Look, I get it. I’m weary of superhero movies, too. But “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” isn’t just a superhero movie. It’s also a great movie.
The fun begins with the Columbia Pictures logo, for crying out loud. It morphs, via a series of digital glitches, from the familiar, Annette Beningish-goddess-holding-a-torch into a monster, a glyph and a rootin’, tootin’ cowgirl. The impulse to pack moviegoing pleasure into every corner continues throughout “Spider-Verse,” including a wry, post-credits nod to the cinematic origins of the web-slinging superhero.
Origins are a key element of “Spider-Verse,” which, as the title implies, offers a new Spidey while also paying homage to those who have come before. The newbie is teenage Brooklyn graffiti artist Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), but courtesy of a crack in time he gets lessons from previous Spider-Persons, including animated versions of the Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield iterations, as well as a film noir Spidey, an anime-style Spidey and a Spider-Girl. As the film zips through moments we’ve loved from previous Spider-Movies and moments only comics superfans will recognize, it’s not unlike the way Ariana Grande salutes all her exes in “Thank U, Next,” except these exes all fight crime and do whatever a spider can.
By now most viewers know the drill with Spidey: radioactive spider bite, some despot wants to rule the world, with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility, yadda yadda yadda. But what makes “Spider-Verse” so entertaining, as well as beautiful and empowering, is that we get to watch Miles try to master the powers within him while also learning the complexities of being in a position to repeatedly rescue the world from imminent disaster (“the hardest thing about this job is you can’t always save everyone,” warns one of the Spideys). His powers function as a metaphor for puberty: things his body can suddenly do that he can’t quite control.
“Spider-Verse” is a handsome movie that incorporates several animation styles. Its look nods to the layout of comic books, with noir Spidey entirely composed of black dots on a white background, but it boasts a climax heavily influenced by, of all things, abstract art. The movie’s MVP, though, may be scenarist Phil Lord, who as a co-writer brought a similarly fresh approach to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “The Lego Movie.”
Lord injects “Spider-Verse” with some of the playful spirit of the recent “Daredevil” movies, affectionately parodying the mythology of Spider-Man, while also finding a really clever and poignant way to connect family ties with Miles’ ability to save the day. Meanwhile, Lord vastly expands the universe’s equality, in multiple ways (get ready for the bad-assiest Aunt May ever, voiced by Lily Tomlin) and matter-of-factly insists on inclusion, a message that was not lost on the little boy behind me at the screening I attended, who shouted, “Yay! Black Spider-Man!”
Technically, he’s Afro-Latino Spider-Man, but the sentiment is right on. One of the most powerful aspects of this rousingly entertaining movie is its belief that every one of us, from a teenager to an elderly woman to that little boy, has a superpower we can tap into. Or, as Spidey squeeze Mary Jane puts it, “In our own way, we are all Spider-Man.”
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG for animated violence and mild language.