There's a strong case that 2018 was the biggest year ever for superhero movies. The three most popular movies of the year all involved superheroes: the game-changing Black Panther, the mega-event Avengers: Infinity War, and the stellar sequel Incredibles 2.
But for sheer comic book-based thrills, none can top the late-breaking animated tale from Sony. By now, we've already had three different Spider-Men in 16 years. But Into the Spider-Verse understands that we won't be fatigued if the story is this spectacular.
Shameik Moore voices Miles Morales, the African-American teen who took up the mantle in 2011. We haven't seen this version before, but all the anxieties of adolescence are still there. Instead of a nerdy outcast, Morales struggles with identity, going to a prestigious private school, having to leave behind his neighborhood friends. While he still has the same origin – gaining his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider – his story refuses to go through the motions.
It also refuses to conform to one animation style, bursting with color at every turn, with its characters popping off unfinished backgrounds. When a dimensional portal opens, spilling different versions of Spider-Man from different timelines, each plays by the rules of its respective home. Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) uses mallets and anvils to dispatch bad guys. Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) broods in black and white.
But what's most surprising is that, even as it comes from part of the brain trust behind the hilarious LEGO Batman Movie, Into the Spider-Verse has a deep emotional core. Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) wonders how hard to push his son to put in the hard work and earn his success. Miles' discovery about a family member he admires is devastating. And a front porch embrace between Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) had me in tears. Even Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has deeply personal reasons for messing with the time-space continuum.
Into the Spider-Verse also really understands comic books. Even the best MCU and X-Men movies are essentially action movies with broad mass appeal. This one leans into the medium's ridiculousness, malleability, and visual freedom. There are even plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the character, no matter when they first started reading about any version of Spider-Man.
While I had high hopes for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it exceeded all my expectations. It's the best animated film of the year, and one of the best movies of the year period.