The Movie Guru: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ one of the year’s best movies
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
Rated: PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements and mild language.
Screenplay by: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman.
Based on: Characters appearing in Marvel comics.
Directed by: Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.
Starring: Shemeik Moore, Jake Johnson, Heilee Steinfeld, Marhershala Ali, Lily Tomlin, Zoe Kravits, John Mulaney, Nicholas Cage and more.
Grade: Four stars.
Instead of remaking cartoons as live-action movies, let’s start turning live-action movies into cartoons.
If “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is any indication, we could open up a whole new world. It’s quite possibly the best Spider-Man movie ever made, perfect for both longtime fans of the web-slinger and those who only know him casually. It’s sweet, emotional, hilarious and exciting, all wrapped up in the most interesting, gorgeous visuals to hit Hollywood in years. We need more movies like this.
The story is both familiar and utterly new to movie audiences. A kid —this time his name is Miles Morales — gets bitten by a souped-up spider and has to deal with crazy new powers. At the same time, a major bad guy is trying to blow a hole in the multiverse and accidentally drags a bunch of superheroes from different dimensions into Morales’ world. If he’s allowed to turn it on again, the entire city could be destroyed.
All the different versions of Spider-Man give the movie an amazing freshness that none of the previous incarnations could manage. We’re all familiar with Peter Parker and the major players in his life — Aunt May, Mary Jane and the dear departed Uncle Ben — and they make an appearance here as well. But we also have Morales, his parents and uncle, Gwen Stacy as movie fans have never seen her before, a spider-bot and the best Spider-Pig we could have possibly asked for. To top it all off, there are a couple of different versions of Parker, offering an interesting look at the differences a handful of choices can make.
Watching them all interact with each other is a delight, allowing the movie to lightly dance over an entire range of tropes — the jaded mentor, the talented loner with the tragic past, the young hero that’s both eager and terrified by turns and so much more. They’re all hilarious and deeply likeable, and together they make the sort of deeply watchable super-team that live-action Marvel rarely — if ever —manages to put together.
On a deeper level, they also serve as the most profound, nuanced statement of Spider-Man’s essence that I’ve ever seen onscreen. This is “with great power comes great responsibility” explored to the ultimate measure, reflected through each of the characters’ lives and choices like a single beam of light bouncing around different mirrors.
The movie also has a gorgeous surface, with stunning visuals that are unlike anything we’ve seen on the big screen before. The animation is both realistic and playful, brilliantly using comic book conventions while also achieving a purely cinematic scope. Taken all together, it feels revolutionary in the best possible way.
If this is what can be done with a superhero movie, think about what the right team can do with other genres. There’s a lot of unexplored possibility in the world of animation, and here’s hoping Hollywood will take the leap.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.