By Miguel E. Rodriguez
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schrieber
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 97% Certified Fresh
PLOT: In an alternate New York City, Miles Morales is bitten by a spider that has been strangely affected by scientific experiments being conducted by Kingpin. He soon meets other Spider-People from OTHER alternate realities who were dragged to Miles’ reality by those same experiments…
Right from the opening credits, an intense, fan-boy-level love of the Spider-Man characters (and comic books in general) radiates from the heart of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse like those little squiggly lines of “spider-sense” that instinctively tells the various spider-people that they are in the presence of other spider-people. It tells the other fan-boys, fan-girls, and fan-adults that here, at last, is a cartoon comic-book movie worthy of standing with the live-action giants of the MCU, both in terms of visual spectacle and in terms of an extremely solid, well-told story.
When I saw the first trailers for this film, I instantly dismissed it as yet another cinematic screening of a forgettable, straight-to-video animated feature. The style looked like some kind of mish-mash of CG figures and hand-drawn faces, trying way too hard to be different without actually being effective. The story was ultra-cheese, the kind of thing that even comic-book writers would find old-hat: a trans-dimensional rift allows Spider-People from different alternate universes to interact with each other at the same time. And one of them is a literal cartoon pig called Spider-Ham.
So the movie gets released, and one day I take a peek at the ol’ Rotten Tomatometer, and it’s like at 95 or 96 percent. And I’m STILL skeptical because the Tomatometer is only really accurate about 80% of the time. But it continues to get buzz, and everyone on Facebook who sees it posts saying, “WOW, was that a good movie!” It suddenly becomes the must-see movie of the holiday season.
So. We saw it today, and just got home. And WOW, was that a good movie! It is fulfilling in just about every way a movie can be. It had loads of humor; it was brilliantly original; it was visually stunning; it had real, EARNED dramatic moments; and it has the best credit-cookie since Ralph Breaks the Internet.
A lot of the film’s impact comes from that stunning visual style, which I initially dismissed. As much as Sin City and Watchmen before it, Into the Spider-Verse takes great pains to recreate the look and feel of a comic book in as many ways as possible. Speech panels appear occasionally. Sound effects are manifested as words: “bap!” and “BOOM” and “bagel!” (Yes, that is one of the sound effects.) A lot of backgrounds are made to look as if they’re printed off-kilter, much like some comic books used to be printed back in the stone age. This non-realistic style allows the filmmakers to create a crazy climax that would be virtually impossible with a live-action film; the CG would look too crazy to take seriously.
Aside from the visuals, there’s also the stunning originality with the screenplay. For example, given the fact of many (infinite, really) alternate universes, the variations the screenwriters use are truly ingenious, particularly when it comes to the villains. Kingpin makes an early, ENORMOUS appearance (he looks like the Hulk in a business suit), and he has a henchman that I really should have recognized earlier. And the cleverness of Doc Ock’s arrival had me shaking my head in admiration.
The storytelling takes the time to let us get to know the inner workings of the main characters, a rarity in a non-Pixar film. Miles Morales (the focal point of the story) is a high-school kid, loves his Latina mom and African-American dad, doesn’t love his new private school, loves bonding with his ne’er-do-well uncle…these connections are solidified in our minds so when the moment comes when a family member’s life is on the line, you feel it, man. It’s not just drawings going through the motions.
It’s very hard for me to discuss the humor without giving away some of the best jokes. You just have to trust me on this one, besides being one of the best comic-book movies of the year, it’s also one of the funniest. (I LOVED the fake movie posters in Times Square.)
In closing, I can only apologize to the movie gods for completely dismissing this movie on the basis of the trailer. Ever since that happened to me with Fight Club, I’ve tried to avoid making that kind of snap judgement.