Often, around the time of a superhero movie’s theatrical release, an accompanying straight-to-DVD animated release will follow, so to imply, “if (title of movie) wasn’t enough, wait until you see this!” That’s what immediately came to mind when I saw the trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. “Why is this in theaters?” I thought. Imagine my surprise when this turns out to not only be my pick for best animated movie of the year but perhaps even best superhero movie.
In a dimension other than the one we’re familiar with, New York teen Miles Morales, has always admired Spider-Man, Peter Parker. Miles’ father is a police officer, and his mother is a nurse. He’s always had a loving relationship with his parents, and a stronger focus is put on his dynamic with his seemingly strict father, who he seemingly has some baggage with. One evening, Miles goes to hang out with his cool uncle, who is potentially involved in some criminal activities, who his father doesn’t speak to. That night, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider. He begins to realize in a big way that there was never just one Spider-Man.
This movie will bridge the gap between kids, adults and nerd culture. Kids will enjoy it, adults might enjoy it more, and it’ll make the nerds happy. I had a big, dumb, goofy smile plastered across my face for a large portion of this movie, and I understood maybe 30% of its Easter-eggs and references. The film takes the off-putting idea of the comic book multiverse and makes it digestible and easy to understand, even to a viewer like me, who has never cracked open a comic book. There are complex ideas that the movie walks us through that ultimately seem very commonplace, even though they’re decidedly not. There are winks and nudges and meta stuff sprinkled throughout, and yet this never once feels self-indulgent. This film is speaking to an audience suffering from comic book movie fatigue, and yet it finds a way to make this feel like a breath of fresh air. My favorite part of this movie is how unapologetically comic-book-y it feels. The animation itself is more innovative than anything I’ve seen in an American animated film in quite some time. You begin to notice this in the opening studio logos, and it really does not let up. It gets weirder and more delightful.
The Lego Movie co-director Phil Lord also co-wrote this, and directors Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman and Rise of the Guardians director Peter Ramsey have crafted a film very deserving of the best animated feature Oscar. This has the same breathless, breakneck pace of The Lego Movie and the same enthusiasm for the source material. As you watch, you can feel the love for this project and how important it is for these filmmakers that they got it right. And they did.
This also has a stacked voice cast. Shameik Moore, from the film Dope, plays Miles, and he does a very nice job. Brian Tyree Henry, recently seen in Widows, plays his father, and Mahershala Ali plays the cool uncle who might be hiding a secret that’s relevant later on. Hailee Steinfeld plays Gwen Stacy, and she’s always good. New Girl’s Jake Johnson plays a very good Peter Parker, a different one than we’re used to. Lily Tomlin shows up as a delightfully badass Aunt May, and her presence makes everything better. Kimiko Glenn, of Orange is the New Black, John Mulaney (bonus points if you get the film’s reference to his previous work), Chris Pine, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Zoe Kravitz, Oscar Isaac, and Nicolas Cage show up, and everyone sounds like they’re having a great time.
Spider-Verse is a big budget American animated feature that is doing some genuinely fresh and original things that you haven’t seen before. As I’ve said, it looks like a comic book brought to life in a way you don’t see very often. This is one of the most visually dazzling movies I’ve seen in 2018. It demands your attention in every moment and yet is somehow quite mesmerizing, even in the final battle, which is a masterfully designed sequence.
In conclusion, this was a movie I considered skipping in theaters until I had been told I shouldn’t. And I’m glad I went, and I might see it again. It’s hilarious, spectacular and breathtaking and yet also, there’s some unexpected and genuine emotion where you don’t expect. It’s brilliant and beautiful and absolutely not to be missed. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is easily the best animated film of 2018.