[Screen It]


(2018) (voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson) (PG)

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Animated Superhero Action: A teen must not only contend with accidentally becoming the next Spider-Man, but also with other varied versions of Spider-Man showing up via a dimensional portal.
Miles Morales (voice of SHAMEIK MOORE) is a young teenager growing up in Brooklyn with his African-American cop dad, Jefferson (voice of BRIAN TYREE HENRY), and Puerto Rican nurse mom, Rio (voice of LUNA LAUREN VELEZ) who enjoys spending time with his Uncle Aaron (voice of MAHERSHALA ALI). But during one such outing down in the bowels of the subway system, a radioactive spider bites Miles who initially thinks nothing of that. But the next day things have literally and figuratively gotten sticky for him, such as when he tries to impress his classmate, Gwen Stacy (voice of HAILEE STEINFELD), but gets his hand stuck in her hair.

When he eventually realizes what's happened, he returns to the scene of the initial bite, only to view Spider-Man (voice of JAKE JOHNSON) battling both an enormous Green Goblin and another villain known as Prowler (voice of MAHERSHALA ALI). Both are working for top villain Kingpin (voice of LIEV SCHREIBER) who's attempting to open a portal into other dimensions via an enormous collider he's had built. He ends up killing Spider-Man, and thus Miles is shocked not long after that to run into the web-slinger again, albeit older, paunchier and more than a bit disillusioned, what with always getting beaten up and having been divorced by Mary Jane (voice of ZOE KRAVITZ).

It turns out another version of Spidey -- we'll call him Spider-Man 2 -- got sucked from his dimension into Miles' and he becomes the young superhero's reluctant mentor of sorts. But he's not the only alternate version of Spider-Man to travel through that dimensional portal.

Among others are Spider-Woman (HAILEE STEINFELD); porker Spider-Ham (voice of JOHN MULANEY); anime superhero Peni Parker (voice of KIMIKO GLENN); and the black and white, 1930s style Spider-Man Noir (voice of NICOLAS CAGE). With Kingpin now also employing Doc Ock (voice of KATHRYN HAHN) for his dimensional portal plan, it's up to the various Spider-Man characters to stop him, all while Miles tries to figure out how to get all of them back to their various dimensions.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
I like superhero movies as much as the next person, and fully understand they're one of the few genres nowadays that are pretty much guaranteed to make money at the domestic and international box office. You have to admit, though, that there's been a preponderance of such offerings over the past few years to the point that we kind of, sort of, need a breather.

And that's especially true when it comes to those involving "Spider-Man." Yes, I enjoyed the Spidey comic books growing up and the first film of the modern superhero era featuring him (that being the 2002 Sam Raimi helmed one).

But when that Tobey Maguire series ended five years later, it was only another half decade before they started up again (that time featuring Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger). And when that reboot ended after just two films, the character was rebooted yet again (first as an extended cameo in "Captain America: Civil War" and then as a standalone offering in 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" featuring Tom Holland).

Thus, hearing that we were going to get yet another new version of the venerable superhero, and one featuring not one but multiple variations of the character appearing the same tale, I wanted to shout "Stop the madness already!" Thankfully, no one was listening as "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" is an unexpected (at least to yours truly), engaging and highly entertaining delight from start to finish.

As directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman from a screenplay by Rothman and Phil Lord, the film differentiates itself from its immediate live-action predecessors by arriving in the form of gorgeously rendered and drawn animation. And it's filled with more wit, creativity and occasionally heart that nearly all of the previous entries combined.

Simply put, it's a terrific offering that's filled to the brim with all things meta as related to the Spider-Man universe. Thankfully though, you don't need to be a diehard comic book geek versed in all intricate things Spidey related to enjoy what's offered. I did -- not being such a fanboy -- so much so that it got my vote for Best Animated Film of the Year.

The fun and charm starts right from the get-go as the obligatory origin back-story is both addressed but also sort of mocked by Spider-Man (voiced by Jake Johnson) himself, an approach that might remind some viewers of the "Deadpool" character (albeit in a PG rather than R-rated approach).

We're then introduced to our protagonist, Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), a young Brooklyn teen who's just doing his thing -- including getting embarrassed by his cop father (Brian Tyree Henry) in one warm and funny moment -- when he ends up bitten by a radioactive spider while hanging out with his uncle (Mahershala Ali). All of the typical Spidey stuff then starts to happen on cue, but then a hulking mobster villain, Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), kills Spider-Man (which will make one wonder what's up with Marvel nowadays, what with having killed off a lot of such characters in the last "Avengers" flick).

Before long, however, Miles ends up running into Spider-Man, alive and well, although he seems to have aged a bit, grown a belly, and become disillusioned. No, he's not Zombie Spider-Man, but instead an alternate reality version of said superhero who accidentally got yanked through a dimension-spanning portal thanks to something Kingpin has cooked up.

It's not long before an array of Spider-Man related characters start showing up from other dimensions including Gwen Stacy now being Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld); an anime style one (Kimiko Glenn); a talking pig version (John Mulaney) and even a black and white film noir one (Nicolas Cage). They end up battling Kingpin's villainous subordinates -- Prowler (Mahershala Ali again), and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) -- all while trying to stop the lead antagonist who has very personal reasons for wanting to connect dimensions, something that gives him more depth than one initially anticipates.

All of that results in a good mix of comedy and action, the latter freed up by being presented as animation (computer and hand-drawn) rather than live-action footage, thus opening up the possibilities of what can be depicted up on the screen. Funny, charming, highly imaginative and simply entertaining to behold, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" caught me completely off guard by just how good it is and just when I didn't think I could take yet another new spin on Peter Parker and his alter-ego. The film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 26, 2018 / Posted December 14, 2018

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