The last major animated feature released in 2018 just might be its best.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is spectacular!
Spider-Verse opens with Spider-Man/Peter Parker being killed in a battle with Kingpin (Live Schreiber) – and the introduction of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a mixed race ‘almost fourteen’ year old kid who is about to become the new Spider-Man.
Miles is something of an opposite to Parker in some ways – he attends a private school; he has friends, and – most unlike Parker – is cool even before he gets spider powers.
Where he’s the same is this: when his cool Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali, Green Book, True Detective) takes him to the lab where Spidey got bitten by a radioactive spider he… gets bitten by a radioactive spider.
While Miles is discovering his powers – and not enjoying one second of it – Kingpin is trying to find a way to access other dimensions in hopes of finding other versions of his late wife and daughter.
To do this, he’s enlisted the aid of scientist Livia (Kathryn Hahn, Bad Moms), who has constructed a device to do just that.
The first time they try the machine, all manner of strangeness happens – and five Spider-people find themselves in Miles’ world: a forty-year old Parker (Jake Johnson, New Girl) who’s given up the gig; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage, having a great time); Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn, Orange is the New Black) and her Spider-Bot, SP//DR (powered by a sentient, radioactive spider); Spider-Woman/Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld, Bumblebee) and Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham (yes, a talking animal – voiced by John Mulaney).
A running gag has each of the Spideys recounting their origins with the opening, ‘All right, once more, for the last time,’ as they sum up their origins in two sentences or less. It’s partly a dig at protracted origin stories and partly a quick way to introduce each Spidey without taking too much time away from the main story – the story of how Miles Morales learns to be spider-Man (and, poignantly, also a way of letting each other know that they are alone…).
Conceptually at least, Kingpin’s efforts to open a gateway between alternate universes isn’t a bad one. Unfortunately, the practical application of the device to do so has some serious potential for destroying New York city.
In the meantime, Miles is trying to figure out his abilities – with the alleged help of the middle-aged Parker (the first Spider-Person to be pulled through into Miles’ world).
We also get to see Miles’ life before Spider-Man when his father, a PDNY cop, is a bit of a taskmaster when it comes to homework – and drives Miles to school in his police car, forcing his son to say ‘I love you, dad’ before he’ll drive off.
It’s kind of sweet and cringeworthy at the same time.
It’s also fun to watch Miles try to avoid his roommate at school – especially after he gets superpowers and five new Spider-Friends.
Kingpin, on the other hand, is both a figure of sympathy (his family died), pity (he’s so desperate to regain even a semblance of that family that he’s willing to ignore the potential dangers of doing so), and evil (he’s willing to kill Spider-Man and doesn’t care if finding his surrogate family destroys millions of lives.
Onscreen, he’s impressive – a huge block of a man; definitely a match for a Spider-Man.
Kingpin also has a rather nasty minion called The Prowler – and he is genuinely scary.
Other Spidey-verse characters that make appearances include: a pivotal appearance by Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) and one by a grieving Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz, Big Little Lies).
Sadly, there’s no J. Jonah Jameson, but we do get a Stan Lee cameo.
While Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse could have working well with a more standard CG approach, it goes into an even more heightened mode – like bringing a comic book to life, there are, occasionally, lines around the characters, like the inks that delineate the characters in comics; certain sequences have the four-color dots that you see in comics when you examine them with a magnifying glass.
There are other devices that also emulate the flipping of comics pages – several of the sequences with Kingpins nuclear collider look like riffling through a Dr. Strange comic, or Ant-Man’s Quantum Realm.
The overall effect is one that’s unique and refreshing. Directors Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman and writer Phil Lord have done a wonderful job.
At three minutes under two hours, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may be too long for really young kids (though only one kid left the screening I attended early – and the rest were mesmerized by the film).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never talks down to kids and has a lot of cool moments that will appeal to adults who are even passingly familiar with the comics.
I enjoyed it more than Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Final Grade: A+