There have been so many Spider-Men to appear onscreen over the past 16 years—Peter Parker has been played by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and, currently, Tom Holland—that the prospect of seeing yet another, even in animated form, might fill you with dread.
But leave it to producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the creative team behind 2009’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 2012’s 21 Jump Street, its 2014 sequel, 22 Jump Street, and that year’s smash animated hit The Lego Movie) to surprise us with not only one new wall crawler in the ridiculously entertaining Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but seven.
Seven! And they’re not all Spider-Men, either.
Joining Peter Parker (two of them—but we’ll come back to that) are a couple of Spider-Women, a trench coat- and fedora-wearing gumshoe rendered in shadowy black-and-white and even an anthropomorphized cartoon pig. If this movie sounds somewhat Looney Tunes, th-th-that’s not all, folks!
This will sound far more convoluted than co-directors Bob Persichetti, (a veteran story artist for DreamWorks), Rodney Rothman (a co-writer of 22 Jump Street) and Peter Ramsay (director of Rise of the Guardians) are able to convey with seemingly miraculous ease, but the New York of this animated wonder isn’t the same one we’ve come to know from the live-action Spider-Man pictures. For one thing, Spidey’s 26-year-old alter-ego Peter Parker (commandingly voiced by Wonder Woman’s Chris Pine) is blond, a break from 55 years of brown-haired comic book and movie tradition. He also isn’t the star of the film.
That honor falls on the much smaller shoulders of 15-year-old Brooklynite Miles Morales (a winning vocal turn by Shameik Moore, star of Dope and Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series, The Get Down), a biracial high school student. When we meet the whip-smart teen, he’s having difficulty adjusting to a new school. Miles’ parents, strict but loving police officer Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry of FX’s Atlanta) and nurturing nurse Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), couldn’t be more proud that he’s been accepted to the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. But Miles would rather be hanging out with his old friends or, better yet, his hip uncle, Aaron Davis (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali), a man who’s had trouble with the law, which has driven a wedge between him and his brother. Aaron recognizes his nephew’s creative streak, encouraging Miles to continue developing his talent with graffiti, an artistic pursuit the boy’s parents don’t want him to engage in. Taking the tenderhearted teen through abandoned subway tunnels, uncle Aaron introduces Miles to a large underground lair that will serve as a makeshift street art studio. It’s also where a radioactive spider bites Miles, forever changing his life.
Gaining the familiar wall-crawling abilities of Spider-Man (along with a few new ones), Miles eventually comes face-to-face with the local hero, who’s engaged in a life-or-death struggle against Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), the kingpin of New York’s organized crime syndicates. The Ray Donovan star’s menacing vocal performance is matched by his imposing physical presence, which resembles a black hole that threatens to swallow the movie screen. This is fitting, since the Kingpin is using a massive super-collider to try to rip a portal into alternate dimensions.
Peter recognizes Miles’ budding power and offers to mentor the plucky lad, but the offer remains short-lived when Spider-Man is tragically cut down by the Kingpin, who’d successfully torn a hole into the fabric of time and space before Peter was able to temporarily stop the world-altering experiment, ultimately paying for it with his life.
The fallen hero receives warm tributes from his widow, Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz), and his beloved Aunt May (Lily Tomlin), who emerge from the shadows to speak publicly as New York mourns the loss of Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Miles tries to come to grips with his new talents, a struggle that’s made easier when he’s offered reluctant assistance from…Peter Parker?
This Peter hails from an alternate universe, having entered our story through the portal the Kingpin briefly opened, and he’s the brown-haired, quick-witted quipster who will be familiar to movie audiences and comic book fans alike—but with a few notable differences. Pushing 40, this Spider-Man has a visible middle-aged spread that matches the bags under his eyes and a world-weary demeanor (hilariously conveyed by Jake Johnson of Fox’s New Girl) that Miles might just be able to snap the lapsed hero out of, with a little help from a few more arachnid-powered friends who have emerged from a handful of other universes.
From Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) to robotic spider-controlling Peni Parker (Orange Is the New Black’s Kimiko Glenn) and on to Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage, channeling his inner Bogie) and, yes, Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (comedian John Mulaney), this motley crew proves that anyone can be a hero under the mask.
Banding together to set things right, these Spider-People—and pig—flip and swing through visuals that are truly unique. Utilizing Ben-Day dots, the filmmakers pay homage to comic books of the Golden Era, fusing the offset printing techniques of ’60s-era Spider-Man comics with cutting-edge CGI to create a style that adds an amazing degree of freshness to the oversaturated superhero genre.
In short, it’s amazing. ◆
Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoë Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Natalie Morales and Stan Lee. Written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, based on a story by Lord and characters created by Steve Ditko, Lee, David Hine, Brian Michael Bendis, Fabrice Sapolsky and Sara Pichelli. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay and Rodney Rothman. At Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, Seaport, South Bay and in the suburbs.