What if there was more than one Spider-Man? A comic universe expanded into different dimensions represents a cotton candy-covered playground for filmmakers, and with Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse, co-directors Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman have given us a beautifully-rendered world of possibilities that should make you laugh, cry, and watch your jaw drop to the floor. What more could you possibly ask for?
After what seems like 15 live action Spider-Man movies, screenwriter and acclaimed Hollywood storyteller Phil Lord taps into the comic source material of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, bringing us the heroic coming-of-age tale of Miles Morales (earnestly voiced by Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn, New York teenager who dreams of being something. Painting the walls of subway tunnels by night and adapting to the rigors of a new school by day, Miles comes into contact with Spider-Man one night, changing his life forever.
But this Spider-Man isn’t the only one, and when Morales runs into another masked vigilante (Jake Johnson), albeit one with a few pounds on his waist and world-weariness on his shoulders, things start to weird. They only get more perplex as others start to show up and Morales then wants to find out if he has what it takes to be a hero in his own universe.
Here’s the thing. I really enjoyed this movie and what it wanted to do. This is a decompressing thrill ride that fits comfortably into the drama-heavy Oscar season. Spider-Verse is something else visually-a gorgeous mix of 2D and CGI-powered animation mixed together for a groundbreaking look-that strives to be something more than the usual superhero tale that gets delivered to the theaters.
Lord’s story also carries the arrogance of a Deadpool mindset without the crude language while making sly nods and joking references to old and new Spider-Man movies without losing the earnest heart of a heroic tale. As Morales trains with the older Parker on how to properly sling webs and fight villains like Wilson Fisk (a vocally disguised Liev Schreiber) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn), he is also trying to figure out his place in the world and how to settle into it.
Lord and company structure the film like a moving and breathing comic book, with the classic boxes expressing sound and dialogue inside a character’s head popping up in the corner of the screen. This makes for awe-inspiring visual quirks and sounds that will delight the old school comic lover who crave the animation perform in creative ways on screen.
There is an end-of-the-world plot theme that simply can’t be avoided, but the filmmakers blend that ageless catalyst into their new world movie ideas, and never forget where the heart of the film should be. The best parts involve Parker and Morales coming to grips with where they are in their respective dimensions/verses, and seeing them interact with Spider-Man Noir (a giddy Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and Mary Jane (Zoe Kravitz). It all blends together for a film that knows exactly what it is without straying too far away from its ambitions. Mahershala Ali offers good voice work as well.
Spider-Verse never gets too dark, become too light on its feet, or hammer you with so many pop culture references that you’ll only partially understand. It has a goofy yet enduring heart that knows how to make you laugh. Several times throughout the film, in a joke poking fun at the stacked histories of comic book heroes, the character will say, “let’s go over this one more time,” as sort of a playful drunk history rendition on the many cinematic takes on Spider-Man.
Yes, there is a wonderful Stan Lee cameo during the film that shapes Morales in a way and a loving nod to the late legend before the credits, so stick around and bring a Kleenex, Marvel fans. After all, Lee co-created Spider-Man, an unusual hero of the people who didn’t walk a straight line into becoming a superhero for all to enjoy. I’ll be honest and say I was never a huge fan of the character and comic, but the classy touch shown in the recent Tom Holland films and this animated delight have made me a fan. I left this film wanting more, which has brought us a far leap from Spider-Man 3, where everybody was picking up shovels to bury the web-slinging fella.
The soundtrack is hip and cool, blending into Morales’ background and story instead of trying to be historically respectful to the character. Like the film as a whole, the music always seems to reflect the current mood of Miles and can transcend easily on-screen.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an entertaining and light-hearted adventure for the whole family. Original and charismatic, the movie is groundbreaking in a number of ways, mainly taking a character that has been all over the place, and making him seem like new again. Something the hardcore comic book nerds can appreciate as well as the casual purveyor of film.
In a world stuffed with evil and constant reminders of upcoming dread, something fun like this sure does help.