By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 13, 2018)
This is going to sound patently preposterous to some of you, but hopefully I’ve proven through the years that I stand by my opinions and don’t require agreement with them. So here goes: After screening Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse this past weekend, I walked out blown away on a number of levels.
Not only is it the best Spider-Man film ever attempted, surpassing Spidey 2 and Homecoming, but it’s one of the Top Five Movies of ANY type in 2018. I usually finish my reviews with the letter grade, but I’m just going full-on spoiler off the top of this joint.
It’s an A+.
I wasn’t sure what to expect walking in, knowing it was another in the dreaded “In Association with Marvel” efforts, the last of which, Venom, was putrid. The trailers showcased wackiness and fourth-wall level content that can submarine a coherent story. Following the aforementioned Tom Hardy Venom film’s credit sequence was a five minute snippet of Into the Spider-Verse. It was intriguing but it was also confusing and although it was entertaining, I had no clue whether it could work or not.
It can work. It does work. It works so darn well that I place it alongside Mission: Impossible – Fallout as the two most exhilarating and fun experiences I’ve had in a movie theater all year. As good as Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Incredibles 2 were, and each was indeed excellent, Into the Spider-Verse is better. It should win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in an absolute walk. That’s not to say it will, but it will be extremely disappointing if it doesn’t, ranking up there with Brave supplanting the original Wreck-It Ralph six years ago.
What’s most astonishing (pun intended) about this gem is its unexpected depth of emotion and its easy to follow message of everyone having the chance to be a hero in their own lives, despite the circumstances surrounding them. There’s the difficulties of father-son relationships, heartbreak, perseverance, and yeah, there are some terrific quips and jokes. While the humor is prevalent and it does tread on the arcane and the obscure, Into the Spider-Verse tells a cogent story of a young man, Miles Morales, bitten by a radioactive spider, who ends up one of MANY Spider-Men in various dimensions of the universe.
Everything about this film succeeds, from the outstanding soundtrack, featuring a good mix of tunage, both past and present, with Notorious B.I.G., Vince Staples, and plenty of other past and present artists surrounding the action, to what the audience’s eyes will view. The visuals are unique and the animation feels cutting edge, marrying anime with an out-of-focus look that benefits the happenings of the foreground. Each character brings with him or her a distinctive style that changes the picture just a bit, which keeps it fresh and also assists in the film’s pacing, which is, outside of a few brief sequences, rather breakneck.
In short, it’s an aesthetic masterpiece.
The voice cast is superb, with recognizable voices that are perfect fits, with Jake Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, and a flawless choice in John Mulaney doing exquisite work, and they’re all somehow still supplanted and topped by Nicolas freaking Cage, who steals the entire show, along with Shameik Moore, who voices Miles. One of my colleagues and critic friends noted after the screening that in 2018, Cage has voiced both Superman and a version of Spider-Man. He followed that statement with this one: “What a world.”
Into the Spider-Verse presents a world you don’t want to leave, and this isn’t a short film. We’ve grown past the “It had better be two hours or it’s a waste of money” time frame to realize that oftentimes, less is more. This movie is nearly two hours, 117 minutes to be exact, making it longer than many animated features, but it never comes close to wearing out its welcome. In fact, as it ends, it feels as if the guys who wrote it knew exactly how long it needed to be to satisfy and leave the crowd wanting a sequel.
Taking a look at the two men who wrote the screenplay, MAYBE we should have all seen this coming. Phil Lord wrote Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in 2009 alongside his writing and directing partner, Christopher Miller. Then, in 2014, he took a shot at something that in many ways was revolutionary for animated films, The LEGO Movie. I have yet to meet someone that didn’t find that effort enjoyable. He also helped with both 21 Jump Street and its sequel. The first was a stunningly good comedy that I was sure was going to be garbage and was 100% wrong about, and 22 Jump Street was also above average for a comedy sequel.
Alongside Lord is Rodney Rothman, who worked for David Letterman for several years on CBS as both a writer and supervising producer, then helped with Undeclared, a vastly underrated show, and he has important credits in Judd Apatow productions and other strong comedies this decade, including Get Him to the Greek in 2010.
Both of these guys are known, when looking at their CV, for overdelivering and producing high end content that catches critics and fans off guard. So, Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman come together and write and direct Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which will hit theaters tonight.
And the result?
Some will say it’s crazy to suggest this, but I’ll repeat it, and you can ask for my critic card if you see it and hate it (you won’t), but it’s one of the best five things I’ve seen this year. I’ll take it over Black Panther, I’ll take it over Infinity War, I’ll take it over all of the blockbusters outside of Mission Impossible: Fallout, but its originality is unparalleled. I dug the heck out of Ready Player One, but I’ll take it over that one as well. I have to submit nominations for various 2018 awards next week. Guess what’s going to be on it? You guessed it.
Peter Parker(s). Miles Morales.
Into the Spider-Verse is that rare animated entity that will immediately have you hoping for spinoff properties for some of the characters you meet in the film, Cage’s in particular. Luckily, there’s a lot in the works. It’s an absolute joy to watch, and in no way is it dumbed down. It works for any audience, but there is some violence, there’s a little blood (noticed it once for a second or two), and there are some frightening images, so be aware of that for the young kids. It should scare them too much, but keep it in mind nonetheless. Just as The LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman both played to the adult crowd as much, if not more than the children, this one strikes similar chords. The whole family will love it.
If you know comic history, if you know cartoon history, if you know entertainment history, and if you understand the Spider-Man mythos, so many of the sight gags and the references will give you the warm feeling you crave. There’s some sadness to be found, but even those moments seem fitting and almost serve as a tribute. One final point to mention is you MUST, without fail, stay through the credits. You must. Do not disobey me on this one.
The story is good, the music is good, the animation approaches groundbreaking status in a wholly refreshing way, the characters are fully fleshed out, the voice work is excellent, and even the resolution of the plot is successful – which often can be the downfall of films in this genre. I am extremely excited to see it again in Dolby this weekend and although I rarely purchase physical media these days, Into the Spider-Verse will be in my collection.
It’s the biggest surprise I’ve had in the theaters all year, and with Lord and Rothman behind it, it shouldn’t have been shocking at all. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a tremendous, action-packed, fast-paced, web-slingin’, funny, clever, powerful romp of a good time. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Go. See. This. Movie. ASAP.
Seriously. Do it now.