As a character, Spider-Man has been around for a long time and has had multiple iterations on the page. His alter ego Peter Parker has gone through the trials of high school and college, gotten married, had his marriage erased by the devil, died, come back to life, become a billionaire, but always seems to be restored to status quo as a down-on-his luck everyman super-hero. He’s also now had three separate reboots on screen over the course of nearly two decades. In the books, comic creators looking to find fresh interpretations have reached a point where they have introduced a whole host of different Spider-People from various dimensions. Now the big screen has done the same with ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.’ The question is whether or not the movie-going public is ready for Miles Morales and crew, but based on this uniquely rendered, weird, yet extremely entertaining animated film, it is going to be very hard to resist.
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ looks like no other animated film. Three directors – a veteran animator, illustrator, and producing partner to Phil Lord (he of ’21 Jump St.’ & ‘The Lego Movie’, who also wrote the screenplay), have a finished product that actually mimics the feel of reading a comic book. It’s achieved through the blending of computer graphics / line work, slowing down the frame rate, and including word boxes and onomatopoeia all over the screen. The color palate pops and the character designs are uniquely distinctive per the dimensional origin of each, a technique that somehow muddles the styles of the various artists who have worked on them historically, defying conventional animation rules. The whole production is a marvel to look at, experience, and get lost in, but it wouldn’t work if the frenetic story were to fall apart.
‘Spider-Verse’ teeters on the edge of kaleidoscopic madness, but holds together based on the strength of its characters and the voice work that bring them to life. Despite the introduction to a cacophony of ‘Spider-People’, the film makes sure it stays focused on the young burgeoning hero of Miles Morales. The story is ostensibly an origin one, albeit one that molds this teenager through a multiple of supporting cast members. Shameik Moore ably voices the bi-racial Miles (his mother is Puerto Rican, his father Jefferson is black and played by 2018 tv/film/stage MVP Brian Tyree Henry of ‘Atlanta’ fame), a typical teenager growing up in Brooklyn, nervous to embark on an academic shift by attending a lottery-chosen charter school. The film wisely embraces the particular nature of a mixed upbringing in NYC, going even further than the comics, following Miles as he interacts with his friends in Spanish and slang, graffiti tagging with his ne’er do well uncle Aaron (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali), all over a backdrop of a deep referencing hip-hop soundtrack. By the time the audience is introduced to the rest of the cast, the Miles character and his world have been established concretely enough that following him on his wild journey is a joy.
In this dimension, there exists a perfect Spider-Man (Chris Pine), who has been doing his thing for over a decade. His tale is told in quick yet effective comic-book recap style, an effect that is echoed for each dimension-breaker, including Jake Johnson’s middle-aged Peter Parker, Hailee Steinfeld’s cool and confident Spider-Gwen, Nicolas Cage’s black & white Spider-Man Noir (as hamfisted as one can imagine), anime styled Peni Parker and her Sp//dr robot, and John Mulaney’s Looney-Tunes-ish Spider-Ham. All of these disparate imaginings of Spider-Man comes to influence Miles and his leap into heroism. Most compelling is the mentor relationship that slowly develops between he and Johnson’s Peter ‘B’ Parker, as they help each other find their way through hilarious and poignant scenes throughout. What emerges is an animated film that takes full advantage of the lack of imaginative limitation afforded by the medium (much like the source material itself); a tale that can appeal genuinely to a wide, broad audience who can all find something for themselves to relate to, but most importantly enjoy whole-heartedly . . .
Directed By: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman
Written By: Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman
Running Time: 117 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- B+