Sony just detonated the Big Bang of animated super-movies

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Opens Friday 14
4 out of 5

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse exists because the web-slinger is the only major Marvel property to remain outside Disney’s clutches (especially now that the Mouse House owns Fox’s X-Men and Fantastic Four ). Sure, Sony lends the superhero to the Avengers, but this studio is holding on to its golden spider.

This also means Sony had to get creative to make a Spider-Man universe. Though ravaged by critics (I didn’t hate it), Venom did pretty well at the box-office, better even than traditional Marvel properties at the international level.

But it’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse that blows the web-door wide open.

The animated romp opens with Peter Parker, but really it’s a Miles Morales movie. Miles is the Latino-African American teenager who takes over from Parker when… well, that’s spoiler territory.

Morales has two major influences in his life: His dad, a by-the-book policeman, and his uncle, a low-level criminal who’s too-cool-for-school. It’s no surprise Miles is brilliant, decent and loves artistic vandalism.

Two seemingly random events throw Miles’ life off-balance. First, he’s bitten by a radioactive spider, acquiring powers (not the same as Peter’s). Later, he sees the villainous Kingpin fire up a collider that opens interdimensional portals, causing havoc in Brooklyn and Miles’ existence.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the film is a breakthrough in two areas: animation and narrative. Let me put it this way: next to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, Pixar and Dreamworks flicks are “cute”. I haven’t seen a movie that more closely approaches the feeling of reading a comic, while at the same time taking full advantage of continuous motion and changing perspective. Complex animation frames might only be on screen for a fraction of a second but they still make an impression.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse isn’t just eye-popping — the film preserves hand-drawn animation’s warmth. Sharp angles and jagged ends feel much more genuine than smooth, rounded cuddly creatures (looking at you, Minions). Comic panels and “spidey sense” wiggly lines are there too, not for flair but to complement the experience. And characters from different dimensions are distinctly animated — from charcoal black-and-white to anime-style — yet they interact seamlessly. It all works.

The plot is basic but functional, hanging on solid character work, crackling dialogue and the requisite moral spider-quandaries. The fact Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse introduces parallel dimensions before the MCU — which is still tiptoeing around the subject — did, is noteworthy. We know Miles will take over the Spider-mantle, but having his origin story involve Spideys from multiple dimensions serving as unwitting mentors is pretty neat. The film uses narrative tropes, quantum physics and fractured timelines with ease, and that’s as satisfying as the visuals.

The only times Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse stumbles is when it tries to  force its “hip” factor (I thought  of The Simpsons’ Poochie a few times). Even the radioactive spider is pimped-up. This film doesn’t need gimmicks to cater to specific demographics, it’s organically and broadly appealing.

Here’s looking forward to future installments.