It’s hard to come up with words to describe exactly how full of energy and joy SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE really is. The 2018 picture scooped the Best Animated Feature Oscar and for good reason, as this foray into the Marvel Comics universe is a truly special experience. It takes the superhero genre and remembers what it should be: a fantastical, almost euphoric romp through worlds of possibility.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE has an ambitious story and a whole lot of moving parts but never feels too big for its spandex. It’s refreshing and modern without abandoning tradition, shrewdly turning to Sara Pichelli and Brian Michael Bendis’ Miles Morales Spider-Man as the driving force.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is hanging out with his uncle (Mahershala Ali) when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. He develops abilities akin to the famed Spider-Man, which puts him in the path of the crime lord Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). The villain is using a Super-Collider to open parallel universes in order to bring back his deceased family.
Naturally, there are complications. Miles has to pick up the slack and runs into Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), another version of Spider-Man from another dimension. That Spider-Man agrees to help Miles understand his new powers. The two of them work toward defeating Kingpin and more alternate versions of Spider-Man arrive to help out.
You could get technical and dig into the whys of where the other web-slingers come from. The stories are plucked from the the books, like how Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) saves the day or how Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) is so hilarious. How in the hell did they all arrive in Miles’ world? What is Miles’ world compared to ours?
There are enough answers – and more questions – to satisfy even the most ardent comic fan, but the thrust of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is more intuitive. How Miles “wears the mask” and how we all can “wear the mask” is vital to exploring how collective experiences make us more human and more superhuman.
What heroism is, in this lively world, is for all of us to discover. It does not matter what “dimension” we might be from. It doesn’t matter if the suit fits. It matters that we, as Stan Lee says, help others because it’s the right thing to do, because it should be done, because it must be done.
The artistry of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is vibrant, fresh, triumphant. The screenplay by Rothman and Phil Lord is quick-witted and dashed with bouts of comic brilliance and meticulous characterizations. But more than the sum of its parts, this film is an ode to the spirit of Spider-Man’s creator and the unifying force behind a mask we can all aspire to wear.