Just when you think they can’t do anything new with superhero movies or animation: boom.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is starting at a NYC charter school in an advanced learning program, but both being challenged and being the new kid away from home freaks him out. His Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) indulges Miles’ creative side as an outlet, leading to a clandestine location for a little street art… and a chance encounter with an “unusual” little spider. When Miles exhibits strange new abilities, he goes back to investigate the possible cause, only to discover his friendly neighborhood “ultimate” Spider-Man (Chris Pine) battling bad guys to shut down a subterranean particle accelerator capable of ripping a hole across dimensions. But it’s already too late…
If you’ve seen the trailers, it isn’t a secret that “several spidery someones” slip into a single dimension from elsewhere and work together, including more than a few comic fan favorites. What the film also is, however, is a love letter to fifty years of Spider-Man stories, movies, and animation in all its incarnations: a true living on-screen comic book. While Sony reluctantly signed away the bulk of their Spidey film rights back to the MCU for a percentage, can the studio also duplicate this year’s insane Venom box office success with their alternate “Weird Wall-Crawler Tales from the Multiverse?”
True believers might remember the “Excalibur” comic series and the Chris Claremont/Alan Davis epic “Cross-Time Caper” story line. This feels eerily similar in concept, the exception being all variants are brought to one locale rather than a group traveling to each of them in turn. The main story is simple — fix everything back to the way it was while they still can — but the interconnected subplots and interrelationships of the characters benefit from exposure to one another, each gaining a perspective their own universes fail to provide. In spite of everything going on, it’s amazingly still a Miles Morales origin story as well. It’s ambitious, it’s incredible, and it works damnably well.
At its core, this shouldn’t gel visually: a mashup of animation genres from black-and-white noir and techno-girl anime to screentone comics and anthropomorphic animals. It’s like the history of Spider-Man comics stuffed into a two-hour event. Even in its 3-D presentation (worth it!) the appearance sometimes even mimics red-blue 3-D comic effects purely because they can. While perhaps over-stylized, the main animation looks amazing and fully in-depth while also hinting at hand-drawn panels complete with thought balloons and text blocks. All of it is presented rapid-fire and morphs into what it needs to be at the moment: zany or deadly, fun or serious, realistic or exaggerated, and all edited down to the moment.
Listen for voice-work by celebrity actors including Nicolas Cage, Chris Pine, Liev Schreiber, Hailee Steinfeld, Kathryn Hahn, and Lily Tomlin, not to mention fresh takes on classic characters like Aunt May and Doc Ock. This frenzied storytelling may be tough for some viewers to keep up with; more than a few visual elements might even be borderline triggers for epileptics — The Incredibles 2 earned that warning for their strobe-effect cage match sequence earlier this year. Still, having so much story to draw upon didn’t stop the design team from creating a genuine surprise or two, not to mention overstuffing the background with as many Easter eggs as they could fit along with a couple of MCU-worthy during and after-credit scenes. Even a complete ending here still didn’t feel like enough — more, please.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, mild language, and “Hi, Liv.”
Four skull recommendation out of four