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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Into the Spider-Verse' takes fans in a different (albeit interesting) direction

by DAN LYBARGER Special to the Democrat-Gazette | December 14, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Biracial Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) is the Spider-Man in his reality, and the principal hero of the buzzy animation feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Maybe we should have guessed Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) was not be the only web-spinning avenger in the multi-verse. After all, isn't it more likely to be bitten by a radioactive spider than survive an onslaught of gamma rays or to complete a long solo voyage from the distant (and non-existent planet Krypton)?

While Columbia seems determined to exploit every aspect of Spider-Man before losing the rights to the character, at least they've found creative ways to explore just about every conceivable variation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's conceit. Via a plotline involving parallel dimensions, a trio of directors (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman) juggle a variety of animation styles and character arcs resulting in a movie that doesn't feel as if it's about a nearly 60 year old superhero.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

89 Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Lake Bell, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Oscar Isaac, Nicolas Cage, Chris Pine, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Rating: PG, for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language

Running time: 1hour, 57 minutes

Actually, while original Spider-Man Peter Parker is still an important part of the tale, the main character is Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli's Miles Morales (Shameik Moore).

Miles is a reluctant student at Brooklyn Vision, a charter school he's lucky to attend, but he feels out of place there. The other teenagers look at him suspiciously because his father is black, and his mother is Puerto Rican. He likes creating graffiti art despite the fact that his dad (Brian Tyree Henry) is a no-nonsense cop.

He's close to his suave and supportive uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), and he has a soft spot for a classmate who calls herself Wanda (Hailee Steinfeld). Nonetheless, his anxiety about being an outsider is about to get worse.

While decorating a rarely visited section of the subway, an arachnid bearing the logo of the tech firm Alchemax on its abdomen, bites Miles' hand. Soon the lad is taller and finds he's sticking to objects and even people.

He also has some new powers that Peter didn't receive, but he has no idea how to control them. The fact that the Green Goblin or Scorpion (who speaks nothing but Spanish translated by comic balloons) could kill him at any moment doesn't help his learning process.

Thanks to 56 years of Spider-Man comics, movies, books and video games, we know Miles is going to get the "with great power comes great responsibility" sermon. What makes Into the Spider-Verse fun is that Lee's most famous passage gets reworked in a variety of delightful ways.

The interdimensional setting helps. Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has teamed with an Alchemax scientist named Liv (Kathryn Hahn) to develop a doorway into other dimensions. Naturally, this could lead to all sorts of troubling things, so Peter Parker enlists the hesitant Miles into trying to stop the experiment from going terribly wrong.

Screenwriters Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) and Rodney Rothman let the madness proceed and wind up introducing a cornucopia of variations on Spider-Man and some of his most fearsome villains. They also make familiar characters interesting, too. This time around, Peter Parker's Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) is well aware of what Peter Parker is doing when he's not in graduate school and has no qualms talking back to Doctor Octopus.

In addition to a solid script and nearly perfect voice casting (Nicolas Cage gets his best role in years), the animation is a marvel. Into the Spider-Verse nails the look of current Marvel comic books and even replicates the "doubling" that occurred when the publisher was too cheap to correct printing errors. Thought balloons and sound effects also get reworked in playful ways. The characters know they're in print, but the self-awareness is thankfully untainted by needless irony. The film also seamlessly incorporates the look of old Warner Bros. Looney Tunes (complete with falling anvils) and anime. If one visual seems a tad off-putting, the sheer fearlessness demonstrated throughout makes the lapses easy to forgive.

Throughout Into the Spider-Verse, there's a sense the filmmakers blanketed the screen with everything they had. Look in the background, and you'll see that a noodle shop is dubbed "Romita's Ramen," after a Marvel artist who made the Wallcrawler his own. Thankfully, Persichetti, Ramsey and Rothman have done the same. Neither Lee and nor Ditko were able to see the final results, but Spider-Man will keep them alive for some time to come.

Three different iterations of Spidey — Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) come together to stop an interdimensional threat in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

MovieStyle on 12/14/2018

Print Headline: MOVIE REVIEW: 'Into the Spider-Verse' takes fans in a different (albeit interesting) direction


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