It’s not very often that I publish two 5-star film reviews in a single weekend, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not an ordinary film. Simply put, it’s a perfect film. Amazing. Spectacular. Sensational. Superior. I have tried to find faults with it, and I am coming up empty. I am so glad I saw this film in the theatre, and so thrilled that a film like this exists in 2018.
Spider-Verse is SO much without being TOO much. It’s a great animated film and a celebration of the medium of animation, pushing the boundaries of illustrations and CGI in ways that I think will genuinely transform the entire form. Some of the visuals here are so lush and vivid in color and shape that I just wanted to pause the film and take it all in. The comic book halftone dot effect is in full use here, which some might find distracting–sometimes the images look a bit blurred, like watching a 3D film without the 3D glasses–but I loved it, and found the polyphony of images to be delightfully astounding. This film’s story could only be told via animation, and it does so with masterful precision and innovation.
It’s a great superhero film, certainly the best of the Spider-Man films thus far, and possibly the strongest superhero film since The Dark Knight. It’s also a great comic book film (yes, superhero and comic book films are distinguishable), in that it also utilizes and celebrates the framing and formatting of a comic book, both in diegetically and non-diegetically. Comic books are treated as sacred texts here, our modern-day myths; the way Spider-Verse honors various interpretations of the Spider-Man character made my hermeneutical heart happy. There are at least half a dozen Spider-Man versions which show up, and all of them are fascinating and well-developed characters. Stan Lee’s cameo–his last before he recently passed away–is also my favorite of his.
It’s a great coming-of-age film–this is a story about an Afro-Latino middle school boy, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), as he figures out how to embrace his liminal identity and newfound superpowers, to take a leap of faith into adulthood, responsibility, and self-respect; *and* he has great parents who exhibit a great marriage and healthy parenting. In an early scene, Miles’ father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), tells his son “I love you” while dropping Miles off at the charter school he attends. Miles is reluctant to respond (and reluctant to attend such an “elitest” school outside of his Brooklyn neighborhood), but Jefferson won’t let up; it’s a beautifully relentless love. Miles looks to various mentors, with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) and an alternate-dimension Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) as his key role models. Miles is intelligent, geeky, funny, artistic, and kind–we learn all these things through his actions and the natural progression of the narrative. This is great storytelling and a great central character to build a story around.
It’s a great comedy. Produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and with Lord credited as a screenwriter, Spider-Verse is filled with smart, snarky, witty humor of all kinds–highbrow, slapstick, satire, self-deprecating, situational. What is noticeably–and thankfully–absent is crude sophomoric humor. This is a PG film which doesn’t push its rating, but is also mature and complex in its themes, humor, and story-telling.
It’s also a great action film, with some of the most thrilling fight sequences and cinematography of any superhero film, or any film, period. Yet even with all the action, this film isn’t especially gruesome or violent–death matters here, and guns are only wielded by villains. Even as the uncle Ben origin story is reimagined here with Miles, the major motivator for everyone is not violence or vengeance, but love. It’s even a great sci-fi film–with multiverse inter-dimensionality, the science and plot elements might be over the heads of younger kids, but adults (especially those interested in science and philosophy) will find this a solid entry into metaphysical cinema. I may even have to write an academic paper on this movie.
Did I mention that it’s a great New York City film, honoring the various boroughs and the unique culture that is NYC (a short comedic scene in a crosswalk is perfectly “New York”)? And it’s a great ensemble film, with a huge cast of excellent actors giving some of the best voice performances I’ve heard in animation (Ali and Henry are especially strong). It’s even a great *Christmas* film! I realize I’ve barely touched on the plot or why there are multiple Spider-Persons in Miles’ world. But I think it’s to the audience’s benefit to simply let Spider-Verse‘s story and images wash over you, to experience the wonder and joy like I did. I may be over-praising it, but I’m still on an elated high–I found my smile growing as the film progressed, then tears running down my face as Miles’ personalized suit was finally revealed, and walked out of the theatre grateful for having seen this on the big-screen. Maybe it’s just where I’m at personally in life with my own identity and hopes and dreams, but an animated superhero film about a middle-school multi-ethnic kid spoke to me and gave me hope. That’s a Christmas gift I’m grateful to have this year.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4633694/