I’m as excited as anyone for Avengers: Endgame next year. Infinity War may very well be the best comic book movie of all time, and if this long-awaited climax lives up to expectations, it will be one of the most stunning achievements in cinematic history. But with so much emphasis placed on the grand finale, the more relatable side stories have fallen by the wayside. Even Ant-Man and the Wasp couldn’t avoid the pull of the overarching plot.
So while I didn’t know I needed it, or even wanted it, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sneaked up and forced me to completely reevaluate what I’m looking for in the current era of superhero overload. As invested as I am in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has been developing over the last decade, Spider-Verse gives us a chance to pull over, get out of the speeding vehicle, and remember what makes Marvel comics so great in the first place.
What makes Marvel’s stories and characters so incredible is that there are literally an unlimited number of ways to approach them. Marvel even has a built-in device to recreate its characters as many times as it wants: There are an infinite number of universes in the vast Marvel multiverse, and each is entirely distinct from the last. Understandably, the MCU doesn’t delve into this concept, because there’s already far too much to juggle. But with all the goodwill the company has built up, it’d be a shame if no one was approaching these stories from a different angle.
And that’s exactly what Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse provides.
At this point, virtually everyone with a pulse knows who Spider-Man is. Furthermore, with the utter ubiquity of comic book movies, most people are familiar with the wild rules of these universes, and are willing to suspend their disbelief, whether it involves a giant purple alien trying to solve the population problem, a muscular sea dweller who can speak to fish, or a talking raccoon with a sarcasm streak. So why not keep pushing the envelope?
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is unlike any comic book movie I’ve ever seen — in or out of theaters. There have been plenty direct-to-DVD animated superhero features (some of them genuinely marvelous!) that have taken risks a theatrical release wouldn’t. Spider-Verse not only takes many of those same risks, but has the productive value of any of the best animated movies of the past few years, from Kubo and the Two Strings to Coco.
Into the Spider-Verse is primarily an origin story about Miles Morales (the former lead of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series) becoming Spider-Man. It’s also a really poignant and well-told (if familiar) father-son drama about growing up without growing apart. But in the midst of all of this, Kingpin opens up an interdimensional portal that spits out five additional Spider-People into Miles’ world (hence the movie’s title).
It’s a lot to balance, but the only reason the movie is able to do so successfully is because it’s not bogged down in the MCU. Thanos isn’t gathering any Infinity Stones in the background; there are no Sokovia Accords to worry about; and, perhaps most importantly, a sequel isn’t a guarantee or a necessity.
Into the Spider-Verse is free to be it’s own thing, and as excited as I am by the web of the MCU, there’s more than enough room for offshoots like this. Origin stories have become somewhat trite in recent years, but when you throw in an overweight Peter Parker, a 1930s Spider-Man voiced by Nicolas Cage, and one of the most visually astonishing art styles of the decade (along with some stellar writing), I’ve got all the time in the world for your movie.
From the deftness with which it handles the family life of Miles, to the bevy of villains it features, to the patented Lord and Miller sense of humor it exudes, Into the Spider-Verse is easily the best Spider-Man movie ever made. And even though it might not be directly connected to the all-encompassing MCU, it couldn’t exist without it, or the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies that came before Marvel took over.
I’m as ready as anyone to see how Captain Marvel fits into the bigger picture, and to watch the surviving Avengers from Infinity War team up to stop Thanos for good, but what has me most enthusiastic about the future of comic book movies is the prospect that more filmmakers will take chances like this with the source material. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse could be the start of something really special.