Review Date: 2/17/21
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Lily Tomlin, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Chris Pine, Zoë Kravitz
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a smart and creative teenager growing up in Brooklyn, and has just been enrolled in a school for talented and gifted students. He doesn't like the new school and he misses his friends and family. One night he sneaks away with his deadbeat uncle (Mahershala Ali) to paint some graffiti in the sewers and is bitten by a seemingly harmless spider from another dimension. The bite gives Miles spider-like powers just like Peter Parker (Chris Pine), and a chance meeting with the real Spider-Man leaves him carrying a heavy burden. A dangerous experiment run by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) causes an overlap in the Multiverse, which brings several other Spider-People into Miles's dimension. Kingpin's continued experiments threaten to destroy the entire Multiverse, and Miles is going to have to learn the ropes of being a superhero extremely quickly in order to save his world and send everyone else back to their respective dimensions.
It's a thoughtful and well-written story, with a superb cast and excellent performances. The characters are likable and easy to identify with, and the comic book drama resonates well. The character designs are good, with the exception of Kingpin who looks completely ridiculous. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) is particularly adorable and I appreciated her involvement. While she's the toughest, smartest, and most attractive member of the cast, I'm starting to become tired of the "just because I'm a woman I have to be twice as good at everything" trope, which feels needlessly forced - especially when the overall theme of the film is "anyone can be a hero." It moves at a fairly brisk pace, but the climax overstays its welcome and the film feels about twenty minutes too long.
Unfortunately, the animation has a very polarizing effect. While many reviews called it the greatest animated movie of all time, I found it physically painful to watch. The trailers made an extremely negative impact on me, so despite all of the positive word of mouth, I didn't even bother seeing it in the theater. I might have become physically ill if I had. The pervasive screentone texture is distracting and annoying at best, but not a stylistic showstopper. The bright lights and flashing colors are tolerable, although potentially seizure-inducing to sensitive audiences. The wild, kinetic action and camera work can also be disorienting and induce nausea much like a video game, but I could handle it in small doses. The real killer for me was the erratic frame rate. There's literally no reason, technical or otherwise, for animation to look this bad, and they obviously did it on purpose. It's infuriating and mentally taxing to watch multiple elements within a single scene all moving with different frame rates. While it can probably be argued that this is a thematic story-telling device that reflects the nature and abilities of the individual players, the end result feels like an icepick stabbing your brain. It's unfortunate, because with a slightly more conventional approach, it would be a truly remarkable film instead of a literal eyesore.