Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey & Rothman, 2018)

It’s hard for some films to live up to hype. They’re talked up so much and made to seem like the greatest thing, and then when you get around to watching them, they can’t live up to your lofty expectations. I was prepared to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and leave it disappointed. It seemed like something that would crumble under the weight of its acclaim. Then I watched it and, well, fell for it. Good news for the fans and bad news for the haters. It’s about as good as everyone has made it out to be. The animation, of course, is out of this world, with an invigorating halftone style that pays tribute to Spider-Man’s comic book origins while simultaneously finding clever ways to mix between two and three-dimensional models. It gives viewers a chance to step into this world that they know so well, to be an integral part of it, and to see it in new and visionary lights (which ties to Miles’ growth as the superhero of his own story). There were one or two times I worried it would become garishly over-animated, as tends to happen with animated films that aren’t lacking in confidence. But I don’t think that ever occurs. The style works to emulate the exciting power on a comic page, where action is always given over to maximalization. The effect intended here is to remind one of a childhood gobbling up these stories either on the page or in morning cartoons, where dreams became reality for a small instant and our imaginations conquered all.

One can’t ignore how fluidly this story is told, as well. Even if it utilizes the familiar themes of self-actualization and trusting in one’s own worth, there’s still so much room for creativity. There’s some self-referentiality and a welcome sense of irony, plus a trove of gags related to the dimensionally-displaced Spider heroes that crop up later into the film. The story itself is briskly paced and guided by natural momentum, never dragging itself down or becoming unpleasantly hyperactive. I think the crucial reason the film is so widely loved is because it moves like a comic book series being binge-read, with the action so engrossing and so taut that there’s simply no room for it to sputter out or for us to want to take a breather. And, again, it goes back to my point about the film’s whole design coming down to our nostalgic thrills. The scenes of Miles combing through his Spider-Man comics to try to learn about his new powers represents everything this film is trying to do, as well as the people it wants to speak to. And even then it’s not content to stop there. It never ceases to strive for a more daring and unconventional path. It pushes itself far and wide to reach a breakthrough and give the nostalgia of old a new face, a new name, a new heart. Miles’ journey becomes the start of a new chapter for the comic world that we soon realize was an inevitable progression from the start. The film works its way to that like a metempsychosic event, bearing the soul of the original Marvel vision and finally taking it to the greatest of heights.

But then, you already knew it was good. You don’t need me to say it twice.