Hopefully by now, you’ve had at least one friend shriek at you on Twitter or Facebook about how fucking GOOD this movie is. If not, consider me that friend. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is fucking amazing. It’s definitely the best Spider-Man movie I’ve ever seen. It’s quite possibly the best animated movie I’ve ever seen. It’s in the running to be the best movie I’ve seen all year, and it’s without a doubt the most fun I’ve had at a movie since Thor: Ragnarok.
So that should give you some kind of idea what we’re talking about here. I generally don’t watch animated movies and don’t like them that much, I think because I don’t tend to connect to the characters well for some reason. Or maybe I just don’t find the plots compelling. Maybe the emotional stakes don’t tend to work for me. I don’t know. Combination of factors perhaps. So it’s a Big Fucking Deal when I tell you that I LOVED this movie, that it made me tear up three times because it had so much emotional truth to it, and not just because like someone’s dad got whacked and the actors were really convincing.
I’m hoping this is a movie that’s going to get all of the ticket sales it deserves because of people like me, howling about how damn good it is at all of their friends and family. Because let me tell you, I couldn’t have been less interested in the trailer, which made it look like a cute-but-forgettable direct-to-dvd release that had unaccountably gotten bucked into theaters. I could not have given less of a shit about this movie until I saw Venom… because for whatever reason, they’d nailed about five minutes of Into the Spider-Verse on after the credits and I’d stayed to watch it in case there was a credit cookie. THEN I was hooked.
So why is it good?
The plot on its face sounds cartoonishly wacky. Ordinary (but brilliant) high school student Miles Morales gets bitten by a radioactive spider while he and his uncle are putting up some graffiti art in an abandoned area in the subway. Hijinks ensue, and then by accident Miles runs into Peter Parker Spider-Man as he’s trying to stop Kingpin from using a giant McGuffin machine to connect to all the alternate universes in an attempt to get his wife and kid back. During the fight, the machine instead yanks several Spider-People from other universes into Miles’s: Spider-Gwen, a schlubby burnout version of Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir (voiced AMAZINGLY by Nic Cage), Penny Parker (an anime girl from future NYC who pilots a spider mecha), and Spider-Ham (a Warner-Brothers-esque 2D animated pig). They all join forces to save the world.
Yeah, I know. I wasn’t convinced either.
What summarizing the plot can’t do without spoilers is explain the massive, beating heart of emotion that moves this film. All of the various Spider-People get their own mini-arc, and Miles struggles to find his place in his own life, in his powers, in his family, and in the rest of the world. A lot of superhero movies give lip service to the idea that they’re a blown-out metaphor for the way the ordinary actions of regular people are still important. This is the first one I’ve seen that actually believed it, and really questioned what heroism is in the context, up to and including self-sacrifice.
Into the Spider-Verse gives us a vision of what it means to be a blue-collar hero in the modern world in the most life-like New York City I’ve ever seen in a Spider-Man movie. Miles’s dad is a cop and his mom is a nurse (neither of them are white) and they’re both moving heaven and earth to put him in a more upper class school that the obviously doesn’t feel comfortable in. The movie addresses the trauma of survival, the need to accept pain and not being defined by it, the true power of personal connections and sense of self, and the vital necessity of empathy. I could go on forever about Miles’s relationship with his dad alone, but I don’t want to spoil it.
And as a work of art of itself, it’s fucking gorgeous. As someone who is no aficionado of animation, I won’t make claims about if something is groundbreaking or not. But this was an animated movie that felt like it really lived in the medium and made very specific artistic choices because it exists so comfortably in its own skin. It freely references comic book tropes, mixes 2D and 3D animation to great effect, and even does some absolutely gorgeous shots that look almost like traditional cell animation with a painted background. I was blown away by it. Even just little things, like the way the animation has halftone gradient effects subtly all through it.
Oh yeah, and it’s fucking HILARIOUS.
I was not prepared for this movie and what it did to my heart while I was laughing hysterically. I don’t think you can be. And I haven’t even touched on the spoilers–let’s talk about challenging expectations and examining preconceptions–because for once I’m glad I went into something unspoiled.
You should go see it.