Comic book writers often combat story stagnation by fiddling with their continuity and canon. Realities get warped, deceased characters come back to life, and origin stories get scuttled for brand new ones. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes the novel approach of weaving a web of disparate plots into one cohesive story: A host of Spider-Beings from many different comics unite to battle evil as one ragtag outfit. This unusual plot largely works because the filmmakers strike a wise balance between silly and smart. What could’ve been a shallow cash-grab turns out to be a pretty cool tinkering that breathes new life into Marvel’s flagship character.
As a bright but frustrated kid from Brooklyn, Miles Morales stumbles over the typical teen hurdles of fitting in and figuring himself out. After a radioactive spider bite infuses him with superpowers, Miles turns to the OG Spider-Man for help. Miles finds Spidey locked in battle with the Green Goblin, who attempts to open a dimensional vortex underneath New York. Pretty soon, migrant Spider-Lings invade Manhattan from other universes: An older, paunchier Peter Parker takes on Miles as a Padawan. Nicolas Cage does his best Sam Spade impression as a film noir Spider-Man. Next, we get a souped up Gwen Stacy. Finally, the film saves its goofiest bit for Peter Porker. Yes, that’s a web-slinging pig. Has a cartoon pig ever been depicted wearing pants before? Gonna need some further info on that.
Anyway, Spider-Verse succeeds at grafting the aesthetic of a comic book onto the theater screen. Every scene bears the texture of a printed page, while captions bubble up to underscore the action. The New York explodes like a sprawling neon jungle. Every action scene feels coherent and exciting. All the voice actors do a great job, despite the fact that many of them play variations on a theme. As Miles Morales, Shameik Moore brings a vulnerability that helps ground the story.
Comic books live in a world of geometric possibilities, where no one writer or illustrator enjoys absolute dominion. If a storyline grows stale, someone else can step in and shake it like a snow globe. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse embodies that idea. For Spider-Fans who feel game enough, this film plays like a long, strange thwip.
(Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse should be safe for most children, although some younger or more sensitive children might find the action a little intense.)