Before a radioactive spider bit Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) he was a half-Puerto Rican and half-African-American, Brooklyn born student with loving parents. Post bite, his world goes topsy-turvy. Unable to control his brand-new powers—he sticks to everyone and everything like glue—he needs help. Enter the real Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) who asks the younger Spider-Man to combat crime lord Kingpin (Liev Schreiber).
The evil genius doesn’t have superpowers but he does have a machine called a Collider with the power to tear the world apart. “It’s a hell of a freakin’ light show,” Kingpin cackles. “You’ll love this.” When Kingpin hits the Collider’s on switch the various portals between Spider-Verse open, sweeping alternate Spider-People including Peter B. Parker (Johnson again), a “junky, old, broke-down hobo Spider Man,” Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), an anthropomorphic animal parody of Spider-Man, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), a Japanese-American middle school student, adopted by Aunt May and Uncle Ben and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), a hard-bitten Raymond Chandler-esque type, into Miles’s world. The inter-dimensional Peter B. becomes a mentor of sorts to Miles—“Disinfect the mask,” he advises. “Use talcum powder. You don’t want chaffing.”—teaching his the tricks of the superhero trade. “You’re like the Spider-Man I don’t want to be,” Miles says to the frayed around the edges Peter. “I don’t think you have a choice kiddo,” Peter B. replies.
Before shutting off the Supercollider and saving the world Miles must sends the other Spider-types back to their realms or they will disintegrate.
“Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” is a cortex-boiling hit of boffo superhero theatrics. Visually it’s a pop art explosion, paying tribute, in its more restrained moments, to the work of original Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. In the climatic multiverse showdown, however, it’s as if M.C. Escher and Roy Lichtenstein did acid and conceived a psychedelic freak-out that mixes and matches op art, anime and everything in between. It doesn’t look like any other superhero film you’ve ever seen. It’s wild and woolly, a pastiche of styles formed into one seamless whole.
It’s fresh and funny, and yes, there is a Stan Lee cameo, but despite the eye-catching animation and the flippant time of the script, there is substance; the film has a point. “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” is a coming-of-age story for Miles who must tap into his inner strength to succeed. Uncle Ben’s quote, “With great power comes great responsibility,” comes up in the film’s multiple origin stories but is amended to reflect that great power also comes with an awareness of self. “Anyone can wear the mask,” Miles says. “If you didn’t know that before I hope you know it now.” It’s a message about finding the greatness within whether you can shoot webs from your wrists or not. In a tweet the day Stan Lee died Seth Rogen wrote, “Thank you Stan Lee for making people who feel different realize they are special.” Lee didn’t write “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” but his powerful, personal message of self worth is alive and well here.