Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a high school kid starting in a new honors boarding school in his Brooklyn neighborhood. His father is Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), a cop, and his mother is Rio Morales (voiced by Lauren Luna Velez), a nurse. They want the best for their son, but Miles would rather go back to his public high school. His uncle Aaron (voiced by Mahershala Ali) is on the outs with Jefferson, but Miles looks up to him. Aaron supports Miles’ artistic talents and takes him to an abandoned subway tunnel where he can paint a graffiti mural on a blank wall. While down there, a genetically modified spider from a nearby lab bites Miles, beginning his transformation into Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk (voiced by Liev Schreiber), is in that lab attempting to fire up a particle collider and Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine) is trying to stop him. While looking for his Uncle Aaron, Miles stumbles into the fight between Spider-Man, Green Goblin (voiced by Jorma Toccone), Scorpion (voiced by Joaquin Cosio) and other of Fisk’s henchmen. Spider-Man senses Miles has powers as well and saves Miles when he nearly falls to his death. Spider-Man has a flash drive he needs to insert into a panel at the top of the collider to shut it down but never gets the chance before the device is turned on. The collider creates rifts in the fabric of reality, pulling several Spider-people from other realities. The collider explodes, injuring Spider-Man. He gives Miles the flash drive and tells him stopping Fisk from restarting the collider is the only thing that will save all of reality. Miles runs away, and Fisk kills Spider-Man. Miles visits Peter Parker’s grave, wondering what he’s going to do as he doesn’t know how to be Spider-Man. That’s when alternate universe Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) approaches Miles. This Parker is a little chubby and older than the Spider-Man Miles knows. He figures out the only way he can get back to his reality is to take the flash drive and turn the collider back on, but Miles needs to destroy the collider to fulfill his promise to his Spider-Man. Parker is reluctant but sees potential in Miles and agrees to train him. When a raid on Fisk’s laboratory goes wrong, Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) shows up to help. Then Peter, Miles and Gwen meet Spider-Man from the 1930’s (voiced by Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) from a future Tokyo where she operates a robot powered by a radioactive spider, and Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), a talking pig named Peter Porker. Together they team up to face off against Fisk and his henchmen. If they don’t get back to their respective realities, they will painfully die.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is probably the ultimate Spider-Man movie. Since it’s animation, anything can happen, and it does in this film. It takes versions of Spider-Man that have only been seen in comics and video games and brings them all together for an adventure that’s as much about growing up and finding your way in the world as it is about learning to use and control your newly acquired powers and stopping the bad guy’s evil plan.
The animation style of the film is a mixture of computer graphics, comic book wording popping up in the frame, color splashes and random geometric shapes, and simpler animation reminiscent of Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons of the 1940’s and 1950’s. All these styles combine to create a unique and visually stunning movie that always has something interesting to look at.
For a moment, I thought I had walked into a 3D showing of the film as characters appeared to have halos around them or they were split. It is the filmmaker’s way of making sure you focus on the right character. The person speaking, or the one we should be paying attention to, is in focus, while any secondary characters are slightly blurry. It doesn’t happen in every scene as there are often multiple characters we should be focused on, but it does happen often enough that I noticed it.
The story of Miles, his interactions with the various Spider-powered people (and pig) that show up, his lack of confidence in himself and his abilities and the stress of being a kid with superpowers is all part of this hero’s journey. It is a well-told origin story that manages to juggle nearly a dozen characters in a way a live-action film couldn’t handle. Perhaps it’s the actor’s voices are what’s on display instead of their faces that makes the difference. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” was criticized for having too many villains. While “…Spider-Verse” actually has more bad guys taking an active role in the story, most of them are only henchmen we see for a couple of action scenes with the story focusing on three villainous characters. If you tried to have as many bad guys in a live-action film, you’d have egos flaring up over a lack of screen time. Here, some of the villains are only used to physically challenge our heroes and have very few lines. It’s a smart way to provide fan service, showing some of the better-known Spider-Man baddies while being able to focus on three primary villains. The same can be said for the Spider-Heroes as Miles, Peter and Gwen are the leads and Noir, Peni and Ham are used mostly for comic relief or as a diversion. It is a smart division of labor that allows for more characters and more for the fans to see and enjoy.
The voice performances are all great, but I must confess my favorite was John Mulaney. While Spider-Ham doesn’t get much screen time, Mulaney always delivers a strong line reading and a punchline delivered with the polish one would expect from a popular touring standup comic. I wouldn’t have minded getting more Spider-Ham in the film, but this wasn’t his story; however, spin-off films are being discussed at Sony Animation and my vote is for Peter Porker to get a movie, even direct to Blu-Ray or VOD, about his reality where animals talk and some have superpowers.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language. While the death of Peter Parker isn’t shown, it is obvious what happens to him. There are several fight scenes with bizarre villains and the Spider-People. We also see Miles try out his spider powers and fail spectacularly with his falling from a great height. Miles is threatened with death from a bad guy, but the bad guy refuses to kill him and the bad guy is then shot by Wilson Fisk. In all the deaths we don’t see any blood. Foul language is limited to the use of the world “Hell.”
Stan Lee has a cameo in the film as the clerk at a costume shop where Miles buys a Spider-Man costume. His lines speak to loss, making it all the more touching since his death in November. There is also a tribute card in the credits to both Lee and Steve Ditko. Without these two visionaries, both of whom died this year, we wouldn’t have this amazing and thrilling cinematic world filled with flawed heroes given extraordinary gifts and the wonderous deeds they perform. This version of the web head (or heads) is a refreshing take on a character that has had too many reboots over the last several years. Perhaps the best way for Sony to continue to make money with Spider-Man is to keep him in the animated realm. As long as they keep making films as good as this one, I will keep giving them my money.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” gets five stars.
For my review of “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood, click below:
It’s a busy week at your local multiplex as the holiday releases are all hoping to capture your pocket jingle. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
Mary Poppins Returns—
Welcome to Marwen—
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