Lord and Miller aren’t the film’s directors (though Lord co-scripted); that credit goes to Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. But the duo’s anarchic fingerprints are all over this movie, which plucks various Spider-men and Spider-women from multiple dimensions and brings them crashing into the life of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), an Afro Latino teenager who finds himself blessed with spider-powers. A comic-book character created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli in 2011, Miles was a refreshing take on the hero that clicked with audiences; his film counterpart is sure to do the same.
Though Into the Spider-Verse is an origin tale, it takes care to avoid tiresome backstory tropes. Yes, Miles gets bitten by a magic arachnid, and yes, he has to come to grips with his wall-crawling powers. But the film refracts and satirizes that process through its phantasmagoric visuals (which beautifully blend two-dimensional comic-book art with three-dimensional movie art) and its delightfully vast ensemble. Each version of Spider-Man knows that with great power comes great responsibility, but that message can be translated in a thousand ways.
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In Into the Spider-Verse, Miles finds himself in the middle of a pitched battle between the classic Peter Parker Spider-Man (Chris Pine) and his longtime enemy the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who is animated as a gigantic 10-foot cinderblock of a person. Kingpin is tooling around with a machine that opens portals to other dimensions; it goes haywire, kills off Peter Parker, and belches out various alternate iterations of him into the world, including a sad-sack 40-something version voiced by Jake Johnson. This new Peter takes Miles under his wing and tries to train him for the Spider-Man role, but quickly enough the lessons start to flow in both directions.
Alongside Johnson’s beer-bellied Peter Parker, there’s Spider-Woman (a cool-headed, teenage Gwen Stacy voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (a black-and-white ’30s throwback voiced by Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (a Japanese student, voiced by Kimiko Glenn, with a futuristic robot in tow), and Spider-Ham (a cartoon pig-person voiced by John Mulaney). Each is given a distinct visual style: Spider-Ham is straight out of Looney Tunes, conjuring giant wooden mallets seemingly from nowhere, while Peni Parker has stepped out of an anime world and Spider-Man Noir is constantly followed by howling winds and rain.
Watching all of these characters clash alongside Miles is endlessly entertaining, and the directors manage to make each visual approach co-exist organically within the same frame. The voice ensemble—which also includes Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’s straitlaced policeman dad and Mahershala Ali as his sketchy but charismatic uncle—imbues every character with a specific personality. Johnson, in particular, is a revelation, bringing the spirit of his disaffected-slacker character in New Girl to a superpowered hero who knows the basics of do-goodism but who long ago lost his passion for his work.