For once, a movie lives up to its hype. Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse is the most spectacular animated feature I’ve ever seen. This takes nothing away from Disney, Pixar, or Studio Ghibli, but the core idea of creating a living comic book, and its bold, brash execution, blew me away. Even my wife, who has no interest in superhero movies, enjoyed it.
The story moves at a breakneck pace and is so crammed with visual ideas and gags it’s hard to catch them all. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming. Sensing this, I chose to see it in 2-D; I get a feeling that if I watched it in 3-D my brain might explode.
Start with this: there’s a new Spider-man in the neighborhood: a black/Puerto Rican teenager named Miles Morales who lives in Brooklyn. His relationship to Peter Parker and variations of that well-known figure from alternate universes provide the springboard for a hyperkinetic, multi-layered story. The reason it works so well is that the film spends time building characters we come to know and care about, then hurls them into the path of an oncoming train, metaphorically speaking.
It’s not just a solid piece of storytelling with a groundbreaking style: it’s also a great action movie that just happens to be animated. Ironically enough, it took hand-drawn animation to create some of the characters and effects that so closely resemble a comic book.
This is the brainchild of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of Lego Movie fame, directed by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. Lord provided the story, with a screenplay developed by Lord and Rothman (whose surprising résumé includes several years as head writer of Late Night with David Letterman). Their combined talents, along with a huge team of animators, designers, artists and effects specialists, make this the powerhouse it is.
I would have been happy if Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse didn’t run so long. It’s literally exhausting, and there are more climaxes than necessary. But weighed against its originality and phenomenal presentation, that becomes a minor complaint. At the risk of being redundant, this movie is a knockout.