Miles Morales makes his cinematic debut as Spider Man in what is not only the best animated film of the year, but perhaps the best Spider-Man film yet.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the origin story for Morales as Spider-Man as well as a host of other Spider-…Folk? Gwen Stacy, Peni Parker, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham and, best of all, Janky-Broke-Hobo-Spider-Man a.k.a. an older version of Peter Parker all join Miles Morales after Kingpin unwittingly opened up a dimensional rift which pulled them all together. However, by far the most interesting segments take place when Miles is on his own.
The opening act of this film is one of the best segments of a film that has been released this entire year. Watching Miles’ day-to-day life as he transitions to a new school while having to balance his rebellious nature against the watchful eye of his father, a NYC police officer was already entertaining enough before he was bitten by a radioactive spider. This is thanks to that fact that this film has a sense of cool which is rare. Its style which is derived from the personality of the characters, the animation, the soundtrack, score and sound effects, and the visual effects all combine to form an unparalleled sense of cool.
Think of the raddest and most bangin’ song you’ve heard the past couple of years, inject some Spinal Tap into it, and you have the essence of Spider-Verse. The fact that it is animated amplifies this effect, as it allows for the saturation and exaggeration of each of these pieces into one mosaic of style and what is hip. The opening style and visual effects are dotted with neon colors which are derived from some of the punk/underground aesthetic which Miles partakes in. The visual flair from these colors is vivid and energetic which pops right of the screen, stirring excitement and emotion into even the most miserly of Scrooges around this time of the year.This moment of Miles finally growing into his new role as Spider-Man could go down as one of the coolest and most iconic shots of the character.
This excessive coolness is also a fun juxtaposition to Miles Morales himself, who at times is remarkably uncool, despite his best efforts. The portrayal of his apprehension of going to a new school, his struggle to fit in, and his anxiety and hyper self-awareness which causes him to think that everyone around him knows everything embarrassing he has ever done feels almost as real as last year’s Lady Bird. I am sure there are folks out there who thought it was a bit too real and relatable, as they may have gone through the exact same things in their own lives. Well, almost; their spider bites were likely a bit more mundane.
Both of these elements coalesce beautifully in the first act, but are replaced in the second and most of the third act. The momentum from the first act is still strong after the older version of Peter Parker stumbles his way into Mile’s dimension. But once the cast starts to balloon, it almost feels as if a different film has started. This film is a little sillier, as it balances the different personalities of the various Spider-People, some of which are more overtly cartoonish and silly- especially Spider-Ham, who is literally a classic Looney Tunes style cartoon character. While this second act is still very entertaining (it is definitely funnier than the opening), it doesn’t have that same juice and energy of the start. In many ways, the more outrageous and stranger of the two sections feels much like more of a conventional animated superhero film than the supposed conventional opening.
The chemistry between Miles Morales and Janky Old Hobo Peter Parker is one of the highlights of the second half of the film.
All of this leads to the third act which does an admirable job of bringing these two divergent feelings back together. The tone and feel are still much more aligned to the second act, but with Miles having gone through his low point of the film and bouncing back from it to embrace his role in the film, some of the coolness from the first act returns along with him- especially this look which feels like it will be more iconic than his normal Spider-Man suit. The finale plays out much how you might expect it to, which means that we are still waiting for one of the films to throw the formulaic nature of these films on its head and take a brand new approach to wrapping up these superhero flicks, but it still fine and entertaining as it is.
There should be no question that this is one of the finest animated films of the year, but it is the best Spider-Man film? Despite there being six other films, there are really only three other contenders: the first two feature Toby McGuire as the web-head, and the most recent film featuring Tom Holland. Prior to Friday, I would have said that Holland and Homecoming would be unrivaled at the top, but I am not so sure anymore. Shameik Moore injects a ton of personality into Miles Morales, whose animated nature allows for more expressiveness than his live action counterpart. Were this film a Miles exclusive that were able to maintain that excitement from the first act throughout its run time, I would have come away thinking this was the best on screen depiction of Spider-Man that had ever been made. With the film as it is, complete with its deviation from a Miles-centric opening, it can’t get a stranglehold on the title, but it is as strong of a contender as Homecoming. Even without that distinction, it is still the coolest god damned film since Black Dynamite, and that is something to celebrate.