“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is Sony Pictures Animation’s highly-anticipated CGI Spidey movie. It features an ambitious story combined with equally enthusiastic visuals. Diehard fans of the Spider-Man comics will find this film enthralling and highly entertaining. But it’s a much tougher sell for everyone else.
Miles Morales (voiced by “Dope”’s Shameik Moore) is a 13-year-old, African American/Puerto Rican boy living in Brooklyn. Like many teens he has a challenging relationship with his parents, including his PDNY officer father. Miles is an aspiring graffiti artist. While in a subway tunnel with his uncle (Mahershala Ali), Miles is bitten by a spider. He thinks it’s nothing… until his hands start sticking to everything. Soon he realizes he’s a new Spider-Man.
And then things get really complicated. Miles soon meets-up with the real Spider-Man. And before you know it, five other Spider-Man-like characters, each from a different dimension (thus creating this “Spider-Verse”) show-up. They include an older Peter Parker (who becomes Miles’ mentor), Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, anime Peni Parker and Spider-Man Noir. Together they must stop some familiar villains from wiping-out NYC and try to get back home.
The set-up is fresh: Miles’ relationship with his uncle and parents (dad – voiced by Brian Tyree Henry – isn’t a Spider-Man fan), awkward high school scenes and young hipster music. And there are a couple of big surprises in the first half hour, including a cameo from the late Stan Lee (who also receives a special end credits dedication).
But once over-the-hill Spidey (voiced by Jake Johnson) starts-up the “Karate Kid”-esque bond with Miles, the nice flow gets tangled. In an effort to please young fans, “Spider-Verse” packs-in hefty amounts of goofy comedy. But a little of that goes a long way. Only Nicolas Cage’s Noir provides quirky dialogue that works.
As for the look, the results are a mixed bag. The characters themselves are well designed. But the technique of hand-drawing on top of every frame of CGI provides a blurry effect that’s often distracting. Going for a true comic page look produced numerous moments that appear as 3D animation without 3D glasses.
“Spider-Verse” also includes several drawn-out action sequences. Thankfully a couple nice twists break up the monotony.
The goal of directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, as well as producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, was to make a comic book come to life. Comic books aren’t the deepest form of storytelling, nor do they evoke high emotion. If the intention was to replicate that on screen, the makers of “Spider-Verse” succeeded. But there’s a lack of true emotional impact with this saga – though the Miles character would have been perfect for such.
No question “Spider-Verse” stays true to the Spider-Man universe and legacy. Fanboys and fangirls will be in their glory. However, an off-beat tone and too many characters result in an unsettled Spidey saga that is more than a little flat.