Review by C.J. Bunce

The Christmas movie releases began big this weekend with the first out of the gate: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an animated superhero movie in a year that has seen the animated Incredibles 2 and live action versions of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Deadpool 2, and Venom.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse holds its own against them all.  A rich story and layered characters in an easy to digest, familiar, multi-verse story make this rise above other recent animated superhero shows.  In-world references to comic books–sporting the main characters on the covers, multi-view panel sequences, and even first-person narrative captions appear pulled from the pages of any real-world Spider-Man book.

The cast list has been publicized for months, and as the trailers promised, the voice actors take the film from good to great.  Familiar–maybe over-used–Spidey villain Kingpin, played by Liev Schreiber, is trying to take control of all the multi-verses with a new weapon that initially pulls in Spider-heroes from five other universes.  Shameik Moore plays star Miles Morales, a new Spider-Man trying to find his way at the beginning stage of his journey in his universe along with Chris Pine (Star Trek, Jack Ryan, Wonder Woman) as your more familiar neighborhood Spider-Man.  After an explosion Miles catches up with another Spider-Man, Peter B. Parker, a view of Parker in another dimension 20 years older, played perfectly (and hilariously) by Jake Johnson (Jurassic World, The Mummy, New Girl).  They are soon joined by cool and confident Spider-Woman aka Gwen “Spider-Gwen” Stacy, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld (BumbleBee, True Grit, Ender’s Game).  Early scenes present lots of great action, including a memorable scene where Miles drags Peter to safety aboard a speeding commuter train, but this story is more about sentiment and humor.  And it gets better.

Three other Spider-heroes arrive.  Rounding out the cast previewed in the trailers is Spider-Man Noir, allowing the great Nicolas Cage another superhero role after his performance as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass (after almost starring in a Tim Burton Superman movie years ago).  A lifelong comic book connoisseur, Cage was born to portray superheroes, and here his Spider-Man is pure perfection.  The oldest of spin-off Spideys emerges with the entrance of Peter Porker aka Spider-Ham (John Mulany), first seen in print back in 1983.  And a newer webslinger, the anime heroine Peni Parker from Earth-14512 (Kimiko Glenn), complete with her high-tech “SP//dr Suit,” gets her own great scenes.  The film features plenty of surprise characters, too.

Along with Cage, the next best voice roll and characterization goes to comedy legend Lily Tomlin, in another perfect performance, as Aunt May.  Mahershala Ali (Marvel’s Luke Cage, Predators), Brian Tyree Henry (Hotel Artemis), and Zoe Kravitz (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) round out a great supporting cast.  Don’t miss the coda, a partial setup for a potential continuation of Spider-Man multi-verse stories, with voice work by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, X-Men: Apocalypse, Star Wars third trilogy).  Kathryn Hahn (The Visit) plays an incredible new character created for the film, another update to a classic from the Spider-Man mythos.

Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord wrote the screenplay for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with Christopher Miller co-producing, so expect plenty of fun.  The animation is good, but it lacks the more advanced artistry of the latest Pixar or Blue Sky movies.  And that’s okay–it works because the movie has a comic book page aura about it.  The final action sequence also runs a bit long–a feature that plagues many recent superhero movies.  Keep an eye out for some cool in-story artwork by Miles, and a soundtrack full of great pop hits of the past.

And for those that must compare new movies to past entries in the series–I personally rank Spider-Man: Homecoming as my #1 favorite of the Spider-Man movies.  I’d rank Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a close second.  Spider-Man is probably the most popular of all Marvel superheroes.  Moore’s Miles Morales is simply a more engaging, appealing, and relatable character than the Peter Parkers played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and Peter B. Parker is a great update to the classic, almost begging for a sequel to the newspaper strips or his own separate comic book series, like an “Old Man Parker.”

This is an animated film, but best for audiences about 10 and older.  Younger kids in the theater screening I attended seemed bored, and the violence is probably beyond their understanding, including a jumping-off-the roof practice sequence you wouldn’t want little ones to copy.  But teens on up should definitely enjoy this new Marvel entry.

A great family movie choice, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is in theaters now.

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