Bold, vibrant, and wildly entertaining, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” web-slings audiences into a truly amazing adventure that feels both familiar and fresh.
It’s familiar in that, in the broad strokes, the essential elements of any worthy Spider-Man story show up.
It’s fresh in that those elements are presented in so many different ways, all of which are engrossing and thrilling to watch.
Oh, and it’s funny. It’s important to mention that, because Spidey has always been funny, though films in the past have struggled to capture that essential humor effectively.
What’s it about?
Primarily, “Spider-Verse” is the story of young Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore (“Dope“). A gifted Brooklyn teen, the son of a nurse and a New York cop, Miles already has a lot on his plate when audiences first meet him.
He’s adjusting to a new school outside of his neighborhood. His dad pushes him to live up to his potential, but doesn’t exactly see the value in Miles’s artistic talents.
He enjoys spending time with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight“), but Aaron and Dad don’t see eye-to-eye.
But all that is, well, just kid’s stuff compared to what happens shortly after an unusual spider bites Miles. Virtually overnight, his world gets turned upside-down in a way familiar even to him.
You see, in his world, there’s already a Spider-Man. He’s real – he’s got his comic book, his own cereal and Christmas album, and everybody loves him.
So where does that leave Miles? There can’t be more than one Spider-Man, can there?
The answer, he learns, is “yes, there can be more than one.” A lot more. And all those Spider-People are going to need Miles’s help to solve a serious problem that threatens everyone’s existence.
A new vision
“Spider-Verse” comes in part from the furtive minds of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creators of the original “The Lego Movie.”
As they did in that earlier animated film, the duo adopt an animation style reflective of their story’s rich history and tradition. In this case, they blend incredibly photo-realistic computer imagery with hand-drawn animation reminiscent of classic comic books and strips, the very medium in which Spider-Man first came to life.
The result is a dazzling and innovative visual extravaganza. It literally leaps off the screen without the aid of 3D, powered by bright color and constant visual energy.
In addition, the film features a deliberately free-wheeling, almost zany style storytelling style. Self-aware asides and knowing “winks” to fandom pervade the film. They’re as much a part of the film’s overall fun as its thrilling superhero action and derring-do.
Heart of a hero
But Lord, Miller, and the film’s directors — Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey (“Rise of the Guardians“), and Rodney Rothman (“22 Jump Street“) — also power their new vision with the most essential quality of any Spider-Man film: heart.
The greatest Spider-Man stories, the ones that have lasted the test of time regardless of medium, have been underdog stories. They’re stories in which ol’ Webhead, for all his amazing powers, faces the longest of odds to prevail.
In all these cases, he rises to the occasion and saves the day, but almost always at a terrible cost. The hero’s life is one of sacrifice and lessons learned through hardship and sorrow; arguably, no masked superhero knows this better than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
“Spider-Verse” aims for the emotional heights of those great stories and achieves them. What’s all the more impressive is that it’s all done with an all-new Spider-Man through a story that’s as much a coming-of-age yarn as it is a superhero origin story.
Yes, True Believers, “Spider-Verse” is absolutely worth seeing in theaters.
For its dynamic visual style and verve, for its action, its humor, and its boundless heart, it sets a new standard against which all future Spider-Man stories should be judged.
Oh, and its a certainty that it won’t be the last time we see Miles Morales, or take a dive into the Spider-Verse at large.
Take the leap of faith now. You will be rewarded.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, with Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman.
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language.