With the absolute glut of superhero films that make it to the screen in any given year now, it’s difficult for any to really stand out. If they’re not repeating a statement, story, or aesthetic from a film in the genre that did so already, they’re conforming to a house style strict enough to make any real sense of novelty waver. If a film can be superficially different enough to draw acclaim (as with MCU films periodically praised for being unforgettably different before being forgotten after a few months), while remaining exactly the same as its peers under the hood, it’s lauded, and if a film does go to bat for something genuinely different, it usually draws pushback. These issues get particularly noticeable when it comes to series or characters with a lot of continuity, where there’s so many expectations built up.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” isn’t revolutionary on the actual story engine level, the bones of the script are standard fare, but they’re significantly enlivened by multiple things. The film centres itself around a sort of character and perspective rare to find in the genre (both superheroic and wider family action films in general, with the stumbling mixed-race lead of Miles Morales actually having his identity and family dynamics of huge factor the film, not just a sheen of representation), self-awarely pokes at the absurd amounts of continuity inherent to superheroic characters, and has a strikingly stylised and novel animation style.
Part quasi-sequel to the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films of the 2000s, part crossover of a litany of Spider-Man ranges featuring different versions of the title character, the film makes a point about the adaptability of these sort of media empire characters, implicitly making the case to, if not tell different stories, at least tell them with a different cast. The film even uses different animation styles with its different Spider-People, the mashup of more traditional animation with noir stylings with anime with the film’s primary design, a kind of shifting faux-rotoscoped kinetic affair bursting with colour.
There’s always plenty of invention here. Things don’t get too crowded until the third act, which underplays a messy twist in a way that makes the family mechanics of the film feel retroactively thinner, then – after the requisite hero-mantles-his-powers scene – turns into a sludge of mind-numbing psychedelia as heroes scramble to deal with a macguffin and stop a superweapon and all that jazz. For a film so self-aware about the genre for most of its runtime, it ends in a disappointing haze of frenetic and over-sustained action that dampens the emotional beats. Still, it makes its make very well through its first two acts and the visuals and central concept remain striking throughout. Three and a half Spider-People, and a broken USB driver.