‘Into the Spider-Verse’ is a wildly entertaining trip

Lifestyle | 12 Dec, 2018 |

The neighborhood is being overrun by Spider-Men! The web-slinging hero of “Into the Spider-Verse” is the fourth cinematic iteration of the character in just eleven years. Two Spider-Man franchises died and one isn’t feeling so good in the MCU—why do we need another Spider-Man? “Into the Spider-Verse” hears your complaint and raises you seven Spider-Beings in one movie. More is more, right?

“Spider-Verse” seems like it would overstuff, which is a problem that’s bogged down Spider-Man movies and entire superhero franchises. But miraculously, this feast won’t leave you bloated. Not only does it breathe enough fresh air into the genre to justify a number of sequels, it pulls off the most herculean task that a superhero movie could in 2018: it makes an origin story interesting again.

The wizards behind such magic are producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, a filmmaker pair that has repeatedly done the impossible. They rebooted “21 Jump Street” with hilarious success, and even transformed the corporate-demanded “LEGO Movie” into something special. Both movies poked fun at their own existences while lovingly respecting their original properties. Lord and Miller strike this balance just as well with “Into the Spider-Verse”.

The movie follows half-Puerto Rican/half-African-American high school student Miles Morales, a comic book character who took up Peter Parker’s mantle in 2011. After Miles is bitten by the ol’ radioactive spider, he begins discovering his Spidey powers—shortly before villain Kingpin rips open the multiverse with a giant Super Collider and accidentally sends Spider-Beings from five alternate universes into Miles’ dimension. This allows Lord and Miller to work their usual magic, satirizing the oversaturation of Spider-Man movies while actually making a great Spider-Man movie. They walk this line better than the crew behind “Deadpool” ever did.

And like the duo’s other efforts, “Spider-Verse” is endlessly funny. Lord, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rodney Rothman, has a real sense of how people talk and think—which is rare among screenwriters. Lord and Rothman take true-to-life dialogue and sculpt it into carefully curated comedy, interspersing classic Spidey quips between multiple Spider-Beings. This cluster of arachnids is crawling with wit: in addition to wacky heroes who provide comic relief, Miles’ mentor ends up being the Peter Parker from our universe, who is facing a midlife crisis of obesity and mediocrity. The character chemistry is wonderfully irresistible.

The character design is just as evocative—you can pick up on character traits by sight alone. It took a team of 140 animators to bring “Spider-Verse” to life, and their collective effort shows. The animation style echoes a comic book aesthetic: it’s lush, dynamic, distinctive, and bursting with personality. Watching it play out feels like flipping through a comic book—it’s kinetic. It’s fast. It’s alive. And it’s confidently outrageous: live-action Marvel movies have been pushing the boundaries of magical realism, but none of them come close to the inclusion of Spider-Ham, a spider named Peter Porker who was bitten by a radioactive pig. The possibilities of this animated realm are resplendent.

The comic book spirit enlivens the action as well. “Spider-Verse” generates a palpable sense of danger as it swings by at exhilarating speeds. This rush does affect the movie’s pacing, though: if you’re excitedly thumbing through a comic book, you’re bound to zip past some emotional moments, and “Spider-Verse” does exactly that. There are a few scenes that aren’t given enough time to breathe, which is a shame because the movie is genuinely emotional.

“Into the Spider-Verse” gets the web-slinger right in a way that we haven’t seen since Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” in 2004. We all know that “with great power comes great responsibility”, but “Spider-Verse” emphasizes a core of the character that’s been hidden behind Spidey’s eyes: great power comes from great anger, and we don’t always get to choose what makes us angry. What matters is how we channel that anger. Following the same vein as “The Last Jedi”, “Spider-Verse” universalizes and democratizes the elements of a hero, using minority representation to convey how heroism isn’t a privilege—it’s a choice that anybody can make.

Due to this universalization, multiple Spider-Beings isn’t just a fun plot gimmick: it’s the thematic focus of the movie. “Into the Spider-Verse” is a wildly entertaining trip—what else would you expect from a voice cast that ranges from Nicholas Cage to John Mulaney?—and it resuscitates the superhero genre with a resounding heartbeat.

★★★★½   (4.5/5)

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