard half-robot spider-themed duo parodying anime and mecha, manifests in 2D, anime-like movements. Nic Cage’s Spider-Man Noir exists purely in monochrome, and a running gag is his fascination with colorful Rubik's cubes. Though he isn’t from a different dimension, I love Kingpin as an actual wall of a man, more resemblant of a binder than a person. The best animation gag, though, is Spider-Ham, played by John Mulaney, my favorite comedian, who exists as a Looney-Tunes parody, a physical quality which actually gives him some unusual powers.
This comical moment is an example of the spot-on comedy of Spider-Verse. The first scene with the hijinx of Miles’ hand stick to Gwen’s hair is one of those scenes more cringey than funny, but a lot of the humor from Miles beyond that is spot-on. One very funny scene is when Miles is seen from above a stairwell ascending, making circular laps around it, finally reaching the top of a building; but as he is about to jump off to test his powers and the music is swelling with determination, it cuts to him running back down the stairs. The gruffness and apathy of Peter B. Parker, the great-value, jaded version of Peter Parker, makes for some great moments as well. Peni’s meekness is stripped away when her technological prowess is put on display, Spider-Man Noir’s Bogart-esque ‘30s slang and over dramatic portrayal makes for a lot of funny moments. Mulaney shines as Spider-Ham, and his cartoon powers prove helpful. By far the funniest moment, though, is Isaac Oscar’s surprise end-credits cameo as Spider-Man 2099, venturing back into 1967 to confront the Spider-Man of the classic 60s cartoon, falling into the famous “pointing Spider-Man” meme.
But Spider-Verse also packs a bunch of heart. Besides the three more minor Spider-people (SP//dr, Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Ham), each character gets developed over the movie. Most prominent is Miles Morales, after all, this is his origin story. At the beginning of Miles’ story, he’s enrolling a new, elite private school, he has a decent relationship with his policeman father, Jefferson Davis, but has a better one with his uncle Aaron.
As the story progresses, Miles gets bitten by a radioactive spider while out graffitiing with Uncle Aaron. After some spidery hijinx (although I love that he knew that his powers came from the spider as soon as they manifested), Miles finds himself a witness to the Kingpin’s murder of Spider-Man in Kingpin’s particle supercollider, whose full activation could destroy the universe. He is chased away by the Prowler, one of the Kingpin’s henchmen. He realizes that he must do what he can to fulfill the role until he meets Peter B. Parker, an older, jaded Spider-Man from another dimension. They agree to work together after some deliberation, and semi-successfully infiltrate a science building owned by Kingpin in which the supercollider data is stored. They are saved from a female Doc-Ock by Spider-Gwen, who posed as a student at Miles’ school.
They meet up with Aunt May, and meet the other Spider-Men, who express concern over Miles’ novice spider-skills. He retreats to his uncle’s apartment, but the Prowler enters! Miles goes invisible, and the Prowler reveals that he is, in fact, Uncle Aaron. Miles is followed to Aunt May’s house, which is torn apart by Kingpin and his cronies, though as Prowler is about to kill Miles, Miles removes his mask. When the Prowler refuses to kill him, Kingpin shoots him in the back. Aaron is taken by Miles to a safe location and dies in his arms. Jefferson comes upon a masked Miles hanging over Aaron’s body and assumes him to be the killer.
At his dorm room, Miles is restrained to his chair by Peter B. Parker and the others and is unable to open the door for his father, listening to him but unable to respond. Miles escapes and returns to Aunt May’s, where he spray paints one of his universe’s Spider-Man’s costumes black and dons it as the other spider-people infiltrate the supercollider. In a final battle, each Spider-Man is returned to their respective dimensions. Miles, encouraged by his father (who arrived at the supercollider), defeats the hulking Kingpin. Miles becomes the new Spider-Man. As he retires to bed, a portal opens above his head and Gwen’s voice invites him in.
In the story, Miles goes from a normal, awkward kid to a more confident, powerful man. Peter B. Parker, divorced from his universe’s Mary Jane because of a disagreement over having children, finally decides to have kids. Gwen goes from closed off towards friends to becoming friends with Miles. Even Miles’ father changes his opinion towards Spider-Man and Miles.
Overall, Spider-Verse is one of the greatest Marvel movies ever. And though it goes against sturdy challengers like Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, it at least contends for its own spot as the best movie of the year. So, yes, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a swinging good time.