Since Spider-Man debuted in 2002, Spider-Man has appeared in a film on average about once every two years. In just sixteen years, there have been three different live-action Spider-Men and Peter Parker helped kickstart cinema’s superhero obsession. Spider-Man has become one of the most beloved characters in Marvel’s library of characters, and he’s also one of the primary character people speak about when the complain of “superhero fatigue.”
In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) has grown up in a world that we’ve only watched on the screen for decades. Like many of us, Spider-Man has been in his life for years, a character whose omnipresence is almost taken for granted. When a Spider-Man from another dimension (Jake Johnson) appears to Miles, he’s tired from trying to save everyone and as a viewer, it’s hard not to blame this alt-Parker for his fatigue. At this point, Spider-Man should feel tired and uninspired. But Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse instead is a vital, vibrant, and unique take on the superhero genre that breathes life not just into Spider-Man, but into superhero films in general.
Morales is a normal kid, whose biggest problems are adjusting to a new school and dealing with his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry). While doing some subway tagging with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and soon discovers he’s stronger and can now walk on ceilings. You know, like your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. Soon after gaining these newfound powers, Miles follows his dimension’s Spider-Man (Chris Pine) in a fight with Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who has created a machine to jump between alternate dimensions.
In powering up the machine, Kingpin brings several different Spider-Men/women/pigs to Miles’ Brooklyn. Johnson’s Parker is a slob (who looks strangely like the male character in the Pixar short, Feast), and has recently gotten a divorce from MJ. Parker begrudgingly teaches Miles the ropes/webs as they try to get Parker back to his dimension and destroy Kingpin’s machine. Also brought to this dimension is Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), a Gwen Stacey who was bitten instead of Peter. Rounding out the group is Noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage), futuristic, anime character Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), who controls a spider-powered robot, and the brilliant Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a WB cartoon come to life.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse knows how to play against the series’ weaknesses. This is largely yet another origin story, but Spider-Verse’s poking fun of how many origin stories it can tell makes this a strength. Tired of so many people playing Spider-Man? Well, now there are six. Deal with it. But most importantly, Spider-Verse delights in the history of Spider-Man and has a ton of fun with it. The opening moments of the film parody the worst moment of Sam Raimi’s trilogy and the end credits sequence revels in the world of Spider-Man memes. Spider-Verse clearly loves this character and the playfulness with which the film has towards this world is contagious.
It’s no surprise then that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is written by Phil Lord, half of the team that made other great self-referential comedies like The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street. Lord knows how to revitalize properties and make weird ideas become fantastic. Lord has created an inventive alternate New York that’s just slightly off from our own. Posters for Chance the Rapper’s fourth album can be seen, while Times Square has posters for a Shaun of the Dead sequel, From Dusk Till Shaun, and a Clone High movie. Spider-Verse is chock full of parallel world ideas and hilarious blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes that makes this world feel singular and exciting.
From the opening logos to the phenomenal end credits, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is visually incomparable. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse is the closest a superhero film has felt to an actual comic book, while still maintaining a realistic ambiance when it needs to. Miles’ thoughts will appear in panels and during moments of pure excitement, words will fly on the screen. Sometimes when characters are close to the camera, individual ink dots can even be seen. As if this weren’t enough, when the entire Spider-Team is on the screen together, the film is balancing between about four different types of animation, and blending them together seamlessly. This is a film that can feature a 1930s hard boiled Spider-Man interacting with a Porky Pig knockoff and make it come off naturally.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is great in every tone this film attempts. Its satire is witty and the action sequences are genuinely astonishing, even avoiding the typically dull third act fight scene with awe-inspiring visuals. Spider-Verse is consistently stunning to watch, and even the moments of touching family moments shine due to great vocal performances by Henry, Ali and, Moore. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a clever and refreshing take on a tired genre, even in a year that has already brought us two other animated superhero commentaries with Incredibles 2 and Teen Titans GO! to the Movies. Thrilling and impressive in every way, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse transcends expectations to become one of the year’s best.