You know that feeling you had when you finished watching Black Panther the first time? The credits were rolling and you sat there experiencing a mix of emotions—shock, happiness and validation, all while SZA and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” flowed throughout the theater? Imagine having all of those feelings again, except this time the movie is animated, funny, and targeted at a slightly younger audience. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the most phenomenal experiences you’ll ever have at the movies. This movie is what would happen if you took all the action and complex plots from the live-action Marvel movies, added the heart, humor and relatability of a Pixar film, with all of the dialogue by the staff writers of Atlanta.
I’ll admit I was not expecting to like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse because I thought it was a bait-and-switch. For years, Sony and Marvel had teased the idea that Donald Glover–black geek god—was in the running to play nerd-turned-superhero Spider-Man. Why not? Peter Parker’s Spider-Man is a smart working-class kid from Queens, N.Y., and there is nothing inherently “white” about the character (unlike say Captain America).
In the end, Marvel cast Tom Holland (who is great) in Spider-Man: Homecoming (which is not great) and announced an upcoming animated feature starring Miles Morales instead, the Afro-Latino Spider-Man from an alternate Earth who debuted in the comics back in 2011. It seemed like classic Hollywood—tease a leading black role then relegate them to On-Demand or Netflix or an animated Christmas flick. I am happy to say that I was very, very wrong. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not a throw away idea meant to placate black and minority Marvel fans while the main universe stays in the hands of blonde gods and Aryan super soldiers. It stands alone as one of the best movies Marvel has ever made, and arguably on of the blackest, most diverse movies you’ll see all year.
A spoiler-free summary of this movie cuts out so many of the great twists and turns that happen throughout the film. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse begins with a funny fourth wall-breaking montage that introduces you to the idea that Spider-Man exists across multiple dimensions, sometimes as a movie, sometimes as a comic, breakfast cereal, and everything else. The story then settles on the newest Spider-Man, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager from Brooklyn attending a private school for smart kids. His life is a mixture of his passions for graffiti art and hip-hop, and a balancing act between his police officer father, Jefferson (played with amazing vulnerability by Brian Tyree Henry); nurse mother, Rio (Lauren Velez, with not nearly enough screen time); and his cool but possibly on-the-other-side-of-the-law Uncle, Aaron (played by Mahershala Ali, who, at this point, should be in everything).
Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, becoming the Spider-Man of his New York City, and then, without giving too much away, he’s thrust into an adventure where he has to save the universe along with Spider-Men and women from different versions of Earth. It’s a wild story, but it’s told organically and with such humor that you’ll find yourself saying “Wow” a lot in the first 10 minutes.
Everything about this movie is a visual, auditory, and racial feast. The animation in Spider-Man is unlike anything ever attempted in a mainstream film release, so much so that Sony is trying to patent it. It’s like a mixture of A Scanner Darkly with CGI comic pop art. Hip-hop and electronica pump through the background of action sequences, peppered with visual onomatopoeia like “POW” and “CRASH,” and thought boxes enhance dialogue, turning some screens into a moving comic book page, and others like living graffiti art. Bright colors and action lines make every action sequence easy to follow and thoroughly engaging. When Miles learns how to web swing or jumps from a skyscraper for the first time (and there are lots of leaps), you actually feel it in your stomach.
Speaking of feels, you will get all of them and more from this movie. Tyree, who should win the “That Dude is in EVERYTHING Award” for 2018 as Miles’ father Jefferson, and Jake Johnson as the 38-year-old “been there done that Spider-Man,” is a hilarious mentor and source perspective in the film. All of the supporting cast in the movie is great, from Spider-Woman—the most competent of the bunch—to Nic Cage’s over-the-top Spider-Man Noir, Futuristic Peni Parker, and John Mulaney’s cartoon Spider-Ham.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is such an economically written film. Every line of dialogue, from how long they’ve each been Spider-Man, to the music choices in the background and the running gag montages, gives each character much more emotional depth and purpose than most movies like this can deliver. Even the Kingpin and his henchmen’s motivations are explored, and after a few plot twists and surprises there are moments in the movie where I’m sure somebody at my screening was chopping onions because a cartoon isn’t supposed to hit you in the feels this way.
So often movies with black leads are just Trojan Horses to tell white-people stories, or worse, the movie is promoted as a black-led film when it’s an ensemble cast (Hancock, and Pacific Rim: Uprising are good examples of this). In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales is definitely the hero—he has a hero’s arc, the emotional plot points revolve around him, and the action sequences center on his development. Shameik Moore channels all of the nerdy cool style he displayed in his breakout film Dope and chews up every scene, whether he’s cracking jokes, learning the ropes, or growing from tragedy around him.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a must-see movie that works even if you’ve never seen a Marvel movie, and is full of Easter eggs and continuity if you have. You’ll be amazed that a movie like this just came out this year, a mere eight months after the paradigm shift known as Black Panther. But after this movie, you won’t have to dig through 27 think pieces about what it means that Spider-Man is black and Puerto Rican and attending a charter school. You’ll just have a damn good time.
This movie solidifies that our heroes not only wear black, they are black, and they speak Spanish, and code, and tag walls, and stick to walls, and save the world all before sneaking back into their dorm to get ready for class. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the universe we’ve always imagined was out there, and how it looked, and it has finally been brought to screen.