Miles Morales (voice: Shameik Moore) is a regular teen with a number of normal teen-type problems, mostly related to his father (voice: Brian Tyree Henry), until he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. He’s saved by Spider-Man, who soon after dies at the hands of King Pin (voice: Liev Schreiber). King Pin has a plan to bring back his dead family that involves cracking open the universe and will result in the destruction of the world. The first attempt with his dimensional vortex machine zaps spider-people from other universe’s into Miles’s, including a middle-aged Peter Parker (voice: Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (voice: Hailee Steifeld), Spider-Man Noir (voice: Nicolas Cage), the anime Peni Parker (voice: Kimiko Glenn) and the cartoony Spider-Ham (voice: John Mulaney). Together they need to defeat King Pin, and return to their own universes.
Into the Spider-Verse is the best looking animated movie in the last decade, but it ranks far higher when considering visual artistry, where I can’t think of any feature-length animated film in the last 40 years that can compete. The backgrounds are beautiful, the animation is exciting and active, merging 2D and 3D, illustration and pop art, into a coherent whole. Into the Spider-Verse then adds to that artistry a clever gimmick of having three of the stranger spider-people, as well as several villains, rendered in their own styles. That kind of creativity is rare, which makes the conventional nature of much of the rest of the film standout.
The basic story is a traditional teen coming of age one: Miles has some trivial disagreements with his father and isn’t fitting into his new school, and is trying to find his way. I’ve seen this kind of thing over and over and over again. It wasn’t all that interesting the first time, and repetition has not helped. Nothing about Miles’s story, outside of the spider-gang, is interesting because it is so familiar. That might not have bothered me so much (a lot of superhero films are filled with familiar beats) if it wasn’t so contrasted by the visual work, or the other segments of the plot. Miles and old Peter together have fine character interaction and are a lot of fun. Adding in Gwen, Spider-Noir, Peni, and Spider-Harm makes it all better. But there isn’t much of that. The ads gave the impression that the whole gang are in a major portion of the film, but half of their material, and most of their best moments, are in the trailers. There’s far more Miles brooding about his father than there is anime robot fighting of Spider-Ham with oversized weapons.
This is a routine (very routine) teen superhero original story, with the fantastic multiverse stuff tossed in, all designed beautifully. It makes for an enjoyable flick, and one of the better Spider-Man movies, that could have been more.