I had originally dismissed this as a piece of television animation that was getting a theatrical release to boost interest in DVD sales and streaming. Well that turned out to be wrong. After hearing a number of my colleagues on “The Lamb” rave about it, and seeing a half dozen really positive reviews (which I scanned rather than reading), I became a lot more motivated. I can now see why there is a lot of enthusiasm, and while I am not inclined to say it was the best film of the year as some of the hyperbole had it, I can say it was excellent.
The story does take a while to set up and you have to be patient with it. Not only do most of us know the origin story, but when the various dimensions start crossing paths, we get it partially recapped, although with slight variations each time. The main focus in this telling is on Miles Morales, a kid from Brooklyn who is starting at a charter school where he stays in a dorm during the school week. This story is immediately different because Miles has a loving Mother and Father present in his life. He is not alienated from them but he does have some of the usual adolescent angst that comes from trying to be your own person but also needing your family. Miles is gifted but more in the arts than the sciences, and his radiated spider bite is not a result of his involvement with a science project but rather, a graffiti experience he undertakes with his uncle in the subways of N.Y..
The look of the film is interesting because it contains a variety of painting styles, animation techniques and comic book themes. There are multiple panels being used at once and the progression thru the story is sometimes abbreviated by that style. This really is a hip hop version of a Spider-man story, complete with street art and music to lead us through our hero’s tale. The backgrounds are textured with the kind of pixelation that you would see in an old school comic book or maybe video game. In the traditional Spider-man films, whether from Sony or from Marvel/Disney, the character does look like a cartoon in a real world setting at times. This movie makes all the world look like a drawing so you stop noticing how different the animation is in the action scenes. I had a slight problem because the image sometimes looked blurry to me, as if it was created for 3-D and I was not wearing my special glasses. I assume this was an intentional choice rather than an exhibitor error. It was the main fault I had with the way the movie looked.
The story is self aware, making slight insider references to the other films in the Spider-man universe. There is also a version of the character that looks like a Warner Brothers cartoon, and a Porky Pig reference is made. Multiple villain appear and they seem to be altered to some degree by the intersection of the dimensions as well. Dr. Octopus for instance will probably surprise you a bit. The Kingpin is the main antagonist and we are given just enough information to understand his motivations for the actions he takes and his desire for what he sees as revenge. Some new villains (or at least I assume they are new, I’m not a reader of the comics) also appear in the story, and there is a twist that comes but it is signposted well before it arrives so it is easier to swallow.
We end up with six different versions of Spider-man, aiding one another in trying to stop the scheme while also dealing with the possibility that they will glitch our of existence. My favorite was Noir Spider-man, who looks like Darkman but even better, is voiced by Nicholas Cage. The mash up of styles for the different heroes is not as jarring as you might expect and in the end it all works pretty well. Some storlines could be a bit more complete but as a comic book film, “Into the Spider-verse” achieves its purpose. I was entertained and enjoyed expolring different variations on the same theme. Plus there is a really fun shot taken at Sam Rami’s “Spider-man 3”. That should give the comic book geeks something to look forward to as well. If you stick to the end of the credits, you will also get a nice nostalgia moment for old timers like me.