The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a groundbreaking animated feature. It looks like no previous animated film. Seen in 3D, it especially feels like stepping into a comic book for two hours. When comics want to put a new spin on a familiar character without messing up the official canon, they create alternate "universes." Spider-Man has several. The movie imagines a bunch of them coming together. That original idea combines with eye-popping visuals to make this a first-rate superhero adventure.

Shameik Moore (Dope) provides the voice of Miles Morales, a teenage boy living in New York City. While doing some graffiti with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), he's bitten by a radioactive spider and begins developing weird powers, including excessive stickiness. Shortly afterward, he runs into Spider-Man (Chris Pine), who reveals that the evil Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), has built a particle accelerator that will open up multiple dimensions. The side effect is that using it repeatedly threatens to implode the whole city.

During Kingpin's initial use, various Spider-Mans (Spider-Men?) from other universes cross over: the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage); a variation of Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), known as Spider-Gwen; the Japanese anime version, Pene Parker (Kimiko Glenn); comical pig Spider-Ham (John Mulaney); and an older, out-of-shape Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). None of them can survive in this dimension for long, so Miles has to help them figure out how to get back to their respective worlds.

That in itself is a great story, and Into the Spider-Verse does a lot with it. Humor is present in the ways the various characters adapt to a universe where they do not belong. Spider-Man Noir, for example, is baffled by a Rubik's Cube because there's no color in his world. A compelling portrayal of teamwork is also here, as the team members use their individual strengths to prevent Kingpin from carrying out his plan. Emotion comes in the form of Miles' need to hide his powers from his cop father, as well as from the heroes realizing that loss is part of the Spider-Man mythos in any incarnation, thanks to Peter Parker's uncle Ben setting the template. All the way around, it's a terrific plot with themes that are true to Spider-Man's long history.

Innovative animation kicks everything up a level. The style of Spider-Verse has never been seen before. Traditional hand-drawn 2D animation is combined with 3D computer animation to achieve a gorgeous look. Sometimes things in the foreground are in focus while stuff in the distance is blurry. Text boxes intermittently appear onscreen, just as they do in comic panels. Other times, the screen splits into sections, replicating the pages of a graphic novel. The backgrounds often have texture -- dots, lines, squiggly patterns, and so on. Occasionally, double-vision is utilized, as though you're watching the film in the old blue-and-red type of 3D, yet without the glasses. As weird as it may sound, the technique really works.

The visual design of Into the Spider-Verse serves to create an entire world that you get sucked into. While several of the live-action Spider-Man movies have been quite good -- as have other superhero pictures in general -- none of them have been able to accomplish what's done through animation in this case. Every single shot is a delight. In fact, you often don't want to blink for fear that you'll miss something amazing.

Further aided by outstanding voicework from the actors, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just the year's best animated movie, it's one of the best comic book movies ever made. Your mind will be blown and your eyes will be dazzled.

( out of four)

Note: Seriously, the film demands to be seen in 3D. I can't recommend the format enough.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

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