By Henry Schmidel
If live-action film is a moving photograph, then Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a comic book brought to life on the big screen. The unique style of animation, nearly all of which is drawn in the classic comic style, is only the beginning.
The movie was written by Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord, the minds behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, and is one of few superhero movies, especially animated, to produce characters that feel like real people struggling to deal with changes in their lives, and not just stoic, stone-faced professionals. The main character, Miles Morales, is a high schooler struggling to deal with the switch to a private school, and the way he expresses himself is through art, which he graffitis around the city with his role model, his uncle Aaron. Miles’ father Jefferson, a police officer, doesn’t approve of Aaron’s choices, and there’s a longstanding rift between them.
And all this is before Miles even gets superpowers.
The animation of the film is unprecedented. Characters from other “Spider-Verses” are animated according to their world. Miles and his universe, as well as Spider-Gwen and Peter B. Parker and their universes, look like classic comics. They have the typical style of bright colors and lots of pointilized dots, and the animators found a way to use the classic action words on screen without it feeling forced or clunky as it often does. The other characters are all uniquely drawn as well. Spider-Man Noir, a detective from the 1930s, is entirely in black and white. Spider-Ham, the film’s comic relief, is a talking pig in a Spider-Man costume, and he’s drawn in the early Looney Tunes style of animation. Finally, Peni Parker, a young girl from a future version of New York who pilots a robot instead of having superpowers, is drawn in a Japanese Anime style.
Throughout the movie there’s a phrase that is constantly repeated: “Spider-Man always gets back up.” The different spider-people in the movie see it not just as a mantra but also as a crucible within which they became heroes. Every single one of them had a crushing defeat, but they got back up. It wasn’t ever easy, but it’s what had to happen in order for them to become the heroes they are. It’s part of what makes Miles (and all the other spider-people as well) such a human character. The thing that spurs him into being a hero is something believable, something everyone experiences. Someone close to him dies, and he has to decide if he’ll use his powers for himself, or for the good of everyone.
Even with a crazy plot about portals and dimensions and craziness, the familiar struggle to keep fighting and utterly normal characters who struggle with it make Into the Spider-Verse refreshing and comfortable without sacrificing the excitement of the story.