The more-is-more approach to superhero movies is usually a deadly mistake, but it works nicely in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
There are half a dozen webbed wonders (most borrowed and repurposed from the sprawling comic book Spider-Man canon) in this entertaining spin-off. They spill into Brooklyn from a multiverse of parallel dimensions where Spidey assumes different forms, giving the movie its clumsy title, but also its winning theme — anyone can wear the mask.
One of these anyones is Miles Morales (voiced by Dope’s Shameik Moore), an Afro-Latino teen in Brooklyn who’s having trouble adjusting to his new magnet school when he’s bitten by a radioactive you know what — the movie plays mischievously with Spider-Man and superhero norms, riffing on them without undermining them.
He’s attending the out-of-neighborhood school at the insistence of his tough-love father, a New York police officer who’s pushing his son to make the most of his innate gifts. Dad also wants him to stop spray-painting his inspired but illegal artwork all over the neighborhood, a hobby abetted by a ne’er-do-well uncle (Mahershala Ali).
All of these conflicts intensify as Miles wrestles with his new abilities, under the two tutelage of the “real” Spider-Man (Chris Pine). He’s battling the megalomaniac Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) whose new time-bending device has ripped a whole in the universe, right there in Brooklyn, threatening to suck the whole world into a black hole.
That’s the bad news. The good news, for Brooklyn and for us, is that Spideys from other dimensions crawl through cracks in the multiverse, so that Miles has multiple allies in his quest to prevent catastrophe. We call them Spideys because they are not Spider-Men. There’s young Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), an anime-inspired Spider-Girl named Peni Parker with a Spider-Bot, A Spider-Ham named Peter Porker, and a hilarious 1930s Spider-Man Noir (Nic Cage) wrapped in hard-boiled dialogue and a trench coat. Other Spidey surprises worm their way into Brooklyn using Kingpin’s writhing wormhole, as the movie nods toward diversity in a way that’s organic and highly engaging.
The movie is produced by Chris Miller and Phil Lord (also credited as a writer), the duo responsible for The LEGO Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It has the funny rapid-fire joke-telling of the former, and the emotional ballast of the father-son dynamic of the latter. Both elements come into play as Miles summons the courage to assume his decisive role in the inevitable Kingpin showdown.
The movie is winning praise for its boundary-pushing animation, but the version I saw seemed fuzzy at times — I wasn’t sure whether Lord and company were trying to approximate the foregrounding of live-action, or whether portions of the movie were simply out of focus (at times, if felt like watching a 3D print without the 3D glasses).
I kind of didn’t care, because my eyes are bad anyway and the story was so good, displaying the Lord-Miller gift for taking corporate entities and pop culture brands and synthesizing them into something that feels somehow un-synthetic. Not original, exactly, but genuine.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Directed by Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti. Featuring the voices of Shameik Moore, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Hailee Steinfeld and Nic Cage. Distributed by Sony Pictures.
Running time: 116 minutes
Parents' guide: PG
Playing at: Area theaters