'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' review: Brilliant animation with a modern pulse
PLOT A Brooklyn teenager becomes the new Spider-Man -- and he’s not the only one.
CAST Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
RATED PG (peril, action and a death)
BOTTOM LINE A fresh new Spider-Man story, with brilliant animation and a modern pulse.
How much Spider-Man is too much? Sony recently launched the third version of its live-action franchise with Tom Holland in the title role, and thanks to a deal with Disney, Spidey can moonlight in the new Avengers films as well. Now comes Sony’s animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” in which six web-slingers — count 'em, six — share the screen. To paraphrase Tina Turner, do we need another hero?
As it turns out, we do. The story of Miles Morales (the voice of Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn kid who becomes the new neighborhood crimefighter, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” puts a fresh twist on a now-familiar story. With its breezy humor, hip-hop soundtrack and a dazzling animated style that breaks with the last 20 years of Pixar-dominated aesthetics, “Spider-Verse” is exactly the movie we’ve been needing.
Part of the movie’s appeal is its cool, big-city vibe. Morales speaks Spanish with Mom. English with Dad (Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis, a stern but loving cop). He’s a prep-school kid with a public-school soul (shades of “The Hate U Give”) and also a secret graffiti artist. When his cool uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) takes him to an abandoned subway station for a spray session, Miles gets his bionic spider-bite.
Miles isn’t totally flabbergasted by his new superpowers because he lives in a comics-saturated world — and “Spider-Verse” assumes we do, too. That brings up the other part of this movie’s appeal: It looks like a comic book. The animation feels hand-drawn (though in truth it’s computer-generated); the screen occasionally splits into panels; sound effects get spelled out (“Thwip!”). There’s also some astounding use of light and color whenever a Hadron-style collider — controlled by the hulking businessman Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) — starts messing with parallel universes.
The collider is what allows five other Spideys to enter Miles’ world. Only two feel like flesh-and-blood characters: The original Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), now an out-of-shape 30-something, and Miles' self-composed classmate Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld). Of the others, who are mostly zany creations meant to heighten the fun, the best is Spider-Man Noir, a black-and-white brooder with the voice of Nicolas Cage.
Directed by a three-man team, including Peter Ramsey, of “Rise of the Guardians,” and co-written by Phil Lord (“The Lego Movie”), “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” occasionally feels overly antic, but that’s because it’s brimming with imagination and energy. Look for Spidey co-creator Stan Lee, who died this year, in his first posthumous cameo.
Hailee Steinfeld, the voice of Gwen in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” has been a steady presence on screen since her debut in 2010. Here are four of her major movies:
TRUE GRIT (2010) Steinfeld was 13, younger than the 14-year-old she would play, when she auditioned for this Coen Brothers Western. She earned rave reviews and a nod for the supporting actress Oscar.
ENDER’S GAME (2013) The film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel featured Steinfeld as a savvy cadet who trains the brilliant but inexperienced Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). The movie was not a big success, but Steinfeld turned in a solid performance.
PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015) Cast as a kind of Anna Kendrick clone in this a cappella comedy sequel, Steinfeld used her voice to stand out. Her cover of Jessie J’s “Flashlight” in the film led to a deal with Republic Records and a series of singles.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) Steinfeld shines in this cringe-inducing comedy about a whiny high-school girl who seems to be hurtling toward a dysfunctional adulthood. An underrated gem, and possibly Steinfeld’s best performance. — RAFER GUZMAN