Whenever the superhero genre begins to lose its luster, a movie like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse swings into theaters to recapture the feeling we had watching Tobey Maguire web his way across New York City for the first time. Like Guardians of the Galaxy before it, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came at the right time to combat superhero fatigue.
Into the Spider-Verse picks up with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a half-black, half-Puerto Rican teenager from Brooklyn, as he transfers to an intense boarding school in Manhattan. Miles soon finds himself as the bystander in a fight between his universe’s idyllic Spider-Man (Chris Pine) and villain Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). Kingpin must kill Spider-Man to activate a device with the power to bring people from alternate universes to Miles’s universe. Kingpin succeeds, but the results have the power to destroy reality as we know it. (The story is more or less nonsense, but the entertainment that follows more than makes up for it.)
Fortunately for the inhabitants of Miles’s universe, Kingpin inadvertently brings multiple spider-based superheroes from various universes to his own. Miles, who was recently bitten by a radioactive spider (you could recite this bit in your sleep), must learn to balance his responsibilities at school, with his family and friends, and to the citizens of New York before he can save the world.
A combination of computer animation and the hand-drawn work of more than 100 artists give Into the Spider-Verse its unique look. Describing it as something out of a comic book would be lazy, and yet, the movie looks as if the panels of a comic were pulled right off the page. At times disorienting, the animation is a massive achievement nonetheless. The movie’s soundtrack connects us to Miles. Miles is a lot like the Peter Parker we know and love; he’s a brilliant scientist, a quippy conversationalist, and a selfless hero, but, as the soundtrack establishes, Miles is also the Spider-Man for a new generation of fans. He replaces Peter’s nervous introspection with a quiet confidence.
Into the Spider-Verse is a movie about Miles Morales, but the movie makes time for his co-stars in its 100-minute runtime. Miles’s spider-cohorts include Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the Spider-Woman; Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), a middle-aged, less-idyllic Spider-Man; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese girl and her mech, SP//dr; (yet another) Peter Parker (Nicolas Cage), a ‘30s detective-style hero named Spider-Man Noir; and Peter Porker (John Mulaney), an anthropomorphic pig called Spider-Ham. Most incredibly of all, each Spider-Hero is animated in a way befitting their character. Spider-Man Noir appears in black-and-white, SP//dr is anime-style, and Spider-Ham looks like a toon that may inspire Warner Bros. to contact its legal team.
The voice cast is an embarrassment of riches which also includes Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Zoë Kravitz, Lily Tomlin, and Kathryn Hahn, but Mulaney and Cage steal the show. The perfectly cast duo bring endless comic relief in what is already an abundantly charming and funny movie. The movie has a combined five writers and directors, but most of the credit seems to go to meta-humor experts Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative team behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.
There’s a lot to like about Into the Spider-Verse, but the characterization of Johnson’s flawed Peter Parker stands out. This is Peter at his most extreme: he’s been beaten down by the responsibility of his powers and his inability to balance his personal life and his costumed life. Still, he understands the stakes and always puts others first; loser or not, he’s still our hero.
With the movie’s wide release coming only a month after Stan Lee’s death, Lee’s cameo received more attention than usual. This particular cameo was truer to Lee’s personality than any before it and is a real bright spot for the film. I’m not ashamed to admit that it brought me to tears. When you see the movie, make sure you stick around after the credits. Marvel’s stinger schtick continues here, and Into the Spider-Verse’s post-credit scene may have surpassed Nick Fury’s Avengers initiative from Iron Man and the shawarma scene from The Avengers as the best yet.
Into the Spider-Verse has surpassed previous comic book movies in more than just cameos and post-credit scenes, though. It’s the best animated of 2018 and the best Spider-Man movie ever made.