Movie Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The timing for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” seemed odd on a number of levels. Sony just released a “Spider-Man” film last year (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”), and they’re releasing another one next year (“Spider-Man: Far From Home”). That makes three Spider-Man films in a span of two years, and he played a prominent role in “Avengers: Infinity War.” How is anyone going to miss Peter Parker when he won’t go away?

On the other hand, “Homecoming” is one of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and arguably the best “Spider-Man” film to date…or at least it was until now. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is simply stunning, instantly erasing any concerns about Spider-Man fatigue with a clever, funny, heartfelt, visually stunning and impeccably cast film that is arguably the best Marvel film, MCU or otherwise, to date. Yes, it’s that good.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a typical scatterbrained teenager, is having trouble adapting to life at the new charter school that his parents think will put him on a better track for future success. One source of release for Miles is his laid-back Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), and soon after going to the charter school, Miles skips out to meet Aaron and make some art in an abandoned subway station, where Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider. The next day, Miles is all sorts of different, and after going back to the scene of the crime as it were, he is pulled into some real life-threatening stuff as Spider-Man (a big-name actor whose name we will not reveal) is trying to stop Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) from launching a device that can access parallel universes.

Miles is caught in the line of fire of the device, which brings five other Spider-Man types to his world, including another Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who’s fallen on hard times. Miles and his fellow Spider-Men/Women/Animals (you read that right) must work together to get the other Spideys back to their own worlds before they deteriorate or Miles’ world collapses, but in order for that to happen, Miles has got to get his shit together and figure out this whole Spider-Man thing.

The fact that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Lord wrote the “Spider-Verse” screenplay, while Miller is a producer) were fired from “Solo: A Stars Story” still boggles my mind. Their brand of banter was tailor-made for the wise-cracking scoundrel with a heart of gold*, but their improvisational approach so irritated Lucasfilm executive producer Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan that, despite Lord and Miller’s success with “The LEGO Movie,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” and “21 Jump Street,” they were kicked to the curb. Ron Howard replaced them, and while the production ran more smoothly from that point forward, the finished product was a crashing bore. Perhaps, instead of removing them from the director’s chair, maybe invite them to the writer’s room.

Because these guys can write. Lord’s script is bursting with ideas and a healthy dose of self-awareness (one guess which previous “Spider-Man” film is called to the carpet here). No one knows more than Lord that fatigue and familiarity could jeopardize this film’s success, and they are the first things he addresses. From there, the film is a dizzying series of set pieces, and the moments in between carry a different kind of electricity. Miles is constantly reminded of how much he is loved, while recognizing how much those around him have lost.

On top of that, the animation style covers several genres, from film noir to anime to Looney Tunes, blending them seamlessly within a comic book framework (the action is broken into frames, dialogue boxes, etc.). Even the real-world Brooklyn in which the film is based has an extra depth to it that most animated films do not possess. This is the most 3D-looking 2D film I’ve ever seen.

All of the Spider-talent is superb here – Nicolas Cage as Spider-Noir is the gift that keeps on giving, and Hailee Steinfeld is rock-solid as Spider-Gwen (as in Gwen Stacy) – but John Mulaney’s Spider-Ham steals the film without even trying. Every word, every action, even his sound effects are pure Looney Tunes magic, which suggests that the Sony lawyers went through the Warner Bros. intellectual property files with a fine-toothed comb to determine what they could legally steal, and found a lot of wiggle room. They even make a joke about it.

“The LEGO Movie” was robbed of an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, presumably because it was released too early in the calendar year and many voters simply forgot about it at awards time (even though they received screeners of the film in October). There is reason to fear that Lord and Miller may get snubbed yet again, because “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is coming out during a blackout period of sorts for films, where the studios are reluctant to distribute screeners because they don’t want piracy to minimize the box office. This would be a shame, because “Spider-Verse” is the best animated film of 2018 hands down, and one of the best films of the year overall.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

*Then again, he did shoot first.

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