The late Stan Lee has famously said that the popularity of Spider-Man is related to the fact that it could be anyone under the mask. This mantra may be true in the comics, but it felt like a pipe dream in the realm of cinema until now. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse not only takes Lee’s philosophy to heart; but is also a game changer for the superhero genre on many levels.
It is a film that will inspire children, regardless of their race or gender, to live outside of the conventional box that others put them in. This may not seem like a big deal to those who routinely see themselves reflected as the, to quote film critic Sarah-Tai Black, “default setting” of every cinematic tale. However, it will have a lasting impact on those who have been waiting to see more heroes who truly reflect the diverse world of our times.
More importantly the film is a whole lot of fun.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s witty script deconstructs what makes origin stories great, while being an origin story itself, and takes no prisoners when offering comedic jabs at the highs and lows of Spider-Man’s lengthy history in pop culture. Everything from comic books to cartoons to the live-action movies are skewered with glee. I recommended that you stay to the end of the credits for a delightfully relevant stinger which I will not spoil here.
The jokes fly fast and often, however, they never overshadow the emotional beats that make origin stories resonate. The story focuses on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager struggling to deal with his parents’ (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren) expectation of him at his new tech school. It is when hanging out with his cool uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) in an abandoned area of the subway that his superhero journey begins.
After being bitten by a radioactive spider Miles accidently stumbles onto a dastardly plot by Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) involving a machine, created by Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn), that has the capability of penetrating multiple universes. Tasked with stopping the device, Miles discovers that he is not the only one with spider powers in the city. It seems a Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) from another dimension, who has let himself go after his marriage fell apart, has been pulled into his world. Of course, Peter is not the only like-minded hero in the vicinity.
Before long Miles is joining forces with skilled fighter Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), 1930’s gumshoe Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage in a hilarious turn), Japanese tech wiz Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) who controls a mechanical spider and the portly living cartoon Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Together they must confront their fears and utilize their strengths if they hope to save multiple universes.
Tackling themes of grief and lost, a touchstone of most heroic origin stories, the film brings depth to both Miles’ journey and Kingpin’s motivations. Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman remind us that it is the relatable traits of superheroes and villians, and not just the spectacle of it all that makes these tales so endearing.
Presented in an animation style unlike anything you have seen before, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse creates a world that truly feels as if you are in a living comic book. One where each panel is an exciting mixture of different techniques. Everything from 3D animation to manga to rotoscoping is thrown into a blender to create a look that is wonderfully invigorating.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the year’s best animated films. The film is far more entertaining than half of the films in the MCU and DCEU combined. It is a vibrant, hilarious, and refreshing reminder that we all truly can be heroes.