We all know about Peter Parker, aka the Amazing Spider-Man. We know all about his teen backstory, his radioactive spider bite, as well as his wall-crawling, web-shooting, baddie-besting ways.
But do you know about Miles Morales? Or the origin story of manga teen Peni Parker and her spider robot? Or how about Spider-Man Noir? Ring any bells? No? Well, those heroes and a couple others are the ones this animated Spider-Man movie focuses on.
It seems that the notorious Kingpin, crime boss extraordinaire, has pulled together a cavalcade of genius scientists and created a machine capable of breaking through multiple dimensions of reality. Those alternate realities are all quite similar to our own, but all slightly different, too. And when you mess with the balance between them, well, things might just go boom in all of them!
Peter Parker, our friendly neighborhood spider-guy is fighting back, but not before a radioactive arachnid from another dimension slips through and bites a local kid named Miles. Just like that, Miles Morales is shocked to find that he’s able to stick to walls and scramble across the ceiling.
Then a dimensional rift sucks five other Spider-Beings into our reality. And when Peter Parker goes down, things start to get really sticky. But it turns out all of those other extradimensional Spideys are actually pretty capable. Still, if they’re ever going to get back to their own worlds, it’s up to the young and totally inexperienced Miles to fix things.
To do so, he’ll need to rally all of these alternate-reality web-slingers, master a few new spider-skills himself, stop the Kingpin and somehow keep the entire space-time continuum from imploding.
First he has to figure out how to … stop sticking to everything he touches.
That interdimensional rift pulls together Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman; anime schoolgirl Peni Parker and her robot spider-friend; a trench-coated Noir version of Spider-Man; a cartoony talking pig named Spider-Ham; and an older and paunchier Peter B. Parker into our reality. These characters give their all to right Kingpin’s wrongs, to undo the damage he’s done. At a critical juncture, one of these characters is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the others.
Talking about what it means to be a hero, Peter B. tells young Miles, “It’s a leap of faith.” He suggests that you have to trust in yourself and try your best, even when you’re not sure you’re up to it. Eventually Miles does indeed take that leap of faith, beats the odds and becomes the hero he desperately wants to be. By the end of the film, Miles also confirms to the kids in the audience that they too can make right choices and take on a hero’s role—even if they don’t have wild superpowers or Spandex pajamas.
Miles also has to work his way through challenges with his family. His police officer dad, Jefferson, is a loving guy, but sometimes a little too focused on law over grace. As Miles wrestles with his new responsibilities, Jefferson misinterprets what’s going on and steps up to make sure that his attitudes aren’t driving his son away. “Sometimes people drift apart,” Jefferson tells his boy. “But I don’t want that to happen with us. I see this spark in you … I love you.”
Miles’ Uncle Aaron is a very supportive adult in the boy’s life, too. In fact, it’s his love for Miles that compels the older man to turn from dark pursuits and to make an important self-sacrificial choice himself.
The movie even takes a moment to at least explain, if not justify, Kingpin’s motivation for ripping several dimensions apart: It’s out of love for his family. In this reality, he lost his wife and son in a car accident; and in the throes of despair he hopes to reclaim them from another dimension. His response to his grief may cause others harm, but the film wants us to see that he’s not driven completely by pure villainy or evil.
After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Miles grows taller and stronger overnight and states, “I think I hit puberty.” Later, he ends up shirtless and crawling around on the outside of a building. Spider-Woman’s suit hugs her body.
Being a superhero film, plenty of thumping, pounding scenes feature good guys squaring off against bad guys. We see car chases and massive crashes and explosions. Villains shoot guns and lasers. A female scientist, Doc Ock, lashes at the heroes with powerful mechanical tentacles. Buildings and trees are smashed and ripped apart, and the various Spidey characters get pummeled and thrown about. Other beastly baddies, such as a gigantic hammering Goblin and a slashing Scorpion, get their licks in, too.
That said, all this bashing and smashing is sometimes played for laughs, too. For example, at one point Miles is trying to help an unconscious Peter B. and the police report seeing a “child dressed like Spider-Man dragging a homeless corpse.”
Kingpin’s dimension-rending machine also causes a great deal of destruction as it tears buildings and streets apart—tossing vehicles and debris around in a swirling storm. And the various Spider-Beings repeatedly “glitch” painfully as their atoms try to separate in our dimension.
[Spoiler Warning] The most prominent and potentially disturbing violence, however, comes in the form of two deaths that happen in the course of the film. Our reality’s Peter Parker is beaten about and killed (just offscreen) in the course of his heroes duties. After the Kingpin kills the hero with his bare fists, he tells an underling, “Get rid of the body.” Elsewhere, Mile’s Uncle Aaron refrains from hurting his nephew and ultimately takes a bullet for the boy, telling him, “You’re the best of all of us,” before dying in Miles’ arms. Neither of these deaths is bloody, but both could be very sad moments, especially for younger fans.
We hear one or two uses each of “h—,” “dang,” “freakin'” and “jeez.”
Aaron takes Miles down into subterranean passageways in the subway where they paint a wall with graffiti.
I’m normally not a big fan of alternate-reality superhero tales. Sure, they give your average comic book writer something fresh to work with. But it’s always been my opinion that an iconic hero doesn’t need 15 different realities and origin stories. When I see a zombie version of the super in question, or a manga robot iteration, or a wickedly evil variation of the hero, it just makes me think somebody needs to try harder. And when it comes to some broadly slapstick and cartoonish, uh, Spider-Pig variant, well, let the eye-rolling begin, right?
Not so fast.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has given me a whole new scramble-up-a-wall perspective on that multiverse approach. Not only did I enjoy Miles Morales’ Spider Kid tale at the core of this movie, but I found myself pleasantly tangled and webbed-up in all of the various Spider-guys and gals from the different dimensions. Their characters are defined so well, and the pic’s action is so enjoyable, that it made me want to find and read all of their respective stories. (Which, I’m sure, is exactly how Marvel execs hope you’ll respond, too.)
This animated flick also shoots its cinematic webbing in a number of creative directions. It’s visually unlike any animated film I’ve seen before, sometimes even making me wonder—through its swirling, action-focused use of color and depth of field—if I forgot to pick up my 3D glasses. It’s exhilarating, fast-paced and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. And Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse packs in messages of family love and sacrificial heroism that are both moving and inspiring.
There are two violent-but-bloodless deaths in the tale (see the Violent Content section above), scenes that could potentially upset the youngest Spidey fans in your cluster. But with that caveat in mind, this pic is a web-swinging winner.
Now, I won’t call it Amazing or Spectacular, or go so far as to say this is the Ultimate in superhero movie fare. But it’s safe to say this is one of the very best Marvel movies my editor has had the good spider-sense to send me to see.
Want to grow your family’s super power of sacrificial love? Check out these resources for inspiration:
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.