Whether you’re even interested in the character or not, you know the story of Spider-Man. Bitten by a radioactive spider, “with great power comes great responsibility,” some level of sacrifice usually in the form of his Uncle Ben, and finding his footing just in time to take on some crazy science-powered villain. It’s been told in comic books, video games and by three different actors in three different movie series since 2002.
But it’s never been told the way Into the Spider-Verse tells it. Sony’s new comic book-inspired animation is, technically, the fourth iteration of big screen Spider-Man we’re getting in 16 years. In a market where unneeded remakes and sequels are bombing more frequently than demolition companies, this alone could make anyone’s Spidey sense tingle.
Luckily, Spider-Verse is an entirely new experience. It even opens with this new, 2.5D animated version of Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) giving a similar monologue to the one in the first paragraph of this review. Writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman are aware of how overstuffed moviegoers may have gotten from the webslinger – and they use that as motivation to turn out an irresistible product that may just be the best depiction of the masked hero in years.
While Spider-Verse does continue the story of Peter Parker, it begins the story of Miles Morales. Miles was created in 2011 as the official successor to Parker’s Spider-Man in any of the timelines where he should die. Voiced by Shameik Moore (2015’s Dope), we meet Miles as an insecure teenager with untied shoelaces who just won the lottery to enter a hoity-toity charter school. The son of a nurse and a police officer, Miles prefers to spend time with Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali of 2016’s Moonlight), as the two bond over graffiti and girls.
Once Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider (after all, this is still a Spider-Man movie), things go topsy-turvy for the webslinger to be. He comes into contact with similar heroes from other ‘dimension’ (think other comic book series or cartoons). These include the likes of Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage) wearing an all-black suit to match his 1930s-set comic series, or Peni Parker, an anime-inspired hero who controls a robot with her mind. There’s even Spider-Ham, or Peter Porker (voiced by comedian John Mulaney), whose cartoonish abilities include dropping anvils on enemies’ heads and carrying a hammer in his pocket.
There isn’t a nanosecond of wasted time once the story hits and the action begins, and the movie deftly balances developing Miles as a character while introducing audiences to the concept of alternate dimensions. All of this is told while marinating in the film’s jaw-dropping art style, which is referential to its comic book origins with panels and sound effects appearing on screen and blending in with the action. The jolty style is reminiscent of stop motion and might take a moment to adjust to, but it’s a beauty to behold.
Filmmakers today can become reliant on retellings of previous successes to draw audiences – two of 2019’s biggest ticket-grabbers will be a rejuvenation of Godzilla and a live action remake of The Lion King, and Mary Poppins will return in just a matter of days. Disney’s track record of turning animation into live action has been decent enough with the likes of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book in recent years, and while a visual spectacle, these films are straight remakes, with nothing significantly new to offer.
Spider-Verse is the absolute inverse of that. Going in, Sony knew the odds were stacked against them on telling yet another Spider-Man tale. After 16 years of hearing the story over and over again, Spider-Verse is the freshest iteration yet – and just may be the best version in years. This web is perfectly spun. ••