Spider-Man was created in comicbook form by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko way back in 1962. The teenage wallflower who was bitten by a radioactive spider arguably became the most popular and recognizable superhero of all time. There has been a slew of Spider-Man movies over the subsequent years, and it has always been Peter Parker under the mask. Until now.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a vibrant, wholly unique animation experience that moves at a breakneck speed. It’s populated by no less than seven spider-men and women, all from different dimensions with distinctive backstories, battling six super villains, and somehow… it all works.
Minor spoilers ahead.
The story revolves around Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) who is struggling to fit in at a fancy new private school. Miles is a budding graffiti artist who has a rocky relationship with his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry). He gets along much better with his freewheeling Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali).
One night, Uncle Aaron takes Miles deep into the subway tunnels underneath a scientific research company called Alchemax to practice his tagging skills. Here, Miles is bitten by an escaped experimental spider and given the same superhuman powers as the famed superhero Spider-Man (plus a few extra abilities to boot!).
As Miles tests out his new talents, he soon comes into contact with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Chris Pine) who is battling it out with the Kingpin of Crime (Liev Schreiber) and his crew of classic Spidey villains. The Kingpin and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) have built a machine to enter parallel universes. Spider-Man knows the machine could destroy reality as we know it and desperately tries to thwart their plans. In doing so he inadvertently pulls five alternate reality Spider-People into his universe.
Spider-Man is killed in the ensuing battle and charges Miles to take up his mantle. While the villains begin working to repair the machine, Miles meets one of the alternate reality Spider-Men – an older, world weary version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who is going through a divorce with Mary Jane. (It is hinted in flashbacks that this Peter Parker is from a universe similar to the Sam Raimi-directed, Tobey Maguire-starring Spider-Man film series, but it is never specifically stated.)
The older Peter Parker takes on a mentor role to Miles as the two seek out the other dimension-lost Spider-People to help shut down the Kingpin’s plans for good and get them all home safe.
There is Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), from a universe where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the spider instead of Peter Parker; Spider-Man Noir (Nick Cage), a 1930s black and white hardboiled detective web-head; Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), an anthropomorphic cartoon pig with spider powers; and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), an anime school girl with a giant robot sidekick that’s piloted by a tiny radioactive spider.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a ridiculously funny, wildly inventive, and emotionally gripping ride. The film combines the creative freedom of The Lego Movie with the action, adventure, and heart of Marvel’s best superhero stories. The new animation style, which merges computer animated 3D with 2D animation, produces a wholly unique visual style not seen before. The film ripples with energy, as if a comicbook came to life before your very eyes, with inner monologue captions appearing above the characters’ heads and sound effects jumping off the screen.
The movie’s talent is beyond compare. Each actor is memorable, bringing distinct voices to a flick bursting with characters. The big standout here is leading man Shameik Moore, who shoulders the power and responsibility of portraying the first non-white Spider-Man in a motion picture. Miles’ journey from insecure teen to full-fledged hero feels fresh and new while still carrying the spirit of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original creation.
Stan Lee always said that his favorite aspect of Steve Ditko’s character design was that any kid, regardless of race or gender, could picture themselves underneath Spider-Man’s mask. Into the Spider-Verse takes this concept and runs with it, with the most diverse cast of Spider-People ever to swing onto movie screens. It’s also fitting that the film features the first posthumous Stan Lee cameo in an emotional and appropriate appearance that we won’t spoil here, as well as a tribute to Ditko and Lee in the end credits.
Overall, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, the best superhero movie of the year and is in neck-and-neck competition with Spider-Man 2 for the title of best Spider-Man film of all time. This one’s a winner and the perfect all-ages film for the holiday season. Nuff’said.
All stills courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation.