“We don’t need another Spider-Man origin story.”
That was the chorus in 2012 when Andrew Garfield took over the role of wall-crawling hero Peter Parker for franchise reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, and it was heard again when Tom Holland assumed the mantle for 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming — so much so that the latter film jumped through narrative hoops to avoid dwelling on the events that gave Peter his spectacular abilities.
And yet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse proves that we did indeed need a new Spider-Man origin story.
A joint production of Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures Animation, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is probably undersold as another Spider-Man origin story. The film is more than that, and more than the typical animated feature aimed at general audiences and sprinkled liberally with elements appealing to both young kids and adults. What Into the Spider-Verse is, however, is a truly unique film in both its visual aesthetic and approach to the character, who’s had his tale told countless times over, while managing to cast the widest net so far for its target audience.
Into the Spider-Verse follows the story of Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teenager living in a world that already has a Spider-Man. When Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, he soon finds himself on Spider-Man’s radar as he begins to manifest a different set of spider-type abilities, and a freak accident reveals that he’s not the only spider-inspired hero out there. Joined by a group of colorful spider-heroes from various alternate dimensions, Miles must learn how to become the hero his city needs while preventing crime boss Wilson Fisk from destroying it all.
It’s made clear from the film’s opening moments that Into the Spider-Verse isn’t going to look like the usual animated superhero movie. The film blends clean, computer-animated design elements with rougher, hand-drawn animation techniques to achieve a visual tone that’s like nothing else in theaters — now or in the past. The style of animation manages to feel simultaneously futuristic and classic, with brightly colored imagery that pops off the screen while remaining firmly rooted in old-school comic-book artistry.
That bridge from one generation to the next carries through in all the facets of Into the Spider-Verse, which offers just as much for its youngest audience members as it does for longtime fans of Spider-Man and his adventures.
The script for Into the Spider-Verse was co-written by one half of The Lego Movie writing and directing team, Phil Lord, and the film shares a lot in common with that 2014 animated hit. The comedy is fast-paced and far-reaching, and whips you along for the ride with one sight gag or snappy quip after another, with the occasional contemporary call-out and deep-cut from the character’s comics history thrown in for good measure. It’s a smart sort of comedy — something that Lord has shown a real knack for in his scripts — and it suits the web-slinger in all his (or her) forms remarkably well.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also features pitch-perfect voice casting in many of its primary roles, with Dope star Shameik Moore channeling all of the adolescent awkwardness of Miles’ experiences as he adapts to the dramatic changes in his world (and in his own body), and New Girl actor Jake Johnson making a strong case for himself as one of the most memorable Peter Parkers to swing onto the big screen. Moore’s portrayal of Miles is particularly powerful, and his vocal performance brings an extra layer of depth to both the lighter moments and the story’s more dramatic turns.
Voicing supporting characters in the story, Nicolas Cage and actor-comedian John Mulaney steal every scene they’re in as the gritty, black-and-white Spider-Man Noir and the anthropomorphic cartoon pig Spider-Ham, respectively. Cage’s delivery of Spider-Man Noir’s hardboiled crime caper dialogue never gets old, and Mulaney’s delivery of Spider-Ham’s cartoony lines feels drawn from the best parts of his stand-up comedy.
Both Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) also deliver noteworthy vocal performances as Gwen Stacy and Miles’ police officer father, respectively, while Lily Tomlin makes the most of minimal screen time as Peter Parker’s Aunt May, and leaves you wanting more of her character.
Into the Spider-Verse also does a fantastic job of integrating music in a meaningful way with the action unfolding on the screen. The film samples from a wide range of hip-hop, rock, and electronic music, from classic touchstones in the genre to modern tracks, and it does so in a way that feels organic to the story. The tone of the film is often dictated as much by the audio elements as the visual, giving the complete package a movie mixtape vibe that only adds to its appeal.
Although it does a disservice to Into the Spider-Verse to boil it down to yet another Spider-Man origin story, that’s exactly what it is — and it’s a testament to how much the film achieves narratively, visually, musically, and with its talented cast of voice actors that it can make Spider-Man’s latest journey from precocious kid to self-confident hero feel so fresh. It’s fortunate that Marvel and Sony Animation didn’t take it to heart when audiences declared themselves done with Spider-Man origin films, because Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just the best of the character’s origin films, it’s right up there among the best Spider-Man movies ever made, too.
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