‘Into the Spider-Verse’ is a Triumph of Style and Storytelling

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By Ian Baxley

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best looking animated film I have ever seen.  And it’s not even close. During the QA after my screening, the directors described the film as having an experimental style that was animated by industry veterans, and it shows.  The film flawlessly recreates the look and feel of Golden Age comics, complete with dot coloring and double printing used to show depth of field. The film is intentionally different, animated at 12 frames a second instead of the standard 24 to simulate hand drawn animation.  To add to this effect, the film never once uses motion blur, an industry standard in 3D animation used to make everything smoother. The end result is a style that pops off the screen like a 2D animated film, all while being able to do complex camera motions and lighting allowed in a 3D environment.  Again, this is easily the best looking animated film I’ve ever seen, and I doubt this will change for the next five to ten years.

But of course, looks aren’t everything and a film this visually impressive can still easily be disappointing if the story isn’t well written.  So what is the story? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse follows the adventures of Spider-Man.  And Spider-Man. And Spider-Woman. And Spider-Noir.  And Anime Spider-Girl. And Spider-Pig. For those who couldn’t tell, the Spider-Verse part of Into the Spider-Verse refers to the film taking place in a multiverse.  After Kingpin creates a super-collider in an attempt to reach an alternate universe, Spider-People from many different universes begin to appear in our New York City.  These alternate Spider-People must stop Kingpin and a slew of other villains from destroying New York with the help of the Spider-Man we know and love. Only not quite.

Unlike the countless Spider-Man films from the last two decades, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does not follow Peter Parker.  Instead we follow Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Puerto Rican teenager from Brooklyn, on his journey to become Spider-Man, and save his city.  The film beautifully incorporates the public’s common knowledge of the Spider-Man mythos to give us a story that feels familiar, while also being unique.  This is a story fundamentally different that any other Spider-Man film, all while having enough similar elements to still feel distinctly Spider-Man.

With all these elements at play, the script has it’s work cut out for it.  So is the film able to juggle five different Spider-People, all while still developing Miles as a character distinct from Peter Parker, and still have enough room for a classic hero vs. villain story?  It’s shaky at times but yes, the film feels like a complete work and nothing feels superfluous or hugely underutilized. Some elements are underdeveloped, and you really wish the film was just twenty minutes longer to fix this, but overall the story leaves you satisfied.  

Just like the visuals, the script oozes with style.  The film’s story and screenplay was written in part by Phil Lord, who along with Chris Miller wrote The Lego Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, two other wonderfully written animated films.  Just like those films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is filled with beautifully written dialogue, fantastic character writing, and hilarious self referential humor.  But just like The Lego Movie the film isn’t only jokes.  It has a lot of heart as well.  In my opinion however, these dramatic moments are not as well incorporated in this film as they were in The Lego Movie.  Without spoiling anything, the film tends shift from funny to serious a bit too quickly, lessening the effect of both.  In The Lego Movie, the main heart filled moment is self-contained in the ending, while in this film there are heartfelt and dramatic moments sprinkled throughout.  This easily still could have worked flawlessly, if not for a core issue with the film I mentioned previously, its tendency to under develop things.

Still for every one thing the film does wrong, it does ten things right, and Into the Spider-Verse is filled with writing and directing decisions that go above and beyond.  The film is heavily stylized, not only in it’s visuals, but its script as well.  The film feels incredibly kinetic; always moving along at a lighting pace while still never feeling confusing.  It’s obvious Lord and Rothman have a strong grasp on the basic rules of writing, and know when, and how to break them to achieve a unique scene.  The film almost feels like a Wes Anderson work with how it delivers its exposition and constantly keeps its plot moving. This is a film that stands out on both a technical and story level and is a unique experience through and through, despite it being seventh large budget Spider-Man film in the last sixteen years.  The film is flawed yes, but so much of it stands above what we expect from our blockbuster films I can’t help but give it a 10/10. This is easily the best animated film I’ve seen of 2018 and I can’t wait to see it get robbed by Incredibles 2 or Ralph Breaks the Internet at this year’s Oscars.

Also this film has the greatest after-credits scene of all time.  Don’t leave before it.

Ian Baxley