Filmmakers have really made Spider-Man a lot more fun as a character in recent years. Sorry, Tobey Maguire, but gothy/jazzy/brooding Spider-Man just isn't as fun as wise-cracking, backflipping, tons-of-heart Spider-Man, and the newest film in the hero's extended universe, Into the Spider-Verse, proves it with its unique animation style, a clever script and a nonstop cavalcade of in-jokes, out-jokes and good old-fashioned Marvel mayhem.
Here we follow Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager and relative newcomer to the world of Spidey, as he deals with being too smart and talented to particularly fit in at his new fancy school. Cue radioactive spider bite, the origin of powers, high stakes and, in this case, a super-collider funded by longtime Marvel villain Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) that opens up parallel universes from which other Spider-Heroes emerge. You've got schlubby middle-aged Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), super-cute/punk-rock Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage), the ultra-anime Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (a delightful Looney Tunes homage character voiced by John Mulaney). Turns out bridging between dimensions is no good for any of them, though, so they have to stop Kingpin, get back to their respective dimensions and blow up the super-collider while learning about love and what's important and stuff. Easy.
Into the Spider-Verse truly shines in its willingness to riff on past Marvel mistakes (dancing Spider-Man, for example) and highlighting and/or parodying beloved fan elements while throwing enough curveballs to keep us guessing. A number of twists even managed to surprise this longtime comics fan, and Phil Lord's script, co-written by Miles Morales creator Brian Michael Bendis, keeps up the feels while never straying into material that's too heavy-handed or emotional.
The animation style, meanwhile, is off-the-wall fantastic with disparate styles representing the different Spideys and an old-timey comic book filter tying everything together via Miles' dimension, where everything takes place. You'd think it would feel confusing, but even as the different planes of existence begin collapsing on one another in a gloriously colorful and chaotic endgame sequence, we never lose the story or the characters for a moment.
Of course, this could be because Spider-Verse is ultimately courting a younger audience and attempting to make quantum physics digestible. For the nit-pickers, this will surely mean small flaws to pick apart; for those who came to have fun, however, they'll be able to let go and enjoy what must be hands-down the most fun movie of the year for any age.
+Original animation; fun from start to finish
-So much happening, certain scenes feel rushed
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman
With Moore, Johnson, Steinfeld, Schriver, Cage, Mulaney and Glenn
PG, Violet Crown, Regal, 117 min.