A Wide New Web

Worlds Collide in Spidey’s New Animated Bedazzler

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Liev Schreiber, Mahershala Ali & Kathryn Hahn

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
PG

Superhero flicks just got a whole lot more super, a bit more crowded—and much more inclusive.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse features not just one Spider-Man, but several—and not just Spider-men, but, well…

The latest entry into the Spider-film franchise is an eye-popping, animated bedazzler in which a young Brooklyn Afro-Latin teenager, Miles Morales (voiced by rapper-actor Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gets juiced with some freakish powers.

He doesn’t realize it at first, but he’s awkwardly on the way to becoming a new Spider-Man.

Of course, everyone knows—even in this movie—about Spider-Man. He’s been the subject of umpteen films and TV shows, a spectrum of merchandise and, of course, thousands of comic books and spin-offs stretching back to the 1960s. But in Miles’ movie world, Spider-Man (and his real-life alter-ego, Peter Parker, voiced by Chris Pine) meet an unfortunate demise, which makes big headlines—also sets this film into action by making a rip in time-space and plunking other Spider-People, from parallel dimensions, into Miles’ world.

And none of them had any idea they weren’t the only one, until—WHAM!—their worlds collided.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSEMiles is surprised, to say the least, when he meets another Spider-Man (Jake Johnson, who plays Nick Miller on TV’s New Girl). This one is Peter B. Parker, who’s lived a completely different but parallel life in his other dimension. Peter B. has been out of action for a while; he’s got a bit of a paunch, he’s divorced from Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz) and his spandex pants don’t quite fit anymore.

Peter B. becomes Miles’ mentor as the younger Spidey gets up to speed on his skill set, and they both set about shutting down the super collider that caused the quantum-physics conundrum. If it starts up again, it could be really, really, really bad.

They’re joined by Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), an acrobatic Spider-Woman. Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) is a talking pig; anime schoolgirl Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) fights inside her high-tech transformer spider-bot; the black-and-white, trench-coat-wearing Spider-Noir (Nicholas Cage) speaks like a character from a vintage Humphrey Bogart or Jimmy Cagney film.

They’re all up against the familiar old Spider-Man nemesis Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who’s willing to tear apart the universe to get back something he lost a long time ago.

Listen for Mahershala Ali as Miles’ uncle, Aaron; Lily Tomlin as May Parker, Peter’s kindly aunt; Kathryn Hahn as a scientist with a secret; and Lake Bell as Vanessa Fisk, the wife of Kingpin. And there’s a very special tribute cameo by Marvel’s late founder, Stan Lee, who died just weeks before the movie was released.

Miles Morales in Sony Pictures Animation's SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.It’s full of fun, driving with energy and pumping with heart. There’s a lot of bang, swoosh and boom, but it packs a pretty substantial emotional wallop, as well, with themes of family, friendship, loyalty, decision and choices, and leaps of faith.

It helps to be somewhat versed in Spider-lore to catch all the riffs in the movie, which is rich in characters and references to things that have come before in movies and comic books. (The character of Miles Morales, the first Spider-Man of color, was introduced in a Marvel comic line in 2011.)

But you don’t have to be a Marvel geek to marvel in the film’s groundbreaking stylistic pizzazz, which makes scenes feel like they could easily pop off the screen and into your lap. An exhilarating rush of imagination, ingenuity and sheer kinetic exuberance, it’s a dizzyingly colorful palette of comic-book excitement electrified by an army of animators with an array of techniques and a passion for graphic storytelling. It makes most other animated movies this year look, well, like cartoons.

This cross-generational, multicultural Spider-Man is a game-changer in another way, too. The timely tale, of more than one Spider-Man, clearly suggests that anyone, of any gender, color or even species, can “wear the mask.” Anyone can be a superhero, even you or me.

Young Miles buys his first Spider-Man outfit, a kid’s costume, over-the-counter. In a scene suffused with significance I wouldn’t dare spoil, he asks if he can he bring it back if it’s not the right size.

Don’t worry, the clerk reassures him: “It always fits—eventually.” Heroes grow into the jobs they know they have to do.

Those are words of assurance to a world in need of heroes, superheroes, do-gooders and wrong-righters of every shape, size, form and fashion—especially in a time when it feels like our planet may not have super-collided, but it certainly is in need of some super-mending.

In theaters Dec. 14, 2018

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