The Bock’s Office: ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ spins wide, wacky web of beloved superhero
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," rated PG-13Rating: 3 out of 4 stars Running time: 117 minutes Starring the voices of: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld and Mahershala Ali
You would think retelling a well-worn origin story more than once would be inhibitive in a superhero tale where the audience is already quite familiar with the background.
But, at the risk of becoming repetitive, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” recounts that famous moment not once, not twice but seven times, and each one rings as true as the next.
New York teenager Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) is dealing with a lot.
Displaced in a fancy new private school and beset by high expectations from his parents (Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez), the only one who understands Miles is his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who encourages him to pursue his artistic ambitions.
While the boy is in the midst of a graffiti project within an abandoned subway tunnel, he doesn’t think too much about a small bite by a spider.
That is, until he happens across another person who’s experienced the same thing — Spider-Man (Chris Pine).
No sooner do the two share a moment than Spidey meets a horrible fate, leaving Miles as his heir apparent once his spider powers activate, though his new strength, agility and other phenomenal abilities are well beyond his control.
Luckily enough, there’s someone else who knows exactly what he’s going through, as he encounters yet another Spider-Man: Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), an older, bitter version of the Spider-Man that Miles has grown up idolizing.
As if this weren’t already odd, he claims to be from an alternate dimension, brought to this reality by technology that could threaten to destroy all existence.
The two reluctantly team up to figure out how to stop this menace, but besides the villains that always seem to be present for any rendition of Spider-Man, more and more incarnations from across the dimensions keep appearing.
Moore provides the ideal intonation for Miles, who’s become a star in his own right in the Ultimate line of Marvel Comics, possessing most of the traits of the original character in his intelligence, his sense of humor and most importantly his reticence to take on the mantle of New York’s protector.
Johnson, on the other hand, is perfect casting because he couldn’t possibly capture the classic Spider-Man, instead shown as a Peter Parker tinged with gray and crow’s feet, who’s been doing his schtick for decades and let it ruin his life, with a sad divorce under his belt, not to mention a few extra pounds as a result of a love affair with pizza.
Liev Schreiber provides more of a wise guy feel than we’ve ever heard for crime boss Wilson Fisk, better known as Kingpin, and his character design looks less like a massive frame of musculature than an Armani-clad refrigerator with eyes.
Still, as the main baddie of this particular adventure, he shows just how much you can accomplish with a limitless bank account and a complete disregard for humanity.
The machinery that causes multiple realities to collide brings with it nearly every take on Spidey over the years — thankfully Ben Reilly is left out of the mix so we don’t lose all inhibitions — including Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) as the hoodie-wearing drummer Spider-Gwen; hard-boiled 1930s Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage); futuristic Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her super-powered spider-robot; and Peter Porker (John Mulaney), aka Spider-Ham, a mild-mannered arachnid bitten by a radioactive pig.
And, in case you think that was written by filmmakers in a last-second bit of hilarity, the wise-cracking pig has been in comic existence since the ’80s.
The limitations are few in this animated phantasmagoria that draws on decades of spider lore found in pages, past cartoons and films, a history that rivals X-Men and Batman for the most reboots when it comes to the big screen.
With all these versions converging, there’s no way to do this without creators giving a wink to the audience as if to say, “I know, it’s crazy, right?!”
With so many webslingers, the plotline credited to screenwriters Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord repeatedly threatens to fall apart, but the outcome amounts to a pretty standard saga if you’re familiar with the ever-expanding Marvel universe, helped along by a visual style that never commits to one color palette or design for too long.
“Into the Spider-Verse” is hardly the best Spider-Man movie or even the best released this year featuring Peter Parker, but it’s nonetheless a high-octane thrill ride that captures every angle of a hero with many facets.
As the old guy who sells Miles his meager spider-costume would say in a cameo for the ages: “Excelsior!”