In a crowded year for superhero products, Sony Picture Imageworks' animated rendition of Spider-Man manages to completely obliterate anything else that came out this year - or in the past decade, for that matter.
It is a superb movie, a visual triumph supported by an amazing cast of characters, an incredible soundtrack, fantastic art direction and a damn good story to boot. Touching all the right chords in the right way, this emotionally rich visual firework is the best superhero movie ever, the best western animated movie ever, and - safe to say - 2018's best movie.
A once-in-a-generation piece of art, and, needless to say, an absolute must watch.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens with a regular Spider-Man story montage. Par for the course, if not for the fact that the lead on Into the Spider-Verse is not your usual Peter Parker - or a Spider-Man at all: people, meet our protagonist Miles Morales: a half Puerto-Rican, half African American teenage kid.
Younger and goofier than any other superhero, Miles is an incredibly relatable character: he has just moved to an exclusive high school where he barely knows anyone; he is going through puberty, gets dubious pieces of dating advice from the most disparate sources, likes to blast music through his headphones and express his feelings through sketches, stickers and graffiti. He has a great relationship with his family (including his father, Jeff, and uncle, Aaron), and lives a pretty decent life in Brooklyn, all things considered.
Miles' teenage problems are about to be overshadowed by a number of much more serious issues, however, as he accidentally makes contact with a (you guessed it) radioactive spider. Coming back to the crime scene to find the spider who bit him, Miles gets tangled up in a fight between the real Spider-Man, the local crime baron and evil mastermind Kingpin and his gang of evil henchmen. The dark side is trying to turn on a mysterious machine, and as Parker unsuccessfully tries to stop them all hell breaks loose. In a quick turn of events, Spider-Man is dead, Kingpin's dangerous particle accelerator risks to destroy the city, and Miles - the only one who has the (super)power to stop them - is on the run.
At this point, Into the Spider-Verse soars from being just a great superhero movie to a truly subversive and wildly imaginative piece of art. The signs have been here for the whole opening sequence - logos that are not exactly the same, familiar landmarks which are slightly different, and a New York with a few peculiar buildings; but now it's finally completely clear: Miles' New York is not our own - it's, instead, a completely different dimension. Only after Kingpin's machine opens a portal between dimensions, our own world (and the standard Marvel Cinematic Universe) comes into play, as the real Peter Parker - divorced, with grey hair and a decently-sized beer belly - rolls into the frame.
And together with Peter, a beautiful and diverse array of Spider-People moves into Miles' world: Penny Parker, Peter Porker, Spider-Noir, and - of course - Gwen Stacey from another dimension. From this point onward, Into the Spider-Verse becomes an absolute firework of brilliant moments, incredible set pieces and perfect animation. To say more would be to spoil the fun, but rest assured - the story and characters (both good and evil) are rock solid, Miles' growth arc is possibly the best superhero origin ever written, and Into the Spider-Verse manages to surclass all previous Spider-Men outings, combined, in just under two hours.
From a technical perspective, Into the Spider-Verse is the absolute winner of a weight class we didn't even know existed. Marvel movies, and big budget movies in general, are increasingly relying on computer graphics and visual effects to tell stories in a visually striking way. But their art direction is often lacking, and the VFX are often used to cover up mishaps and 'fix it in post' rather than to add to the experience. Into the Spider-Verse, on the other hand, is designed from the grounds up to be a visual experience - a choice that's perfect for the super hero at hand. Spider-Man movies have regaled the public with beautiful vistas of New York and breathtaking web-swinging sequences, but Spider-Verse is the first movie in which the camera and actors are completely freed from physical boundaries.
The result is a stunning amount of incredible sequences, without a single superfluous or out-of-place shot; every frame is a painting, and all paintings together tell one of the best super-hero stories ever. The sequence in which Miles realizes he is, after all, the one and only Spider-Man in particular, outclasses any single action sequence in recent memory - digital or not.
I mean, just look at it:
And yet, despite all this eye candy, it's the story and the perfectly written cast of characters that carries Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to its amazing conclusion. Just like Miles' New York succeeds in being a believable and tangible place thanks to its connection and similarity to what we know from our daily lives, Miles' character pierces through the screen by virtue of being 'just a regular person' - with its faults, fears and moments of vulnerability.
Spider-Man has historically been a character that people all around the world can identify with: a feature that has no doubt contributed to its incredible and timeless success. Peter Parker is all of us - even though we don't have a spider suit in our wardrobe, we do struggle with life and stand up time and time again. And Spider-Man's story has been brought to the silver screen over and over, usually with outstanding results. Miles Morales has some big shoes to fill, and so did Into the Spider-Verse.
But they both succeed, without any single doubt.
Miles Morales' Spider-Man is the best Spider-Man ever, period. Sony Picture Imageworks's Spider-Man is the best superhero movie ever, period. And Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse is possibly the best movie of 2018. It's very rare of me to recommend a movie without any reservations; but if there's any movie that deserves such a heartfelt rec, it should definitely be Into the Spider-Verse. It's Spider-Man like you've never experienced it; it's animation as you've never seen it before - an incredible work of art, a stunning achievement, and a generation-defining piece of cinema.
Go and watch it.