Review: 'Into the Spider-Verse' an animated wonder
After six movies and two complete series overhauls since 2002, the last thing we need right now is another riff on the "Spider-Man" tale.
So it comes as a shocker that "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is one of the year's most vital pieces of entertainment, a fresh, funny, eye-popping new spin on the Spider-Man tale.
"Spider-Verse" is not only the best animated film of the year, it's one of the year's best films overall. That it plays with our collective sense of Spidey overload is to its, and our, benefit.
"Alright, let's do this one last time." That's how "Spider-Verse" recaps the tale of "Spider-Man," telling (and also poking fun at) the now-familiar Spidey origin story, animating the highs and lows of the previous "Spider-Man" films. (The dance sequence from "Spider-Man 3" is particularly roasted.) "New Girl's" Jake Johnson voices Peter Parker, giving him just the right mixture of earnestness and wry, been-there-done-that sarcasm.
The self-referential humor — think "Deadpool" in attitude, but not in raunchy delivery — is welcome, and sets a loose, lighthearted tone for what follows. (“The Lego Movie’s” Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are on board here as co-writer and producer, respectively.)
Though it plays with elements of Spidey's legend, this is not the same old "Spider-Man" story. "Spider-Verse" tells the tale of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a teenager of half-Puerto Rican, half-African-American descent who walks around Brooklyn with one of his Air Jordan 1s untied. "It's a choice," he says, proud of his self-styling.
Miles attends an "elitist" private school, much to his chagrin, sent there by his cop father (Brian Tyree Henry), who's doing his best to keep him safe. Miles is drawn to his "cool" uncle, Aaron (Mahershala Ali), though his father warns him against hanging out with him without getting into detail, foreshadowing what's to come.
After Miles encounters a radioactive spider, yada yada yada, you know the rest. But Miles doesn't become Spider-Man, he becomes a Spider-Man, and through some parallel universe shifting, he's introduced to various other Spider-Men, including Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig version of Spider-Man.
And there's, of course, Johnson's Peter Parker, now a "janky, old, broke, hobo Spider-Man," in Miles' words.
It sounds crowded, but "Spider-Verse" employs its supporting players sparingly, and they don't detract from the main story, which is centered on Miles and his partnership with Peter.
The animation style, which mixes street art, computer glitches and 3-D style blurring to create depth of field, explores the wondrous possibilities of today's animation techniques, and presents the perfect canvas on which to tell this tale. Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman present a young, cool "Spider-Man" — the Chance the Rapper poster on Miles' bedroom wall is earned, not forced — and they show the Spider-Man character is adaptable to any number of situations.
"Spider-Verse" is a treat, which is all the more surprising given the fact that we're feeling pretty Spidey'd out these days, let alone superhero'd out. With great power comes great responsibility, and "Into the Spider-Verse" wields that power and responsibility wisely. It turns out it's just the shot of Spidey we needed.
'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'
Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language
Running time: 116 minutes