It’s been a busy year for the world’s favorite wall crawler. Spider-Man was a major supporting character in Avengers: Infinity War, had yet another major comics mega crossover, starred in one of the best videogames of the year, and said goodbye to both of his creators, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Perhaps then it is fitting that the year wraps up with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse a film that can only be described as a love letter to the entire history of the character.
Spider-Verse tracks the story of Miles Morales (portrayed by Shameik Moore) who, upon being bitten by a radioactive spider, is thrust into a world of Spider-Men and Women. After being granted powers befitting a Spider-Man he has a fateful run in with his universe’s Peter Parker, a version that is further along in the timeline and more successful than any Spidey that we’ve ever seen on film. Of course, he promptly dies, trying to stop a plot by the Kingpin to open a portal to the Marvel Multi-verse, and with his dying breath entrusts Miles with the task of shutting down Kingpin’s portal once and for all. But Miles won’t have to do it alone, the original opening of the portal brought with it many of the multi-verse’s most famous Spideys and it’s with their help that Miles will learn how to be Spider-Man and attempt to save the world.
So, who exactly is along for the ride in this one? Well, we’ve got a middle-aged sad sack Peter B. Parker (played by Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy the Spectacular Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), the slightly unhinged black and white Spider-Man Noir (Nick Cage, no, I’m not kidding on that one), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her Spider-Robot, and the true star of the show, Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (played by the incomparable John Mulaney). Altogether this motley crew have to band together to save Miles’ world and try to get back to their’s in the process.
We view all of these proceedings through Miles’ eyes. While this is a film about multiple Spider-Men/Women/Pigs it is his story. Miles is a young man struggling with his identity, unsure of who or what he wants to be. Throw in a brand new batch of spider powers and Miles’ complicated world is suddenly even more complicated. He’s learning how to use all of his new powers while also getting a crash course in how rapidly being Spider-Man complicates a person’s life. It’s a familiar story, but one that is executed to perfection.
Threaded throughout all of this is a deep love and appreciation for all of the Spider-Man media that has come before. References abound to comics, films, videogames and more. We see recreations of iconic moments, beloved (and some not so beloved) by fans. We are also treated to, via the various Spider-Beings in the film to multiple looks at what it means to assume the mantle of power and responsibility that comes with the webs and tights. This is more than anything a love letter to the concept and history of Spider-Man, and the many different variations on the character that we have seen over the years. The love for the character and everything that it represents oozes from every frame and it adds up to an experience that will delight any fan of the wall crawler.
When we talk animated films, discussion of the animation has to eventually come up, and it’s yet another area where Spider-Verse excels. A never before seen combination of computer animation and the drawing techniques from the very comics that inspired the film, Spider-Verse is a sight to behold. Every single frame is gorgeous and the end result creates the feeling of having stepped into the very pages of a comic book, complete with the odd speech bubble to further the effect.
Lastly it would not do to ignore the performances in the film as the voice actors are all at the top of their game. Shameik Moore turns in a fantastic performance as Miles, imbuing the character with a wonderful humanity that provides the film with its heart. Johnson’s performance as a down on his luck Peter Parker whose life has spiraled due to his failure to prioritize non-Spider-Man responsibilities is so amazing that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Steinfeld is her usual fantastic self as Gwen, and Glenn is loads of fun as Peni Parker. It is Nick Cage and John Mulaney however, who manage to steal basically every scene they appear in. Cage’s Spider-Man Noir is a campy masterpiece, with Cage going full ham as a violent, black and white gumshoe interpretation of the character. And Mulaney goes full Mulaney portraying a character that feels more at home in a Looney Tunes movie than a Spider-Man one, as he serves to ratchet up the insanity of every scene that he is in. it should also be noted that Brian Tyree Henry does fantastic work portraying Miles’ by the book police officer dad. These performances elevate and breathe even more life into the vivid world that has been constructed.
All of these parts add up to equal not just one of the best animated movies of the year, but one of the best movies of the year, period. It’s a film that will remind Spidey fans why they fell in love with the character in the first place, while likely creating a whole new generation of true believers in the process. It’s a hilarious, beautiful, non-stop thrill ride of a film that that reminds us all that with great power, comes great responsibility.