Of the movies that I tend to avoid, high on the list are those with more than one hyphen in the title and even higher on the list are the ones with more than one spider in the title. But when everyone tells you how good said spidermovie is and your daughter Emma insists that even though you don’t love spiders or superhero movies, you will love this one. Oh and by “don’t love” spiders, I actually have a pretty significant case of arachnophobia which is why I stopped going to Spider-man movies after the second one. Oh and there was that Octopus villain who still gives me nightmares. Seriously that movie had many creepy things with way too many legs.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (PG) beat out Pixar’s Incredibles 2 to win the Best Animated Film Oscar last month. No small feat. The great thing about “Verse” (which is what I’ll call it so I don’t have to keep writing the word spider), is that you don’t need to have seen any of the Spider-men to understand what’s going on. I like that in a movie.
So here’s the thing, animated spiders are way less creepy than non-animated spiders. The cartoon spider that bites Verse’s hero is not nearly as scary as the ones in the other movies, which I seem to recall were large, hairy and got way too much screen time. Excuse me while I have a minor panic attack.
I’m back. In this multicultural, multi-Spidery Verse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a nice boy with an African American dad, who’s a policeman, and a Puerto Rican nurse mom. He’s shy and sweet, and the one time he misbehaves, painting graffiti with his Uncle Aaron, voiced by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, wouldn’t you know it, he gets bit by a mutant spider. See what happens when you don’t listen to your parents.
Miles is of course, a reluctant Spider-man, especially since his dad doesn’t approve of Spider-man’s unconventional crime-fighting methods. When our resident villain Kingpin, voiced by the man who should voice everything, Liev Schreiber, causes a rift in the universe in order to bring back his family from “the other side,” he allows other Spider-types to leave their dimensions, (I think). Just because a superhero movie is animated doesn’t mean it’s easy to understand.
And this is where things get fun. Miles is joined in his fight to save the world, by a smart and sassy Spider-Girl (Hailee Steinfeld), a spider tot from the future with a pet robot named Penni Parker and a 40s era dark Spider-Noir, voiced to my surprise by Nicholas Cage. You’d think that would be enough, but we also get my two favorites, an overweight middle-aged Peter Parker (original Spider-Man) with marriage issues (Jake Johnson), and I kid you not, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), an actual pig, who Emma insists had his own Marvel comic books.
All these heroes allow the filmmakers to legitimately mix animation styles, from Anime to old-school. Spider-Ham looks like he’s straight out of Looney Tunes. Then you’ve got your standard melting buildings and explosions, a variety of henchmen, a twist I did not see coming, and of course that whole world’s going to end thing.
While this would overwhelm me in your standard Marvel movie, of which there are what, 14 a year, I found these shenanigans far easier to take in cartoon form. Verse gives us a good story, terrific music, stunning visuals and an inspirational message that anyone can be Spider-man, along with a more subtle message about the importance of mentors. Now I’m going to quibble about two things.
For some reason, the filmmakers felt compelled to give us a female version of Dr. Octopus. Really? Fortunately this one isn’t nearly as nightmarish as the earlier one and so far not one tentacle-related nightmare.
But my biggest issue is that while Miles’ father is portrayed as a strong, supportive, positive figure and gets a decent amount of screen time, Miles’ mom is an afterthought, getting almost no lines or scenes with her son.
Emma says that there’s already a sequel in the works, and that is no surprise to me. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is definitely sequel-worthy. Maybe this time they’ll lay off the Octopus and give mom something to do.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse: 4 out of 5 Stars
Amanda Glam is a former B-movie queen who appeared in such movies as “Space Shark” and “Horror at Hoosier High” and the British mini-series “What’s All This Then?” She has retired to Englewood and is thrilled to share her Hollywood know-how and movie insight with Review readers.