There are a few great ironies surrounding the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s a superhero movie about connected universes that exists outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is a visual splendor with cutting-edge animation that still has a throwback feel to days gone by of costumed animated shows. The narrative focuses on a teenage boy trying to find his place in the world just as Spider-Man is about to become the only Marvel franchise not completely under the control of Disney, with an unclear direction full of possibilities.
After a decade of rotating Spideys, the Peter Parker origin story is more than a little played out. “With great power comes great responsibility” begins to apply to the franchise itself, risking becoming self-parody with any additional repetition. Into the Spider-Verse never loses sight of this, killing off its prime universe Peter Parker early on in favor of an older, heavier, and sullen version of the character to serve as a mentor to the film’s primary protagonist Miles Morales.
Shameik Moore voices Morales perfectly, bringing a sense of vulnerability to the Spider-Man role in a way not seen since Tobey Maguire. His Miles is grounded in an entirely relatable position, a boy who’s not quite sure where he belongs in a rapidly changing environment. Much is expected of him throughout the film, but he never lets the superpowers arbitrarily alter the human issues at the heart of the narrative.
The animation in Into the Spider-Verse provides some of the most innovative visuals ever crafted in a mainstream film. I practically had acid flashbacks throughout some of the sequences, expecting Jefferson Airplane to start playing at any moment. What’s perhaps more impressive is the way in which this scenery fits in perfectly with the arc of the film. Animated films have the luxury of being able to craft literally any scenario imaginable, but such sequences need to be consistent with the presentation of the storytelling.
Into the Spider-Verse manages to simultaneously present a fairly traditional origin story while seamlessly intertwining scenes from every corner of the animator’s imagination. It’s a wild ride that’s always rooted in reality. The other universe’s spideys don’t get a ton of screen time, but you feel like these characters have grown in their short time together. Film presents mere snippets of a character’s life. This movie makes every moment count.
The superhero genre has frequently pushed the limits of market saturation over the past few years. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was hardly born out of necessity, but along the way, it made a very compelling case for the future existence of non-MCU Marvel movies. These stories go beyond connected universes, even ones about connected universes, showing a sense of wonder beyond the prospects of an appearance from a superhero of another franchise. The movie throws everything and the kitchen sink at the audience’s imagination, delivering an immensely satisfying experience that should not be missed on the big screen. We’ve seen a lot from superheroes, but Into the Spider-Verse serves as an excellent reminder for how much more the genre has to show us.