To be frank with you, I did not have much expectation on Sony animation feature film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”. Besides Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy in the 2000s, there were “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) and its 2014 sequel, and then we recently saw Spider-Man becoming another figure to be added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so I could not help but skeptical about whether another Spider-Man film is really necessary when I heard about “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” early in this year.
However, to my surprise, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is not only just entertaining but also one of the best superhero films during recent years. Via its colorful and exuberant animation style as well as its witty and intelligent storytelling, the film invigorates superhero genre just like “Black Panther” (2018) did early in this year, and what is superbly achieved here is certainly a lot more memorable than many other run-of-the-mill superhero films out there (Yes, I am pointing at you, “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)).
After the opening scene which gives some nod to the previous Spider-Man movies, we are introduced to Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a smart black teenage boy living in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City. He is recently transferred to a prestigious high school which is better than his previous one, but he is not very happy about this as missing his schoolmates, and he feels quite awkward right from the first day at his new school mainly thanks to his policeman father Jefferson (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), who sincerely wants his son to have better education but often does not communicate well with his son.
That is the main reason why Miles gets along well with his uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali), who is usually ready to have a fun with his nephew as your average casual dude. When Miles comes to Aaron’s residence again, Aaron takes his nephew to an abandoned underground site hidden somewhere in Brooklyn, and Miles is happy to express his artistic side freely there under his uncle’s support and encouragement.
While he is about to leave that site along with his uncle, Miles happens to be bitten by a little spider, which is, as you have already guessed, not a normal spider at all. On the next day, Miles is surprised to find some notable changes in his body, and, after several hilarious happenings including the one involved with a female student he is attracted to, it does not take much time for him to realize that he has superpower due to that spider.
As trying to get accustomed to his changed status, Miles happens to discover a big secret science project financed by Wilson Fisk (voiced by Liev Schreiber), a rich, powerful criminal figure who is literally imposing in his appearance. Fisk has tried to open a portal to parallel universes out there, and now he is almost near his final goal, which later turns out to be quite personal and is the main reason why he is so blind to the possible consequence of his success.
Because of Fisk’s attempt to open the portal, Miles subsequently finds himself in a very weird circumstance. Various versions of Spider-Man were transferred respectively from several parallel universes at that time, and they are Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), who has been bitterly going through a melancholic personal crisis in his parallel universe; Gwendolyn “Gwen” Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), who is called, of course, Spider-Woman; another version of Peter Parker who is called Spider-Noir (voiced by Nicholas Cage); Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn), who is presented as your typical cute Japanese animation girl while accompanied with a big spider robot; and Peter Porker (voiced by John Mulaney), who is the cartoon pig version of Spider-man with some spirit a la Looney Tunes.
As Miles and his fellow superhero figures come to band together against Fisk and his several dangerous henchmen, the film deftly swings from one terrific moment to another under the skillful direction of directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. There are a number of masterful action sequences palpably vibrating with lots of energy and style, and I must tell you that they are more fluid, creative, and exciting compared to what I saw from countless live action superhero films. While the climax sequence is definitely as busy and massive as expected, it is the effective culmination of what has been steadily established in terms of visual and narrative, and I found myself absorbed a lot into what was going on the screen during this part.
Furthermore, the film is equipped with a pretty compelling story which smoothly moves around different emotional moods. While maintaining enough gravitas as required, the screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman has lots of fun with its hero and his fellow superheroes, and the lively interactions among these main characters are in fact far more engaging than whatever I observed from those Avenger members. While Shameik Moore, who previously drew our attention via his breakout performance in “Dope” (2015), holds the center with his likable voice acting, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicholas Cage, Kimiko Glenn, and John Mulaney are all equally enjoyable in their respective roles, and it is also delightful to see other colorful supporting roles in the film filled by a bunch of notable performers including Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Zoë Kravitz, Lake Bell, Oscar Isaac, and Kathryn Hahn, who plays the interestingly female version of a certain infamous villain with gusto.
Overall, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is an unexpectedly nice surprise at the end of this year, and, like “Incredibles 2” (2018) recently did, it shows us why animation is a more ideal territory for superhero genre as my critic friend Michael Mirasol once argued a few years ago. With its bold comic book style and approach, the movie surely swings and flies beyond its many live-action counterparts, and I am actually eager to see what will come next after this glorious genre rejuvenation.