‘Into the Spider-Verse’ is the best Spider-Man movie yet

Spidey is dusting off his cobwebs.

Since Tobey Maguire first donned the red and blue spandex suit in 2002, there’s been a steady stream of Spider-Man films starring him, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland. Some are great (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”), some have weird emo dance sequences (“Spider-Man 3”), but they’ve all told the same repetitive story: Spider bites man; man bites crime.

However, it’s the latest one, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” that unleashes the acrobatic arachnid’s full emotional and creative potential. The movie proves a New York teen superhero can do more than just excitedly swing around. He can move us, too.

It’s the best stand-alone film to feature the iconic character so far. And it’s animated.

In “Spider-Verse,” we meet Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn kid who feels out-of-place at his new private academy. He’s more interested in designing eye-popping graffiti than yawning through physics class.

While Miles is spraying his art in a subway tunnel, he’s bitten by a pesky radioactive spider, and he comes face-to-face with the other, more famous Spider-Man in town: Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). That same night, Peter is killed by a villain called Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), and Miles, now with superpowers, takes the reins.

That weighty premise is enough to fill two hours, but “Spider-Verse” goes five steps further. After the villain’s dastardly device opens up a rift in the universe, a quintet of other alternate-reality spider-men arrive in Miles’ world, hellbent on defeating Kingpin and returning home. The plot sounds more confusing than it is.

When your brain does get lost in science mumbo-jumbo, the humor makes up for it. The visiting heroes are all ripped from different genres. There’s a film noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage), an anime Spider-Girl (Kimiko Glenn), a Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) and, best of all, a Spider-Ham named Peter Porker (John Mulaney). Including the diverse web-slingers is a smart way of saying “Anybody can be Spider-Man!” without it feeling like an after-school special.

Plus, the whole group is a riot.

A non-dead Peter Parker from another dimension also shows up, and plays the part of a half-ass Mr. Miyagi, showing Miles the ropes.

Miles is more fleshed-out than the usual Marvel heroes, which makes us care more. In the case of Peter Parker, we usually learn that he works as a photographer, loves his aunt and uncle, and has a crush on Mary Jane. With

Miles, we get a deep dive into his hobbies, insecurities and his rocky relationship with his cop father.

All of this is made unexpectedly epic and dazzling by a unique animation style: a crafty blend of 2-D and 3-D techniques that honors comic books, while containing enough texture and detail to be relatable. “Spider-Verse” is a nice break for audiences for whom Pixar and animation have become synonymous.
The late Stan Lee, as he always did, appears as the campy owner of a Spider-Man merchandise shop. At the screening I attended, he got a deserved round of applause.

Watching Lee, a comic-book visionary, as an animated character on-screen just feels right.

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