Yeah, I totally, actually, dead-on mean it. This movie was an actual, honest, real masterpiece. Not just in animation, either. It deserves a front row spot in any film enthusiast’s collection. This is why I think that.
I’m a movie person. As in, I make movies. I watch movies. I overanalyze movies. And, growing up in the age I’ve grown up in, I’ve seen a whole lot of movies — particularly superhero movies.
My dad hates superhero movies, and, for a while, I was prone to side with him. I’m impressionable, and since my mom doesn’t really give in depth descriptions of her preferences in movies, my own personal preferences are usually heavily shaped by my cynic father.
Now, I’d already been doubting the whole “superhero movies are generic by default” train of thought for a while when I saw Spider-Verse. I liked Thor: Ragnorak. I enjoyed Avengers: Infinity War. But never before have I ever seen anything equal to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Now, I’m not a spoiler person, and I’m assuming you’re not either. So no spoilers. Not that it matters — I could give away the whole plot of the movie and try my very best to describe every detail of it, and you would still walk out of the theater or the living room in awe. It’s that good.
So let’s actually talk about what makes it that amazing. Let’s talk about what makes it worth my time to write my first ever in-depth movie review.
This is why Phil Lord and Chris Millers’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was easily the best film of 2018.
Animation and Characters
This is the subject you’re going to probably hear the most about from your friends that have seen it, and the one that the other critics have been raving the most about. I’m not much different, as you can tell.
Imagine if the real world looked and felt like a comic book. Imagine if shadows were crosshatched, vibrant colors dotted onto every surface, and your thoughts appeared in boxes by your head. Imagine if all the life and style and everything that makes a comic book cool was transferred over to the actual, 3D world. That’s what Into the Spider-Verse looks like.
Sony has made a thorough apology for its last animated feature, The Emoji Movie. While that, ah, film was boring, generic, and looked like every other major computer animated picture in the last decade, Spider-Verse is something completely new. There has never been a movie that looks the way Spider-Verse looks.
First of all, it’s animated with a mix of traditional and modern techniques. 3D renderings were drawn on top of by 2D artists, of whom Sony Animation hired a staggering 140+ to work on the project. This results in the type of comic-book/real life fusion I was talking about above.
Secondly, it’s colorful. This movie explores and understands color theory better than I ever could hope to. It’s not flat, never boring, and every frame holds hundreds of separate hues while still managing to avoid feeling cluttered. Trout, the opening sequence is similar to how I imagine a psychedelic trip might look, but with style. Comic book sound effects blast up on screen for just a frame or two to highlight an action. The background will turn to a solid color during some action sequences. The environment is beautifully rendered and wonderfully intricate at every turn. When things go out of focus, they don’t just blur, they gain a sort of RGB chromatic aberration effect that seems off-putting for all of ten seconds at the very beginning of the movie and clicks for the last 99% of it.
Thirdly, the frame rate is stellar. Most of the action beats are animated at a lower frame rate than ordinary, giving the animation a sort of choppy-on-purpose, eye-candy look which further enhances the comic-book style. It doesn’t look jagged, though. If anything, the choices of frame rates are genius because they make the action more smooth. I don’t know how. It’s dark magic I swear.
Lastly, the characters themselves. The movie features a full ensemble of popular iterations of the iconic Spider-Man character aside from the lead himself, 8th grader Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Spider-Gwen (Hailey Steinfeld), Peter Porker (John Mulaney), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and an overweight retired Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) are all essential characters who all look gorgeous. Each character has its own distinct style — color, movement, shading, art influences — which makes for an incredibly varied and endlessly entertaining cast of heroes. Not only does Spider-Verse look different as a whole from every other movie before it, its individual components bear striking differences one to another while working together seamlessly.
Additional voices include Liev Shrieber as the villain, Kingpin, Mahershala Ali as Aaron Davis (Miles’ uncle), Brian Tyree as Jefferson Davis (Miles’ dad), Lili Tomlin as Aunt May, and Luna Lauren Velez as Rio Morales (Miles’ mom).
And don’t worry. Stan Lee’s cameo is in there and will probably break your heart.
Right, so, this being a spoiler-free review, I’ll keep things vague and unconvincing in this section.
The movie follows a young man named Miles Morales. Miles’ dad is a high-strung cop, but Miles is into graffiti and Post Malone. The father and son and their separate interests often find themselves at odds from each other.
The technical villain of the story is Kingpin. His evil plan will remain unspoiled, but in the end, I don’t think he was ever really the important part of the story.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is about more than just heroes punching bad guys. It’s a heart-warming concoction with a large dollop of coming-of-age, two dashes family relations, a heavy scoop of comradery, a pinch of teenage angst to keep things interesting, and two hours of sheer creativity. It’s a wonderfully super superhero story. It’s a superhero story that not only knows it, but embraces the fact that it’s been done to death already.
Miles Morales is a remarkably human protagonist. Spider-Man has always meant to be a relatable character, and no instance of the web-slinging protector of New York does this better than Miles. Over the course of the movie, the audience sharply feels every triumph, every failure, every bump on Miles’ journey to becoming a hero. The concept of an ordinary person being afraid to be a superhero is something that crops up a lot in superhero movies. Usually, it’s just a part of the movie that we’ve all come to expect and that we know is just a phase.
You feel Miles’ uncertainty, his fear, his guilt, and his confidence every step of the way. And it doesn’t feel like something you’d expect. It doesn’t feel like Barry Allen bobbling his head and melodramatically proclaiming “I’m not fast enough to save her!” It feels real.
Alright, let’s wrap up by talking about the music. It’s pretty great.
I don’t listen to rap. Like, at all. Hamilton is as close as I’ll get. But somehow, just somehow, there are two rap songs from the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack album that have somehow found their way into my playlists. Additionally, the score is ridiculously great.
Composed by Daniel Pemberton, the score to Spider-Verse is one part lo-fi hip hop, one part trap, one part orchestra, and one part record scratches, all without words. I’ve never listened to anything like it before. Six of the tracks from this album, including personal favorites like “Catch The S Train,” “Only One Spider-Man,” and “This Spark In You” are now on my personal playlists.
Among the famous artists that collaborated to make the worded part of the soundtrack are big names like Post Malone, Swae Lee, Lil Wayne, DCKWRTH and the the late XXXTentacion.
So it’s really that good?
Yup. It really is that good. It’s a modern-day masterpiece, my favorite film of 2018, and the only movie I’ve taken this much time to review, ever.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is playing now in theaters worldwide.