Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a bright, gifted but insecure young teen growing up in an alternate reality New York City subtly different from our own. While Miles struggles to fit in at his fancy new school, catch the eye of an alluring mysterious new girl (Hailee Steinfeld) and deal with the weighty expectations of his stern but caring policeman father (Brian Tyree Henry), his life takes a crazy turn. First he is bitten by a radioactive spider that endows him with spidey-powers he barely knows how to use. Then Miles stumbles into the middle of a epic confrontation between this reality's Spider-Man and ruthless super-villain the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) over a science experiment gone awry. As a result of Kingpin tinkering with a multi-verse rupturing super-collider Miles comes face to face with a Spider-Man from another dimension. An older, embittered, paunchier, surlier Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) more interested in grabbing a return ticket home than teaching Miles how to sling webs with style. But as Kingpin and his army of super-villains prepare to wreak more interdimensional havoc for his own ends, the dysfunctional duo face impossible odds to save the world. Fortunately they are not the only web-slinging wonders unleashed from the Spider-Verse...
That rare superhero film that delighted fans and critics alike (picking up an Academy Award as Best Animated Feature), the dazzlingly inventive Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is also perhaps the one film that can legitimately claim to resemble a comic book brought to life. In purely cinematic terms the visuals are as groundbreaking as our first glimpse of German Expressionism or the experimentation of avant-garde pioneers like Stan Brakhage. Not something one typically expects from a mainstream popcorn thrill ride. It is a riot of rainbow colours, varied and deliberately mismatched animation styles (from Japanese anime to film noir black and white and vintage Looney Tunes) and subtly disorientating visual trickery that conveys a sense of multiple realities colliding together. Even more impressively, Spider-Verse avoids the pitfalls of vacuous pyrotechnics and instead utilizes dynamic visual storytelling to engulf viewers in a story laden with wit, poetry, humanity, emotional weight and disarming social relevance. Blink and you might miss the moment Peter Parker registers that as a black kid Miles is at great risk swinging around New York in a hoodie.
Superbly written, the lively, engaging, frequently flat-out hilarious yet just as often emotionally devastating screenplay deftly evokes the myriad incarnations of Spider-Man over his glorious fifty plus year history, including those of other gender and species (!). From the original run by co-creators Stan Lee (whose priceless cameo reportedly drew emotive gasps from audiences the world over in the wake of his passing) and Steve Ditko to various parodies, adaptations, reboots and re-imaginings. As conceived by creatives from Brian Michael Bendis (who created Miles Morales in response to a provocative query from actor and comedian Donald Glover), J. Michael Straczynski (whose initial run dealt with a divorced, introspective Peter Parker echoed in Jake Johnson's rumpled hero here), Dan Slott (who penned the original comic book Spider-Verse storyline) and many more. The film also bears the wise-cracking, fourth-wall breaking stamp of writer-producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (demonstrating why their abrupt removal from Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) was probably a big mistake) who continue their laudable egalitarian/utopian concept of superheroism. Upholding themes established in The Lego Movie (2014), the creative team continue to reject the longstanding fantasy archetype of 'the chosen one.' In its place Spider-Verse argues that anyone can wear the mask and become a hero. All they need is the drive to make a difference. Here Miles Morales is reluctant to embrace his own special qualities because he wants to be like everyone else. Over the course of a pulse-pounding plot he finds strength with a family of web-slingers who share similar struggles along with drive to overcome all odds to save the day.
At the same time the film functions as a kind of It's A Wonderful Life, Spider-Man wherein a schlubby, embittered Peter Parker learns invaluable life lessons from his younger, more idealistic compatriots that push him to get his life back on track. Indeed Peter's heartrending interactions with an alternate Mary Jane and Aunt May (voiced in unexpected yet pitch-perfect fashion by Zoë Kravitz and Lily Tomlin respectively) are among the story's most affecting highlights. As indeed is the disarmingly well drawn relationship between Miles and his father - played to perfection by Brian Tyree Henry, of groundbreaking TV show Atlanta. Perhaps the most unexpectedly skillful aspect of Spider-Verse is the nuance and skill with which it weaves a web of complex relationships. On top of that the script delivers fantastic gut-wrenching plot twists and ingenious fresh takes on familiar characters. It does so without losing sight of Miles Morales' compelling emotional journey even whilst making masterful use of an outstanding voice cast including Jake Johnson's charmingly curmudgeonly Peter B. Parker, a stellar turn from the always impressive Hailee Steinfeld as an attention-grabbing, uber-charismatic Spider-Gwen (along with Ms. Marvel arguably Marvel Comics most notable creation of the past decade, the brief glimpse of her dimension is a cinematic tour de force unto itself - bring on that Spider-Gwen movie!), John Mulaney as the delightful Warner Bros. inspired Spider-Ham and Nicolas Cage as the scene-stealing, Forties-slang spouting Spider-Man Noir ("We don't pick the ballroom, we just pick the dance!"). And make sure you search online for that Spider-Man Christmas Album.