By lunging headfirst into the Spider-Man mythos and poking fun at its tropes while continually reinforcing them, Into the Spider-Verse is a silly, heartfelt fun ride, that is as bold and engaging as it is dense and impenetrable. Amidst a story full of time-travel, parallel-universe hokum, the film nonetheless pulls at the right heartstrings while highlighting the universality that made the original Spider-Man an everyman hero.
While original Spidey Peter Parker is something of the Alfred in this story, the main hero is Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teen with an overbearing cop father, a doting nurse mother, and a roguish uncle he adores. Miles hasn’t quite figured out his new private school, and when he goes through the requisite Spider-Man beats (bitten by radioactive spider, body changes, in over his head mystery), he finds himself joined by Spider-peeps from different universes (just go with it): a shlubby jaded Parker; teenage Gwen Stacy who survived in her world to become Spider-Woman; a black and white noir Spider-Man with the freshest 30s lingo (voiced to perfection by Nicolas Cage); Penny Parker, a pre-teen manga character with telepathic ties to her spider in a robot shell; and the thankfully sparingly used yet hilarious Spider-Ham, a cartoon pig (also expertly cast with John Mulaney).
The animation style is like nothing else on film: part George Seurat dots, part Lichtenstein opulence, part Marvel epicness, with dueling styles working together even as the differences are magnified. The story is both well-worn and fresh with a central figure filling Spider-Man’s webshooters, Original Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s vision that anyone could be the hero is reinforced with a bevy of characters that all play to the mythos in their own way. The zippy acid-trip color-fest is at times so ridiculous, it helps that it has such a great heart at the center of it. There are some truly affecting moments in this film, none of which involve a dead Uncle Ben.
As universal as it is, there are some deep cuts and homages enough to give even superfans whiplash. The end-credits scene, because there has to be an end-credits scene goes deepest but also connects to so many other touchstones in the Spider-Man oeuvre that it’s disappointing it didn’t make it into the film proper. Standout characters like Spider-Gwen aren’t given too much to do, but at least she’ll have a chance to shine in a movie of her own. This film is all about Miles, and rightfully so, as the gangly, wiry kid is the Spider-Man we need right now: not the boy genius, but the normal kid in the extraordinary world he has no clue how to navigate.
My Grade – B+
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