Spider-Man’s brave new world

Joshua Lloyd, Editor-in-Chief

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Is this the same Sony that force-fed us the middling “Amazing Spider-Man” flicks a few years back? We can only guess that they took Spidey’s immortal words to heart – with great power comes great responsibility – and atoned for their mistakes by making one of the absolute best movies of the year.    
That’s exactly what “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is: a top-to-bottom awesome superhero saga that makes us rethink everything we know about the late, great Stan Lee’s favorite creation.

We find our hero Miles Morales (voiced with wit and vulnerability by Shameik Moore) living in Brooklyn, singing Post Malone and struggling to fit in at his classy new boarding school. (Well-read fans will note that the OG Spider-Man resides in Queens).

Like a million other NYC teens, Miles admires the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but his gung-ho cop dad Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) has nothing but scorn for vigilantes in stretchy suits.

Jefferson and his wife Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), a nurse, see nothing but potential in their son, but Miles isn’t convinced he’s got greatness within him. Only his chill uncle Aaron (the superb Mahershala Ali) seems to get what Miles is going through. Playing troubled father figures isn’t new for Ali; his role as Juan in “Moonlight” won him an Oscar. We get hints of Aaron’s checkered past, but the love for his nephew is real. Against the wishes of Miles’ straight-and-narrow dad, Aaron shows Miles the best spots to spray-paint graffiti masterpieces.

When a spider nibbles Miles’ hand while he’s throwing up some art, he thinks nothing of it. That is, until he realizes he can stick to walls and leap over three lanes of traffic.

He heads back to the scene of the bite to investigate and stumbles upon a grand scheme to open doors to parallel universes, courtesy of the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and a supercollider that resembles the Death Star superlaser.

The Spidey who Miles looks up to swings in to save the day but can’t quite finish the job. Miles is tasked with putting the collider out of commission before Kingpin fixes it, but his web-slinging and wall-crawling need some work first.

Enter Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), a middle-aged Spidey from an alternate dimension who, to put it lightly, is not at the top of his superhero game. He and Mary Jane split a while back and he’s forgotten the thrill of swinging over New York’s neon rooftops. But he needs Miles to help him get home, and Miles needs Peter to show him the ropes – or webs – of being Spider-Man.

An attempt to steal some precious computer files doesn’t go smoothly for the two less-than-spectacular Spider-Men, but that’s when the ultra-cool Spider-Gwen (Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld) swoops in and saves them from the tentacles of Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn). It’s thrilling to watch the fan-favorite Spider-Woman swing onto the big screen for the first time with scene-stealing badassery.

With Kingpin and his goons in hot pursuit, Miles, Gwen and Peter are hurting for backup. Luckily, the winds of interdimensional change have blown in even more spider-people.

There’s Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), who hails from the wide world of anime and drives a spider-bot; Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a hilariously self-serious private eye who’s printed in black-and-white; and Spider-Ham (funnyman John Mulaney), whose secret identity is – wait for it – Peter Porker!
And so our heroes are off on an adventure that spans 50-plus years of Marvel Comics lore (Miles made his debut in 2011), but shines blazingly bright with a vibrant, fresh-faced personality all its own.     

It’s a treat to look at too, every frame exploding with psychedelic colors and spelled-out sound effects like the classic comic mags of the 60’s. Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller wanted audiences to feel like they’d “walked inside a comic book.” It took an army of more than 140 animators to bring this dazzling originality into the light, the most ever employed by Sony Pictures Animation for a single film.

The all-animated approach means no limits; six lead superheroes, a rogue’s gallery of iconic baddies and tons of reality-stretching action pieces make this a hell of a thrill ride for fans who can’t get enough web-slinging mayhem.  

The biggest trip, though? Watching Miles and Peter rise above their failures and insecurities to become heroes we can all cheer for. Together, they each play the roles of teacher and student, with one of them fighting to remember why he wears the red suit and the other trying to be worthy of the mantle.
Miles learns that love and loss are what tie the many spider-people together – they’ve all buried friends and family – but their differences make them uniquely, unstoppably strong.     That’s something we don’t hear enough these days.     

Directors Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman strike that crucial balance between humor and emotional heft, and Rothman and Lord pen the story like a love letter to comic books, cartoons, anime, you name it. The Spider-Verse truly has something for all kinds of nerds. And Miles, whose Afro-Latino identity is never once caricatured or stereotyped, is up there with T’Challa as one of the greatest new screen heroes of 2018.
“Anyone can wear the mask,” Miles and Peter tell us. It’s a message that will ring true for anyone who’s trying to find their inner superhero in these scary, uncertain times.