Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
With its barrage of high-energy chases and battles that would be improbable and/or look silly in live-action form, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse joins The Incredibles series as arguments for animation being the best way to enact grand superhero set pieces.
Directed by a team of Peter Ramsey (Rise of the Guardians) and two first-time helmers with varying backgrounds, the story of Brooklyn middle schooler Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore, Dope) and the weird things that happen once he’s bitten by an especially unusual radioactive spider is foremost defined by its fresh, creative animation style.
Colorful and blocky (in an attractive way), the character design has significant trippy interplay with the layered backgrounds, all of which wind up meshing well with additional styles from other universes when circumstances bring different worlds’ spider-people together in Miles’ neighborhood.
Though it’s fascinating to watch multiple animation traditions complement one another in the same frame, the experience would lose much of its potency without steady injections of witty writing by Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie) and Rodney Rothman, one of his 22 Jump Street writers and a co-director here. (Veteran animator Bob Persichetti is the third figure “behind the camera.”)
Into the Spider-Verse certainly benefits from a healthy dose of the wink-wink Lord/Miller style of comedy, but it doesn’t impede the film’s flow nor detract from its charm. Likewise helping matters is the stellar vocal cast, which includes Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry (Widows), Zoë Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, and Nicolas Cage.
The fact that a black/Latino Spider-Man is the one propelling the adventure is further proof that the film’s progressive creators have little interest in abiding by superhero film standards, but while entertainment remains constant and the generally cheery tone is impressively diversified by a legitimately scary henchman, whose doings are accompanied by sinister sound effects, gaps and leaps of faith in the writing nonetheless crop up.
For one, the consequences of the multiverse on Miles’ NYC are severely underdeveloped. The city’s residents seem barely concerned with otherworldly objects in place of familiar landmarks, to the extent that one passerby comments that the new sight must be a Banksy installation.
Then there are the numerous convenient turning points in our hero’s origin story, from Miles being in the right place at the right time for his initial encounter with his world’s Peter Parker (Chris Pine) to the death of a key character to the epiphany that allows him to realize his full potential.
Even the animation winds up the culprit in a visually confusing finale that adheres to no plausible rules of gravity and physics, including an individual without powers being able to maneuver quickly-shifting surfaces and significant heights with ease.
Such head-scratchers sadly take away from Into the Spider-Verse’s maximum impact, but it’s overall such a fun and energetic adventure that they only degrade the film so much.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Sony Pictures)