Believe the hype. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is both the best animated film of 2018 and the best Spider-Man film ever. From the producing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the film (and its soundtrack) has the same hyperkinetic energy of The Lego Movie (2014) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017) but for a more suitable subject. The animation evokes a comic book aesthetic and wildly succeeds at distinguishing between the Spider-Beings. There’s been a lot written about this film, so I just want to point out a few things.
The film deals with the inevitable clichés of yet another Spider-Man reboot by cannily acknowledging them; the result, as Christy Lemire writes, “welcomes us even more powerfully into” the film. And there’s a welcome twist to the retread of old plot points: This time around, Miles Morales / Spider-Man-to-be (Shameik Moore) doesn’t have to figure things out for himself; he’s got Spider-friends, who are “probably the only people who know what you’re going through,” as Gwen Stacy / Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) points out. The superhero coming-of-age tale was always sadistically individualistic, and this refreshing spin creates a more wholesome psychological growth environment.
The film also sneakily plays with time. Spider-Beings unconnected to the Spider-verse don’t know how things will turn out, but Miles’s dimension already has a Spider-Man when he gets bitten, so in a sense, he gets a glimpse into the future. He’s thrown into the middle of a fight between Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Chris Pine) and the Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), recalling the scene in Cloverfield (2008) when the protagonists walk into an avenue-occupying firefight between the monsters and the (losing) military. Here, the fight is as hyperkinetic to Miles as it is to us, letting us really feel how much he still has to grow.
Lastly, there’re the three supporting Spider-Beings: Peni Parker / SP//der (Kimiko Glenn), Peter Porker / Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and 1930s-era Peter Parker / Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage). The first two get ample screentime, with Spider-Ham being especially memorable for allowing the film to let loose with absurdist humor, but Nicolas Cage and his iconic voice are criminally underused. Despite his intriguing character, I barely remember a thing about him. This marginalizing of structurally different Spider-identities undercuts the message of diversity embodied in choosing Miles as the Spider-protagonist (Spider-sorry). A truly inclusive Spider-verse would give sufficient screen- and voice-presence to all the Spider-Beings, even the black and white ones.