“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the best “Spider-Man” movie yet, the best animated film of the year — and one of the best 2018 films of any kind, period.
Bursting with comic-book vibrant colors, peppered with clever visual touches and crackling good inside jokes, and featuring pitch-perfect voice performances, “Into the Spider-Verse” is a brilliant, exuberant, soaring and original adventure.
It’s the kind of movie you see twice in the theater.
Over the last decade and a half, there’s been a steady stream of Spidey in the movies, from the pure pop fun of “Spider-Man” in 2002 through the WTF disco/emo weirdness of “Spider-Man 3” through the two Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone efforts in which the wonderful leads looked far too old for the roles, through the perfectly cast Tom Holland in “Homecoming” and the “Avengers” movies.
That’s a whole lot of web-slinging, and as much as I’ve enjoyed MOST of the “Spider-Man” movies, I was feeling more than a little Spidey’d out — but that feeling disappeared two minutes into this stunningly original blend of 2D- and 3D-style animation from directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.
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From the voice-over narration of young Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) — occasionally accompanied by comic-book-style lettering subtitles — to the slightly surreal, almost dreamlike depiction of New York City to the neon-bright colors to the smart-but-also-goofy sense of humor, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is so true to its comic origins, it almost feels as if the pages are turning as we careen from one madcap development to the next. Turns out THIS is how you bring Spider-Man to full cinematic life.
Meet Miles Morales. He’s a great kid. You’re gonna like him from the get-go.
Miles is an Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn who loves creating graffiti art and HATES the stuffy private school his policeman father Jefferson Davis (Bryan Tyree Henry) is forcing him to attend.
(Programming note: Jefferson is on record as saying, many times, he believes Spider-Man is a vigilante who should be behind bars. Just sayin.’)
On one fateful night, a radioactive spider bites Miles (even that oft-seen moment is delivered with spice and humor), and the humongous, criminally insane villain Peter Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) kills Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Chris Pine).
As the city mourns the death of its (mostly) beloved anti-hero, Miles goes through the obligatory comedic process of learning about his newfound (and of course unharnessed) super-powers — and he comes face to face with …
Spider-Man? How can that be?
Well. A rift in the universe has allowed for the appearance of an alternate edition of Spidey (Jake Johnson), a slightly paunchy, cynical, heartbroken, world-weary version of the Spider-Man we’ve come to know and love.
But that’s just the beginning. We also meet far more drastic alternate universe versions of the character, including the feisty anime heroine Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn); the wisecracking porcine Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney); Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld); and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), who is literally black-and-white because after all, he’s Spider-Man Noir.
Terrific alternate Spideys, one and all.
They form a dysfunctional family supergroup of sorts and team up to help Miles find his Spidey legs as they map out a plan for each of them to get back to their respective alternate universes. Along the way, they get some help from a badass Aunt May (Lily Tomlin), among others.
Yes, there’s a lot to absorb, and sometimes the multiple universes are vexing even to the characters themselves, as when the Peter Parker from another planet sees his beloved Mary Jane and wants to make amends, but has to be reminded that’s not the Mary Jane from HIS world, it’s the Mary Jane from THIS world, and she doesn’t even know him.
But one of the many joys of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a script sure to delight the hardcore audience while simultaneously laying out the story in a way in which even the most casual fan can follow along and enjoy the heck out of the ride. (And you gotta love a movie that drops in a perfectly executed Banksy gag — not to mention a reference to a certain previous “Spider-Man” scene that is pure genius.)
This is an inclusive, diverse, multi-level, multi-layered, funny, warm, cool, richly detailed, lovingly rendered, friendly neighborhood instant classic.
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’
Sony Picture Animation presents a film directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman and written by Rothman and Phil Lord. Rated PG (for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language). Running time: 100 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.