In terms of the world outside of Spider-Man comic books, we may very well be at the height of quality content that the famed webslinger is capable of. Starting with the Marvel Studios's Spider-Man: Homecoming (or even further back at his brief introduction during Captain America: Civil War) and working our way through both Avengers: Infinity War and Marvel's Spider-Man (Sony Playstation 4), Spidey is no stranger being the underdog that audiences love to cheer on. And although a large portion of his stories usually revolve around the same theme of juggling, well, power and responsibility, it's a wonder as to how variations of these same concepts continue to dazzle.
Let's get this out of the way first: as crazy as Into the Spider-Verse presents itself to be, it's still a contained, character-driven story (albeit with multiple universes that suddenly decide to walk the same thread of fate—but we'll get to that in a moment). Instead of donning the suit as Peter Parker for the 14,000,605th time, we're instead transposed from one borough of New York City to another (Queens to Brooklyn). Most of the opening act is used for getting unfamiliar audiences acclimated with our new hero, Miles Morales. Just as we're starting to feel at home, certain events come to fruition that causes the very fabric of space, time and reality of multiple universes to converge into Miles's otherwise quiet life.
What the film near-immediately gets right is establishing Miles as not only the main protagonist, but an anchor to refer back to once shit hits the metaphysical wall. Miles's hometown, Brooklyn, quickly becomes a place brimming with character and charm through its colorfully lit cityscapes and landmarks. An instrumental version of Biggie's Hypnotize transitions seamlessly into the moody lyrics of The Choice is Yours followed by an eloquent mix into the smooth horns and bongos of the Incredible Bongo Band's rendition of Apache. It's one thing to see style, color and swagger, but to hear it adds another layer of attention-to-detail.
To no one's surprise, the film's visuals will undoubtedly be the bulk of the conversation generated from post-viewing. It's difficult to pinpoint an example of what resembles Spider-Verse most similarly as there isn't quite anything like it. The strong shadows and contrast at night echo the visual flair of 1999's Batman Beyond, whereas the living, breathing city of the day feel like a mashup of Jet Set Radio Future's Neo-Tokyo and 2001's Metropolis. The clean, sharp edges of characters are reminiscent of that of last year's Batman Ninja, but come into their own when splattered with a color scheme second to only that of the Super Mario Bros. series. Photography enthusiasts might also notice that the film often substitutes in chromatic aberration instead of blurring out a background. When web-swinging, characters also appear as if they exist on a separate plane from their surroundings which creates an eye-catching parallax effect.
It's relatively easy to gush about the film's presentation as there are so few things holding it back in terms of the characters and plot lines that jettison audiences through each comical and witty set piece. Had those ended up firing blanks, we'd think of Spider-Verse less as a film, and more of an over-glorified tech demonstration. Spider-Verse successfully staves off the monotony of one-note characters by way of an ensemble voice acting cast headlined by Jake Johnson (New Girl), Mahershala Ali (House of Cards), Nicholas Cage ([what do I even choose here]) and Liev Schreiber (Academy Awards Best Picture snub of 2009, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The voice talent displayed was nothing short of amazing, given that each of the Spider people(?) come from their own wildly different universe that share very few similarities in terms of tone and atmosphere.
If there's anything that ends up holding back Into the Spider-Verse from an indisputable perfect score, it's the last act of the film. Although it ends on a serviceable conclusion, it ends up sticking out like a sore thumb when bookended by far superior content. Now, come sequel time, I'm sure they'll find a way to use this bit of a lull as a springboard into more spectacular adventures, but Spider-Verse is currently standalone, and will be reviewed as such.
To continue its monstrous momentum from start to finish would've been a lofty ask, and although the film falters slightly by going with a very straightforward ending fight sequence, it doesn't impede on the overall sense of thrill that film evokes. Into the Spider-Verse smartly plays it cool by keeping its story and characters grounded (not literally, of course) and rations out its shenanigans in a way that doesn't overwhelm, nor run dry. Clocking in at a hair under two hours, I never once felt myself wanting to gaze away at the clock to see how much time was left. I wanted to stay and explore, and find out more about all of the anomalies that have suddenly turned this once familiar world, into one filled with comical abnormalities. Viewers that decide to return to (or first visit) this friendly neighborhood will find an expertly crafted, yet genuine love letter to all previous, as well as new fans of Spider-Man. (It's a good time to be a fan.)
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; potentially warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.