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Spider-Man is one of the greatest big-screen superheroes because his web-slinging action, colorful costume, and quirky dialogue are appealing to audiences of all ages. Every movie version of Spider-Man has great qualities, but there is no better incarnation of the character than in SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Granted, the superiority of SPIDER-VERSE is almost a cheat, because the movie features enough alternate takes on the character to populate a whole franchise. If you don’t like one iteration of the web-head in the film, there are half a dozen others to latch on to.
More than that, however, the energy, style, and humor of INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE are unparalleled. Not just when looking at Spider-Man movies, but when taking stock of superhero movies overall. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE — which plays as part of our Comeback Classics lineup — isn’t just the best Spider-Man movie, it’s the greatest comic book movie ever made, period.
Comic book movies always try to preserve elements of the comic book experience. Ever since the first Superman and Batman cartoons and live-action serials, filmmakers have used increasing skill and diligence to replicate the costumes and action seen in four-color pages. With the benefit of cutting edge animation, however, INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE isn’t just a few steps ahead of every other superhero movie. It is practically a wholesale evolution of the form.
Produced by Phil and Lord and Chris Miller, who have been making terrific animation since their original television series "Clone High," and directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE uses techniques we’ve never seen in another animated movie. Sure, there are in-jokes for comic book readers, right down to the Comics Code Authority seal at the opening of the movie. Beyond those, however, INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE feels simultaneously like a comic book and a movie.
It uses familiar comic book elements like thought bubbles, visual sound effects, and simple graphic indicators to embellish the characters and story in ways traditional movie-making could never do. And with a superb cast that includes Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Nicolas Cage, and Chris Pine, INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE gives voice to its characters in a way that no comic book could ever achieve. It is a near-perfect merge of the two forms, with action sequences that make the most of the medium.
INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE also offers the first movie version of Miles Morales, the character originally introduced as a young new Spider-Man in the Ultimates comic book line in 2011. Almost immediately, the mixed-race Miles quickly became one of Marvel's most popular characters. In the few years he's been around, Miles Morales became an icon to represent how superhero stories could evolve.
Because the Ultimates titles were meant to reinvent classic Marvel heroes for new readers, Miles keeps many classic elements of Spider-Man's backstory while changing key elements — both of his parents are alive and well, for example. With Shameik Moore voicing Miles, INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE depicts this young Spidey as wide-eyed and enthusiastic but also deeply uncertain about his abilities.
Every Spider-Man movie shows the visceral thrill and the pure joy of having superpowers. (There's also the downside, of course, as every Spider-Man deals with the responsibility of having powers, and the threat of death.) INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE depicts this with a purity and clarity that stands above even the best comic book movies. Miles's first steps towards understanding his new powers are characterized by a mix of exhilaration, confusion, and terror.
As Miles comes into his own INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE opens up into a magnificent exploration of all the themes built into the best Spider-Man stories. There's the intersection of power and responsibility, the idea that anyone can be a hero, and the ways that, under the mask, the person who is Spider-Man struggles with all the same things regular people do. We've seen these ideas on screen before, but no other superhero movie has explored them as thoroughly, or with the emotional punch of INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.
All images courtesy of Sony Pictures.
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