Superhero fatigued? NO ONE CAN BLAME YOU. In addition to all the Avengers movies and Justice League movies and X-Men movies, roughly 616 Spider-Man movies have come out in the past few years, and even for a lifelong Spidey fan—
*raises hand, makes THWIP noise, gets lunch money stolen*
—that is too many Spider-Mans. Especially now that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is here—a movie that's hands down, no exceptions, no question the best Spider-Man movie, not to mention one of the best movies of the year. Does Planet Earth need any more Spider-Man movies? Probably not! But they're going to keep coming, so here's hoping they're even half as fun and great as Spider-Verse.
Ugh. YOU GUYS. This movie is just SO GOOD.
Mashing up the bombast of Marvel with the glory days of Pixar, Spider-Verse feels decidedly different—funnier, weirder, more daring—than most American animated movies. This is almost a meta, post-modern take on Spider-Man: Instead of being all about Peter Parker, Spider-Verse stars Miles Morales (excellently voiced by Shameik Moore), a kid who also gets bit by a creepy spider and also gets creepy spider-powers. But Miles—a Afro-Latino teenager who, for all his cleverness and heart, feels out of place at his fancy Brooklyn school—not only has a different perspective on the whole "great power, great responsibility" thing, but has his own obstacles to becoming a hero.
Luckily for Miles, a whole slew of other spider-people from alternate dimensions show up to help him out. (Comics!) There's a Spider-Man who'll be more familiar to mainstream audiences (voiced by Jake Johnson), with his Peter Parker secret identity and penchant for goofy wisecracks. There's Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage, amazing), who comes from the 1930s—and talks like it, as he swings around in a trench coat and fedora. There's Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), who's smarter and braver than all these other weirdos; there's Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), whose BFF is a giant, friendly spider-bot; and, of course, there's Spider-Ham, AKA Peter Porker (John Mulaney), who is, obviously, a pig. Who is also a spider-man. A spider-pig.
All those characters are great, and in one of Spider-Verse's smartest touches, each gets their own animation style—Spider-Ham looks like he escaped Looney Tunes, Spider-Man Noir mopes around in black and white, and whenever Peni comes onscreen, she brings her anime aesthetic. It shouldn't work as well as it does, but these clashing styles are fantastic to look at—and are just one element of the film's spectacular visuals, which make this year's other animated movies look bland and drab and sleepy. A combo of CG and 2-D animation, with eye-bending colors and comics-inspired textures, the gorgeous, bright, quick-cut Spider-Verse never stops popping and crackling.
But Spider-Verse's flashy looks and comic-book action are just the delivery system for a relatively low-key, keenly insightful story. Sure, there's a great supporting cast and eight billion super-cool spider-powers, but this movie's all about Miles—a kid who's a mess of confusion and excitement as he struggles to learn both who he is and who he could be. It's the same theme that lurks beneath every great teen movie, but here it's examined with punch, verve, and unexpected subtlety.
The character of Miles Morales, created for the Spider-Man comics by Portland writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, translates phenomenally to the screen—something that's helped by screenwriter Phil Lord, whose script balances a sharp eye for character with the good-hearted goofiness of his work on 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. Unlike in most comic-book movies—where characters get some powers, go use them, and then go home—Spider-Verse's characters try and fail and clash before finding their way. When Miles first swings through New York, it doesn't feel like an overly familiar, by-the-numbers plot beat—it feels earned.
This all sounds like a lot, but directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothmans giddily balance it all—this is a busy spider-verse, but a welcoming one. And for all the fun they make sure viewers have, they also don't shy away from the darker elements that have made Spider-Man such an enduring character. Yes, it's a blast to swing alongside Miles as he blitzes through New York's neon canyons, but Spider-Verse never forgets that Spider-Man has always been a character defined by death. For all of Peter Parker's quips, he's a guy who's learned time and again that the world is a hard place—one riddled with loss, failure, and fear, and one where, despite all our intentions and all our responsibilities, sometimes our best efforts don't matter at all.
And Spider-Verse has a surprising amount of stuff to say about that—and what it's like to live in such a world, regardless of whether one's ever been bitten by a creepy spider. This is a big, fun blockbuster, but it's also the rare big, fun blockbuster that dares to have a strong point of view and a fresh, exciting personality. As Spider-Verse dazzles and twists, thumping to a hip-hop soundtrack and glimmering with every color in the universe, it captures the thrill, smarts, and irreverence that mark Spider-Man's best stories.
Which reminds me: Yes, Stan Lee has a cameo. And it's one that that, like so much else in Spider-Verse, is just about perfect.
Ugh. YOU GUYS. This movie is just SO GOOD.