Main cast: Shameik Moore (Miles Morales), Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy), Mahershala Ali (Aaron Davis), Jake Johnson (Peter B Parker), Liev Schreiber (Wilson Fisk/Kingpin), Brian Tyree Henry (Jefferson Davis), John Mulaney (Peter Porker), Kimiko Glenn (Peni Parker), Nicolas Cage (Spider-Noir), Kathryn Hahn (Doc Ock), Zoë Kravitz (Mary Jane Watson), Lake Bell (Vanessa Fisk), Luna Lauren Velez (Rio Morales), and Lily Tomlin (May Parker)
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
I know, I know, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is yet another Spider-Man entry after we already had two or three a while back. By now, even people who are not aware of the superhero will have heard his (or her, in some incarnations) origins story by now at least twice, and yes, this is also another origin story – one for the version of Spider-Man who is actually teenager Miles Morales. However, this is also an animated movie, and the resulting is a gorgeous spectacle as well as a very fun roller-coaster ride that never lets up for the most part.
If you aren’t aware, these days we are very big of introducing all kinds of racially diverse characters in the comics world. One day, we will see a Spider-Man who is also a wheelchair-bound, obese Muslim trans woman who is also an Antifa member, but for, baby steps. Miles Morales is half-black, half-Puerto Rican, and in this one, he is up against Kingpin who is voiced by Liev Schreiber doing his best to sound like a certain current President of the United States. Fortunately, this movie isn’t slathered in cringe-causing superficial social justice virtue signaling though – for the most part it is another pretty standard origin story that won’t surprise folks who are familiar with the many flavors of Spider-Man lore. Yes, there is virtue signaling, but not to a degree that gets in the way of my enjoyment of the movie.
Miles Morales is sent to an elite school, but instead of being grateful, he just wants to be free of responsibilities to be a graffiti artist. This is more of his Uncle Aaron’s influence, though, as Miles is closer to that man than his own father, the cop Jefferson who insists that he follows the rules and other boring stuff. One day, he sneaks out of school to hang out with Aaron in some subway tunnel hideout, where he gets to spray the walls with rap music in the background (these places don’t smell or anything like that, naturally), and then he gets bitten by a radioactive spider. Yes, kids, play truant and be rewarded with unearned superpowers – the ultimate socialist wet dream.
With unearned powers come unasked-for responsibilities, however: he soon stumbles upon Spider-Man in a showdown with Kingpin, Green Goblin, and the Prowler. With the help of Doc Ock (who’s female in this version of things), Kingpin has set up a Super Collider device under Brooklyn, with the intention of opening up portals to various dimensions so that he can bring over his wife and son – who were dead in this dimension. During the fight, the machine sort of works… not enough to bring over Kingpin’s family, but enough to bring in various Spider-Mans from other dimensions. Spider-Man from this dimension sadly doesn’t survive the encounter, and he makes Miles promise to stop Kingpin before he dies.
So now, Miles, who is just one day into discovering that he has inherited Spider-Man’s cape, finds himself having to be responsible for the first time in his life. Fortunately, he has allies among the other Spider-Mans: Peter B Parker from the dimension in which he was divorced from Mary Jane and is now a slovenly, out-of-shape jaded superhero; Gwen Stacy or Spider-Gwen, who is female and hence super capable, spunky, and sassy; token “different” sorts that are sort of lumped together and share the same scene because tokenism is good – Peni Parker and her robot Spider thing, Spider-Noir who is all black and white and Sam Spade-ish, and Peter Porker the pig. However, they all need to go back to their dimensions ASAP or die a painful death, which means that in the end, only Miles can deactivate the collider if his new friends were to all make it home alive, and he has no clue how to use or control his powers at all…
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a gorgeous animated movie – it’s a visual spectacle to behold, and the animation is fluid and so sweet on the eyes. The characters look good too. Best of all, though, the movie isn’t trying to sell a new story or break new grounds with the lore, but it has the right amount of pathos and comedy to keep my interest completely engaged from start to finish. Miles’s story arc is the usual zero to hero journey, but he is the Luke Skywalker to Peter B Parker’s jaded Yoda, and the chemistry is both amusing and poignant at many places. Spider-Gwen is sadly too one-dimensional to be memorable, as these days female characters aren’t allowed to be vulnerable once they are stuck in the sassy woke independent diva mold, and the other three token Spider-Mans sort of just fill up space with the occasional quips and one-liners. They are all generally forgettable, and it is the relationship of Miles and Peter B Parker that make this story what it is, along with Miles’s well-done rocky relationship with his father. Also, Kingpin isn’t that much of a one-dimensional character – he is an actually physically threatening and menacing big-sized villain here. On the flip side, Doc Ock is completely wasted as a cackling insane-cruel villain; the female counterpart in this instance is clearly inferior to the more interesting male version.
Still, I have a blast watching this movie. It’s fun, fun, fun. My only annoyance is how the movie relies on the always eye-rolling “motivational speeches give you the automatic ability to control your powers and become super-saiyan when you were a flop just seconds ago” cliché a few times as it hurtles towards the denouement. That’s just a small complaint, though. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is definitely the superior Spider-Man movie to have come out recently.