Warning: Spoilers follow.
There’s no doubt about it: 2018 is the year of Spider-Man.
The friendly neighborhood web-slinger has seen a renaissance in comics under the creative team of Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley; he’s been the star of an incredible video game, and he was a part of Avengers: Infinity War (aka the biggest Marvel Studios film to date). It’s only fitting that Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is the capstone of 2018 because it’s not just a great film; it’s a love letter to Spider-Man in all his forms.
Into the Spider-Verse opens with a recap of a well-worn origin story: Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, becomes a superhero, falls in love, and saves New York from certain destruction on countless occasions. We then switch gears to Miles Morales (Shamiek Moore), a teenager who is unsure of his place in the world. Feeling out of place at the elite Brooklyn Visions Academy, and unable to talk things out with his father Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), Miles seeks solace—and advice—from his ne’er-do-well Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali).
A chance encounter with an irradiated spider and watching the death of his universe’s Spider-Man at the hands of the Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) propels Miles down the path of superheroism. But he isn’t alone—a supercollider experiment spearheaded by Kingpin ends up pulling five other web slingers into Miles’ universe. In rapid order, we are introduced to Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), an embittered, aging Spider-Man who slowly takes Miles under his wing; the free-spirited Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld); Spider-Man Noir, a hardboiled detective (Nicholas Cage, doing some of his best work); Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her SP//DR mech; and the Looney Tunes–esque Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
With such a wide variety of characters, each who could rightfully carry their own movie, it’s a miracle that the film manages to center on Miles. And it’s for the best: his struggles with school and superheroism, his family life, his eventual embrace of the Spider-Man mantle are all laid bare before the audience. They’re all also anchored by Moore’s stellar performance.
Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman have imbued Into the Spider-Verse with a visual flair that not only stands apart from other animated films, but also other superhero films in general. This is the first comic book movie that actually FEELS like a comic book come to life. Sound effects pop onto the screen. Miles’ narration appears in yellow thought boxes. Even the Spider-folk have their own visual distinctions; Noir Parker is shaded in black and grey, Peni looks like she stepped out of an anime, and so on.
The screenplay, by Rothman and Phil Lord (Lord and his current co-collaborator Christopher Miller also serve as producers), is stuffed to the gills with rapid-fire jokes, as well as some loving nods-and quite a few jabs at the Spider-Man mythos. However, it also contains an important message: Anyone can be Spider-Man. The character has appealed to so many people over the years, and to see that message proclaimed loud and large touched my heart. (A cameo from the late, great Stan Lee helps to drive the point home.)
Whether you love Spider-Man or you just love good movies, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse deserves your attention.
FINAL VERDICT: 5 out of 5 radioactive spiders. The greatest Spider-man movie of all time.