==== WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS ====
While Marvel has consistently put out quality films that legions of fans were sure to enjoy, Sony’s Spider-Man entries have been a little bit more of a wildcard, with each successive Peter Parker charming some hearts while repelling others. But all that is about to change with the introduction of Miles Morales, voiced with charm and sincerity aplenty by Shameik Moore, in the first ever animated feature film for a Spidey. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse juggles multiple Spider people on its plate expertly, backed by mind-blowing visuals and a killer soundtrack, without ever losing sight of its star.
Young fans, especially those color, have been waiting for a big screen Miles Morales story since his debut in 2011. The only problem is that it’s hard to let go of one’s original heroes in order to make way for the next generation, but this is one of the aspects in which the film shines. Just like a comic book that knows it has to ease its readers into a gentle passing of the torch, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse starts off with a monologue given by Peter Parker (voiced by today’s go-to leading man Chris Pine) that lulls the audience into a false sense of security before his untimely death. Though said death is shocking and painful, especially when we see his wife Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz) and aunt May (Lily Tomlin) left in his wake, the real meat of the story lies in how it forces young Miles Morales to step into a role he never imagined he was ready for.
Unlike the typical superhero, who encounters their powers and can’t wait to try them out on everyone and everything, Miles is afraid of the changes he is experiencing and desperate to ignore them rather than to save the city. This helps make him more relatable, drawing real-life parallels to the crushing weight of parental and societal expectations that everyone has lived through. It’s a parallel that the movie explicitly makes as well, since Miles’ radioactive bite coincides with his move to a scary new private school where he is supposed to flourish but instead feels himself shrinking in. His identity crisis and growing pains are drawn masterfully, as the production team came together to design a veritable comic book come to life. Miles interacts with his own thought bubbles, fights with onomatopoeias and moves effortlessly from one animation style to the next as he finds his footing and eventually gathers his team.
The directorial trio of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and co-screenwriter Rodney Rothman as well as producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller must be commended for their vision, and if production designer Justin Thompson does not get an Oscar nomination there is no justice in the world of Hollywood. All of this is to say that by the time Miles quite literally runs into his new mentor,Peter B. Parker (voiced by master of deadpan Jake Johnson), he is so firmly entrenched as the audience’s viewpoint character and even as the visual center of the universe that there is no danger of his thunder being stolen. Instead, the begrudging student-teacher bond that forms between them brings a great balance to the story as Miles learns tricks of the trade from Peter while the latter learns how to grasp a second chance at life from his fledgling trainee.
The parade of parallel Spider-Men who enter the Spider-Verse all add something unique both in terms of their content and their character design – Peni Parker is an anime character, Peter Porker is a Saturday morning cartoon, and Spider-Man Noir speaks for his gusty greyscale self – but they are all there to complement Miles’ story even as they go through miniature character arcs that are moving in their own right. Then there’s Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), who acts as a connecting bridge between Miles and Peter before they are able to fully understand each other. Despite being from another (or “another another,” as she says) universe herself, she manages to be the one who can understand the other two best. Having just recently gone through her own painful origin story and having lost her own Peter, she quips with the best of them them while also making sure the film never loses its heart.
In fact, that sums up the tone of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a whole. It goes from humor to heartbreak and back again as quickly as Spider-Man thwipping and releasing to get away from Doc Ock, but it does so seamlessly. The jokes are all character-based, so they feel natural and appropriate, and the drama is never out of place. Even the incredible Stan Lee cameo follows this pattern, giving Miles a pep talk so beautiful it might make you cry before pulling back to reveal a punchline that’ll turn those tears into laughter without a second thought.
Mary Jane may have been the one to state the film’s thesis perfectly: “We are all Spider-Man. And we are all counting on you.” Into the Spider-Verse delivers on this message in spades, and is sure to inspire fans of all ages to dress up in their own Spider comics and read every Miles Morales story that’s available.