It’s kind of strange there aren’t more animated superhero movies released in theaters. Looking at the 100 highest grossing superhero films of all time, only five are animated: The two Incredibles films, The LEGO Batman Movie, Megamind, and Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. (Somehow, 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm only made just under $6 million at the box office.) In our current age of superhero movie deluge, wide-release animated superhero movies would make a lot of sense. They don’t have to be tied to any other current superhero movies going on and, more importantly, it opens the door to do really interesting things. Superhero movies make a lot of money! Animated films make a lot of money! But, for some reason, most movies in this genre skip the theater.
No one will ever be able to accuse Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse of “not trying something interesting.” Everything about it is interesting. Produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (I’ve heard Phil Lord went “all in” on this movie post-Solo situation) and directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is exciting, weird, visionary, emotional, and weird. (I may have used the word “weird” twice, but it applies, so whatever.)
Spider-Man: Homecoming eschewed the traditional Peter Parker Origin Story and just jumped right into things because, for the life of us, we didn’t need to see this origin story yet again. (Honestly, I never want to see Ben Parker or, for that matter, Thomas and Martha Wayne ever die again. We all get it.) Into the Spider-Verse does something interesting with this trope, as we see Peter’s origin quickly summed up (in a voiceover that tells us, “you all know this story”) as the movie opens, but because this is a movie with multiple Spider-People, it’s a constant callback played to hilarious results.
I think there might be a concern that this movie is “confusing” for casual viewers. Honestly, if you’ve ever read a comic book before, there’s nothing particularly confusing about Into the Spider-Verse, but it’s certainly an unconventional movie featuring a character people know extremely well. We start out with 26-year-old Peter Parker, who is known across New York City as Spider-Man. Easy enough! Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, (voiced by Liev Schreiber) is up to no good, risking the destruction of the tri-state region by activating a powerful machine that opens portals to other dimensions (his motivation for this is revealed later). This is what opens up the Spider-Verse, bringing many different iterations of Spider-People to this dimension and it brings a certain radioactive spider, a spider that has a fateful encounter with a young man named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is, in essence, the Miles Morales story everyone has been waiting on. He’s an awkward kid who is starting at a new school, loves his dad, a New York City police officer (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), and also loves Spider-Man (to his dad’s chagrin). Near the beginning of the film, fate puts the now powerful Miles near the Kingpin’s machine, as Peter’s Spider-Man tries to shut it down. Peter fails and is defeated by Kingpin, but entrusts the destruction of this weapon to Miles – and now the city’s fate is left up to a new Spider-Man, but he’s a Spider-Man who doesn’t know how to use his powers yet. Luckily, a Peter from another dimension shows up to help Miles. Unluckily, this Peter (Jake Johnson) is pushing 40, is out of shape, and has turned into a bit of a sad sack. Miles and this Peter make a very entertaining team. The team grows when these two meet other Spider-People who have been sucked into Miles’ universe, which includes Spider-Gwen (Hailee Stanfeld) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Yes, this movie features a talking pig who, back in his universe, has spider powers. (See! Totally not confusing.)
Honestly, I love this movie and I love that it exists. I love that Sony took a risk on a (yes) somewhat complicated premise and turned it into something unique and funny and daring (and weird). I don’t always love the concept of “rooting” for movies to be financially successful, but I do hope Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse succeeds and sets off, not just a few more of these Miles Morales Spider-Man films, but also a whole plethora of studio-backed animated superhero films that can take real chances. This animated movie has more heart and emotion than most live actions films of this genre.
If you give it a chance, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will knock your socks off.
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ opens nationwide on December 14. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.