Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, one of the greatest comic book characters of all time, is irreplaceable. But that does not mean he needs to be alone. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a story not about Peter Parker, but about Miles Morales, who must take on Spider-man’s legacy after an encounter with a familiar spider. What makes the movie such a success is how easily it sells Miles as a new Spider-Man, who is more than capable of walking alongside one of the greats. In this beautifully animated film stuffed with great performances, we get to watch the story of Miles’s rise to heroism as he proves that he is worthy of taking on the mantle.
The movie follows the journey of Miles (Shameik Moore), a young teen from Brooklyn who receives a fateful bite from a genetically modified spider, just as Peter Parker did when he was a teen. When Miles becomes embroiled in a scheme involving a dimensional collider constructed by the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), the multiverse itself fractures, and a number of spider-powered heroes find themselves stranded in Miles’s universe. Among these heroes is an older version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who begins to mentor Miles as they attempt to stop the Kingpin and save the multiverse.
One of the movie’s greatest strengths is its character work and performance, especially in the case of Miles himself. The movie wisely takes its time getting to the superpowered shenanigans, choosing to spend time getting the audience invested in Miles’s own personal life and character.
Moore portrays a character who is utterly charming as we get to see Miles’s struggles with identity, his creative nature and his relationships with his straight-laced police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) and his more relaxed Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). When things do kick off, and the Spiders enter the fray, Miles goes through a combination of hero worship, inadequacy, cynicism and triumph in his mentorship under Johnson’s Parker.
Johnson’s Parker was a particular favorite of mine; this version embodies the Peter Parker from the comics whose civilian life has practically gone to shambles. As a result, he is more than ready to hang up the tights. The two characters are the perfect fit for each other throughout the film’s first two acts. Parker’s seen-it-all attitude and razor-sharp competence makes for great contrast with Miles’ youthful exuberance and constant missteps on the path to becoming his own hero. Their dynamic makes them hilarious to watch, and it’s a treat to see the two of them bond as Miles begins to bring out the best in Peter and remind him of what he’s lost.
I wish I could say I had the same level of emotional attachment to the other Spider heroes, namely Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) and SPI-DR (Kimiko Glenn). Ultimately, the movie simply does not have the time to invest in meaningful stories for all these characters, with the partial exception of Spider-Gwen. Still, each of these Spiders get their moments to shine, with Spider Man-Noir and Spider-Ham spouting off gut-busting lines nearly every time they open their mouths. Each of the Spiders also had the privilege of being rendered in their own unique animation styles, such as SPI-DR’s clear anime influence or Spider-Man Noir’s constant black-and-white film grain effect.
I was particularly touched by a scene where they all commiserate over the shared tragedies of their pasts. Still, I can’t help but feel that “Spider-Verse” would have been better off to showing some restraint and cutting these characters to focus solely on Miles and Peter. If anything, I would have liked to spend more time with Kingpin. His woefully short screen-time is a real shame since Schreiber infused Kingpin with intelligence, a faux easy going manner and an exhilarating-to-behold savagery.
I’d be remiss if I did not mention how beautiful this movie looks and how incredible it sounds. The animation style never misses a beat, with a vibrant color scheme, signature pop-art “WHAM” sound effects and thought bubbles that all serve to make it look like a comic-book come to life. The character designs are just as worthy of praise, with my personal favorite being Kingpin, whose massive, blocky form tends to take up the entire frame and allows him to exude a sense of absolute menace. Rather than the sweeping orchestras of modern superhero movies, the soundtrack of “Spider-Verse” draws from a variety of music styles, most notably hip-hop and rap. Throughout the film, these elements make it a delight to watch and the final battle is an absolute masterpiece of a scene that hits nearly every beat perfectly.
Perhaps most importantly, this movie manages to truly understand and communicate the essence and ultimate message of Spider-Man — the very thing that has always made him such an enduring character — in a way that hasn’t been done since the Raimi “Spider-Man” films. Simply put, with great power, there must also come great responsibility. Miles makes such a strong character — just like Peter Parker, he understands that his powers are a gift that need to be used to protect those around him.
Spider-Verse” adds another layer to this timeless message: anyone can have that power. In an early scene, a crowd of onlookers, Miles included, dons Spider-Man masks and listens to a speech on how the power to help others can be found in anyone, not just in someone like Peter Parker. This is further established in the diversity of the Spider team which eventually forms in the final act. Anyone can take up the heroic mantle of Spider-Man, from a half-black, half-Puerto Rican teen to a Japanese girl or even a cartoon pig.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a triumph on nearly every level. Miles Morales finally makes his big-screen debut anchored firmly in Moore’s performance and a compelling story about his journey to becoming Spider-Man. With a host of other great characters, the proper blend of drama and humor and an amazing animation style, “Spider-Verse” solidifies its standing as one of the best Spider-Man movies yet and proves itself worthy of its recent Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film and its Oscar nomination for the same category.