Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film with so much ambition, doing so many amazing things at once, that maybe its biggest accomplishment is that it doesn’t fail at any of them. It really is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best superhero movies ever made, is easily the best animated film to come out this year, and it is perhaps the best film to ever encapsulate the essence of a comic book to the big screen, and not just because the fancy new animation style is meant to replicate the look and texture of bubble pop comic print. Into the Spider-Verse is an achievement, and it’s one that even mainline Marvel live-action films are going to have a hard time living up to.
The first and most obvious thing that sets Into the Spider-Verse apart is that art style, though, and it’s worth noting that there really is nothing else out there that looks or feels like this. A slightly lower framerate than most other films lends Into the Spider-Verse the sense of continuous still images, something that drops away from consciousness as action ramps up or as certain characters move – more on that in a minute – and makes the experience feel like it burst from the page. Onomatopoeia springs up constantly, Miles Morales’ thoughts are expressed through narration text, and perhaps most impressively, as Spider-Folks from various other universes start popping up, each of them contributes their own aesthetic sense that subtly varies on the comic book feel but never breaks the immersion of seeing them all in one place. Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) makes cool 1930s pulp poses, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) looks like she popped right out of a manga, and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) is functionally an off-brand Looney Tune, yet seeing them in proximity to each other and the more grounded characters never feels jarring due to that heavy lean into comic book stylization. Think of crossover comics that retain the distinct visuals of their component series, and you’re on the right track, only now add on layers of color and abstraction that make for fantastic action scenes and remarkably intricate detail. On a purely visual level, Into the Spider-Verse is a marvel.
Yet if that’s all it were, this might make for an interesting novelty but not necessarily a great film. What elevates Into the Spider-Verse is not only its visual splendor, but its finely tuned, emotionally poignant storytelling chops, which set up Miles Morales’ origin story as equal parts deconstruction of comic book tropes and resolution of an identity crisis. Miles (Shameik Moore) starts his story as *A* Spider-Man, an inferior novice to the Peter Parker of his dimension and an unnecessary distraction to the dimensionally transplanted Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who only wants to get back to his own dimension to continue the sad, burnt-out life of dull monotony he’s grown into. But through his communion with his fellow Spider-People, he discovers a sense of community and continuity that informs struggles that he would otherwise feel alone in, as each of them have similar backstories and accompanying pain that they learn to all help each other through.
But that’s not the end of it. If Miles starts his story as one of many, he ends it by definitively becoming *The* Spider-Man of his dimension, embracing those characteristics that make him unique – not the least of which is his Black Latino heritage – and becoming just as much Spider-Man as Peter Parker himself, not necessarily supplanting the role of the original but coexisting as an equal protagonist of his own story. Textually, it’s a coming of age story, a recognition of self and the ability of one teenager to find out just what it means to be handed such great power and responsibility. Metatextually, it's the story of how anyone can look to the idea of Spider-Man as heroic and adopt that mantle, if not literally then aspirationally, and it doesn’t need to be limited to one canon or incarnation of the character. Miles Morales proves himself to be just as legitimate as the original Spider-Man, and getting hung up on long-standing continuity and unflinching reverence to one character is missing the point of serialized fiction, which necessarily needs to grow and change with its audience.
None of this even touches upon how incredibly funny Into the Spider-Verse is, which delivers an onslaught of referential humor and genuinely great character moments, constantly subverting expectations in ways that are both insightful for longtime fans and shocking for those with only a passing familiarity with Spider-Man. (Stay for the post-credits scene, which has one of the most off-the-wall jokes I’ve seen in a movie for a long time. I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard at anything else this year.) I didn’t even touch on Spider-Gwen, the low-key moral center for the whole film. I didn’t even get to the surprisingly human motivation for the film’s main villain, which only further compliments those themes I mentioned above. There is just so much to this film that it’s going to take multiple passes for me to process it all in a way that does justice to every individual piece, and I don’t know if I could possibly give it a more ringing endorsement.