Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Not just another superhero movie, not just for kids

The only comic book I remember buying was one based on the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan. It was hardly a collector’s item, and my collection never made it past one. I perused comic books at friends’ houses, but I never became interested in comic books.

On the big screen, I have enjoyed my share of movies from the Marvel Cinema Universe, but never had any interest in going back and reading the original stories on which the stories are based. So I was skeptical when I heard good things about an animated, big-screen version of Spider-Man. My skepticism morphed in admiration and adulation during the first five minutes of watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and those feelings never left.

Based on new characters created over the last decade, the latest incarnation of the web-making superhero is a multi-cultural, multi-generational piece of original filmmaking that is clever, entertaining and beautifully animated.

The movie follows Miles Morales, a teenager who lives in Brooklyn with his mother, a nurse, and his father, a police officer. Miles struggles to fit in at his new boarding school that is a long ride from his home and his neighborhood friends. One night while trying to get a break from his new surroundings, Miles visits his Uncle Aaron, who cheers up his nephew by taking him to a hidden spot where they can create graffiti masterpieces. A radioactive spider bites Miles (as it always happens with spider-heroes) and he starts to notice changes: sticky hands, increased strength, and the ability to walk up walls.

When Miles tries to figure out what is going on, he returns to the scene of the spider bite and finds himself unknowingly thrust into a struggle between the existing Spider-Man (a.k.a. Peter Parker) and the evil Kingpin. Kingpin prevails, killing Spider-Man – or at least one version of Spider-Man.

Spider-Man’s death opens the door for Kingpin to finish his work of changing worlds but bringing multiple dimensions together in order to re-unite himself with his wife and son. While experimenting with his devious device, he pulls in people from other worlds, including a Peter Parker from another dimension, where he was the Spider-Man of that domain. Parker, out of shape and down on himself for his failed personal relationship with wife Mary Jane, reluctantly teaches Miles how to enable and embrace his powers.

The two come upon Gwen Stacy, or Spider-Gwen, who is also the spider hero of her dimension. Pretty soon, they meet throwback Spider-Man Noir, Peni Parker (with her anime robot) and Peter Porker, a.k.a. Spider-Ham, a pig with spider powers. Miles and his counterparts have to foil Kingpin and return everyone to their original dimensions.

While this may sound convoluted, the writers do an excellent job of setting the scene and playing it out in a way that is easy to understand. The animation here is on another level as well. It really is like watching a sped-up comic book, with characters – and even written exclamations – jumping out on screen.

Just as Black Panther succeeded earlier in year, Into the Spider-Verse offers fresh characters from different backgrounds that will go along way in re-defining the superhero genre.

The movie is also quite funny, as the humor relies more on cleverness than hi-jinx, making it a move equally entertaining for adults. Comedian John Mulaney, as the voice of Spider-Ham, supplies comic relief. And Nicholas Cage – who finally chose a good script!!! – infuses the Bogart-inspired Spider-Man Noir with a sad but witty charm.

The biggest revelations here, however, are the characters of Miles and Spider-Gwen, voiced by Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld respectively. Miles and Gwen offer a new take on superheroes. Just asBlack Panther succeeded earlier in year, Into the Spider-Verse offers fresh characters from different backgrounds that will go along way in re-defining the superhero genre.

Miles is mild-mannered, awkward, inner city teenager who tries to do the right thing but finds himself, as all teens do, with self-doubt. With help from his friends and family he learns to become comfortable with himself. Gwen, on the other hand, is full of confidence, but is very much a loner. She and Miles form a slow-growing bond that should carry over into future movies.

Since I don’t follow comic books, I didn’t realize that the Spider-Verse has already played out in various Marvel comic books in the last decade. My 12-year-old daughter went to the movie with me and, like her old man, was pleasantly surprised with the film’s originality.

She was immediately drawn to Gwen, as she had never seen a female, teenage superhero. She was excited to get her first comic books – three issues of Spider-Gwen – for Christmas. She may never collect comic books (which is fine – my wife would add we don’t have space for such collections), but she at least has someone she can relate with on the animated pages. And it’s a lot cooler than Muppets Take Manhattan.

3.5/4 stars. Rated PG for animated violence. Some children – and possibly adults – could be scared by a talking pig in a Spider-Man costume. Mom and Dad: No.

Click here for more by Matthew Kauffman Smith.

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