Free from the baggage of the live action Marvel universe, this computer-animated superhero epic could be the funniest Spider-Man movie ever.
Seemingly existing outside the universe of Avengers: Infinity War and indeed recent spinoff Venom, this plays as an extended embrace of the whole idea of inclusion and diversity. It works a charm, with amiable characters, a sometimes sneaky sense of humour and a stylised, slightly jerky animation look befitting comic books (or graphic novels, if you prefer).
Spider-Man (Chris Pine) narrates his story to us, and we again hear about his secret Peter Parker identity, the radioactive spider bite, his resultant superpowers and a little concerning the celebrity he enjoys. Yes, this Spider-Man has his own TV series (a fabulous gag at the expense of the 1960s smallscreen classic), released a silly Christmas album and is seriously full of himself.
We also meet young Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teen living with his nurse Mom (Luna Lauren Velez) and cop Dad (Brian Tyree Henry) and not liking his private school in New York, which he thinks elitist. Miles is a little scatterbrained but shows a real talent for painting, something nurtured by his beloved Uncle Aaron, who’s sweetly voice by Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali.
When Miles is bitten by another radioactive spider and starts exhibiting Spider-Man-esque abilities to often comic effect, he then finds himself battling alongside the real web-slinger as they take on a series of villains from the comics. At the heart of it all is Kingpin, one of Marvel’s classic baddies, voiced here by Liev Schreiber (despite Vincent D’Onofrio excellent live-action portrayal of the character in Netflix’s recently-axed Daredevil).
A multiverse-opening machine is activated and a whole series of alternate Spider-sorts emerge: a cool Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), a middle-aged, gone-to-seed Spider-Man with financial and marital problems (Jake Johnson), a Spider-Man Noir from a ‘30s gangster movie reality hilariously voiced by Nicolas Cage, a Japanese-animation-type Spider-girl (Kimiko Glenn), and, finally, a jokey talking pig named Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
Naturally they all team up with a little help from Aunt May (Lily Tomlin, no less), and there’s much bonding while they try to avoid another activation of the machine and the potential catastrophic morphing of many universes. And while other science fiction institutions, like Star Trek and Doctor Who, mostly shy away from the tricky concept of the alternate reality or parallel universe (except on special occasions), here the unruly notion is deployed with much wit, especially when a crowd of gawkers examine a bit of leftover extra-dimensional strangeness on a NY street, and wonder if it’s a Banksy.
This is only the beginning of the many gags here, some of which are ironically used at the saddest and most tragic moments just so we don’t get too misty-eyed. After all, that would spoil the intended moral: yes, we’re all Spider-Men, Spider-Women, Spider-Kids or, well, Spider-Pigs.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (PG) is in cinemas from December 13