Did you ever think you could be Spider-Man? This gorgeous take on the Marvel superhero knows you can — that everyone can. The great power always comes by accident, that famous spider-bite origin story; it’s what you do with that power, of course, that really counts.
It’s a hard lesson for a 13-year-old Brooklyn boy to learn. He’s Miles Morales (Dope star Sameik Moore) the son of an African-American cop (Brian Tyree Henry) and a Puerto Rican nurse (Lauren Velez). Miles’ parents have sent him to a fancy academy across town, but the kid still hangs with cool Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who takes him to a secret graffiti spot underground in the subway. It’s there that the teenager, who first appeared in the comics in 2011, gets bitten by radioactive arachnid. The transition of an awkward, hormonal kid into superhero isn’t easy for Miles — never mind that the mobster Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), a pin head on a hulking body, has opened up a space-time portal that will destroy the world as he knows it. So the newbie turns for tips to Peter B. Parker (hilariously voiced by Jake Johnson), an alt-version who’s been kicked out his dimension and is now divorced, depressed and far from eager to teach Miles about how to negotiate life as a webslinger.
Luckily, help is on the way. The portal has also let other versions of your friendly neighborhood you-know-who come streaming through. There’s Gwen Stacey, aka Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld); an anime heroine named Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn); a film noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage, terrific); and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). And suddenly, Miles and these other spider-heroes are learning what it means to cut it as individuals and as a team. They get help from Aunt May (Lily Tomlin), much trickier and tougher than you’ve ever seen her before. (And Stan Lee, the Marvel godhead who died in November at 95, also makes an animated cameo as a guy who sells Miles a Spidey costume. Seeing Stan the Man one last time will inspire both tears and cheers.)
Teaching moments are plentiful, but never heavy or drawn out. And the animation, both hand-sketched and computer-created, is too busy turning our heads. Miles is a street artist, so the film takes its visual inspiration from the young man’s flair for color blasting. You’ve literally never seen a Spider-Man movie look like this. The Lego Movie duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller serve as producers under the guidance of a trio of Sony Pictures Animation directors, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman; the latter cowrote the script with Lord.
Too many cooks in this Spidey kitchen? You’d think. But the soul of this legendary superhero — both old and new versions — comes through, even in this thrill-a-minute whirlwind. That’s because the filmmakers never forget to make us care about Miles and his growing pains, or what we would do if we were in his onesie. Who’d have thought that animation could turn a whole army of interdimensional webslingers into something fresh, funny, fierce and revolutionary? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only the coolest Spider-Man epic ever, it’s one of the best movies of the year. What are you waiting for?