This past Thursday, I was all set to type up a B- review of the fourth weekend of “Instant Family” (a little gaggy at times, otherwise fine) when I stumbled across tickets to a next-day screening of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which officially opens next Friday. I think the idea was that AMC wanted to get a head start on that “Spider-Man” money since nothing new was opening this weekend. I grabbed a ticket and the next night went to the sold-out show. It turned out that the unusual showtime was just one of many things this movie does differently that makes it amazing.
For starters, the movie features upwards of seven Spider-Men. Actually, they aren’t all men, Spider-People. Actually, they aren’t all people, Spider-…Beings. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a teenager from a New York patrolled by a familiar version of Spider-Man (Chris Pine). Miles is unhappy with his current lot, going to a boarding school that he hates and having his stern cop father (Brian Tyree Henry) always breathing down his neck. He blows off steam with some mischievous activity with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), and it’s here that he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. Soon he’s able to jump high, stick to things, and other Spider-stuff.
One night Miles stumbles upon an evil plot by The Kingpin (Live Schreiber) to tear the universe open with an interdimensional collider. A test brings to New York a shlubbier version of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), who can hopefully help Miles develop his new powers, because he can’t quite figure them out on his own. Clearly, this was not the first test of the collider, because other Spider-Whatsits are already in wait. As a matter of fact, Gwen “Spider-Gwen” Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) has been posing as a classmate of Miles for a week now. There’s also the hardboiled Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), futuristic robot pilot Sp//dr (Kimiko Glenn), and cartoon pig Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). This is an animated film, but even in its world, Spider-Ham is a cartoon. The use of anvils should help keep things straight.
Speaking of the animation, this movie has a visual style that I’ve never seen before. It’s all CGI, but then altered to look like cartoons and comics. I’ve seen expensive movies go out of their way to look like comic books before, but it’s never been done as effectively as it is here. The style allows the characters to move and emote realistically while still performing completely off-the-walls action, all with a dazzling throwback color scheme. You know a movie is going to be awesome when you’re hooked from the studio logo, and this movie gives you a Columbia logo glitching into several different styles in the span of about three seconds. Instantly you know this is going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
As if the visual style weren’t great enough, the film boasts a strong script with endearing characters, excellent voice acting (I think this is the first Jake Johnson movie where I haven’t detested him every minute he’s onscreen), and some of the best humor of a genre that has given more and more of itself to humor in recent years. The only real complaint I have is the same one I have about a lot of overly ambitious movies, and that is that it moves so fast that I’m not sure if some of the characters’ actions really fit into this world. But that’s easily countered by the amount of excitement, detail, and joy that the film exudes at any given moment.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” is one of the best films of 2018 and the best Spider-Man movie ever.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” opens this coming Friday. The film is rated PG for frentic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. Its running time is 117 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.