Groan, you must be thinking. Another Spiderman movie. Not only have we had six Spiderman movies in the last 16 years, but we’ve had three separate Spidermen from three separate universes! With how many superhero movies are being pumped out each year, must another Spiderman movie be one of them?! To my very delight, however, this is not only a great film but probably the best superhero and animated film of the year!
Now, I have a quick confession to make. While I do love the character and lure of Spiderman (having grown up with two different animated Spider-man TV shows) I have yet to see all of the movies. I’ve only managed to see Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (2002), half of Spiderman 2, and The Amazing Spiderman (2012). I have yet to see Spiderman: Homecoming and only know of Spider-man 3 and The Amazing Spiderman 2 and what they are most infamous for (emo Peter Parker, Venom, and too-many-villains syndrome). With that being said, if someone who has seen all of the Spiderman films were to tell me this was the best one, I would have no problem believing that. Without having seen all of the films, I can feel the passion the filmmakers have for this character (or should I say characters), and I think this film perfectly captures what Spiderman is.
Without going into spoilers, the film is told from the perspective of not Peter Parker, but Mile Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a high school boy who struggles to connect not just with people at his new school, but with his parents, especially his father (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry). After an encounter with a radioactive spider, Miles soon develops strange abilities, including heightened senses, increased agility, and the ability to stick to nearly everything. Troubled, Miles decides to go back to the scene of the incident, where he is caught in the middle of a fight between Spiderman (Chris Pine) and several other villains, including criminal mastermind, Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). The Kingpin ultimately succeeds in activating the Super Collider which in turn brings together several different Spidermen from different Universes into Miles’ dimensions, where they must work together to take down the Kingpin and the Super Collider before it’s too late.
First and foremost, I must talk about the animation, because it is spectacular! To say it is ‘stylized’ would be an understatement because it’s one of the most unique, spectacular looking animated films to come out in recent years. Not only does it lend itself to some very fast-paced action sequences and beautiful backdrops (especially when they are in the forest and during the final fight sequence), but there are also other small details that make it seem like a comic book come to life. From multiple frames being shown at the same time to look like moving comic book panels, to actual words and captions being displayed, to the way certain characters are animated. One thing I love about the animation is there’s always something going on, whether it be in the background or foreground, yet the film always knows when to slow down and what to focus on (especially in the more sentimental scenes, which are quite effective I must say).
Speaking of which, I must talk about the characters. Before this film, the only other versions of Spiderman I knew were even a thing were Spider-Ham (from a single episode of a TV show I watched), Miles Morales, and Spiderwoman, but not specifically Spider-Gwen. This film has so many characters, but it never feels overstuffed. Excluding Miles, each of the five main Spidermen are given quick, but very cleverly done, introductions that deviate from the traditional Spiderman origin story that we’ve seen so many times in their own fun, unique ways. Even the heroes who don’t go through an actual “arc,” Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), Spiderman Noir (Nicholas Cage), Spiderwoman (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) are all super fun and voiced brilliantly. The primary focus is where it should be, on Miles and how his relationship with his father and his uncle affect his transformation into Spiderman. What I really like about his story is that he doesn’t become Spiderman right away. Not only does he struggle to figure out his powers, but it’s through his struggles that we get to see how his story both diverges from all the other Spidermen stories and connects him to all of their stories. This movie really understood what makes Spiderman Spiderman and what connects all of their stories to eventually become the heroes that they are.
I want to take a moment to discuss this movie’s version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), a character we’ve seen brought to the silver screen countless times. In this version, we find a middle-aged Peter Parker struggling to balance hero work with living a stable, happy life. As we see, his life has basically gone into a downward spiral, so it’s interesting to see how both his experience being Spiderman for so long affects Miles and how Mile’s journey affects him. It’s quite refreshing to see a more disheveled version of a hero who’s gone through so much over the years and that, yeah, heroes can hit rock bottom, but what matters is how they chose to bounce back from it.
While the villains aren’t the primary focus of this story, they are still a lot of fun (and at times even a little surprising). The main villain, while certainly not the most complex or compelling one we’ve seen, is given some motivation behind what he is doing, making him a little more sympathetic than just “generic baddie who wants power.” Still, most of the focus is on the heroes as it should be. The final thing I want to talk about is the comedy, which is spectacular and never feels too forced or cringe-inducing. The comedy is timed perfectly and extends beyond generic one-liners and quips to some clever visual cues and character-driven lines/moments. There’s also a pretty damned amazing Stan Lee cameo in here (who I’m sure would have been very pleased with how this film, featuring one of his most beloved characters, turned out).
Honestly, I cannot recommend this movie more. This may well be the best animated/superhero films of the year, and certainly one of my favorite movies of the year! Also, stick around for an after-credits scene (as if you need to be told to do that by this point). Not only is it downright hilarious, but also features what may as well be a pivotal plot point for (hopefully) many sequels to come.