Whatever a Spider Can

This new Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a bold, blissfully fun jolt of imagination. The animation is crisp and colorful, the story is endlessly creative, and the execution is top-notch. This is not only the best animated film of 2018, it’s one of the best movies of 2018, period.

It’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s recent Avengers saga, which introduced Spidey relatively late in the game, but the new movie does draw from those films (and the earlier Spider-Man flicks starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield). Spider-Verse centers on teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who idolizes Spider-Man (Chris Pine) like so many other youngsters do. Miles also loves graffiti. He isn’t a great student, and he has a crush on Wanda (Hailee Steinfeld). His policeman dad (Brian Tyree Henry) is a strict disciplinarian, so he spends a lot of time with his “cool” Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). He was with Aaron one night, in fact, when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. This bite of fate gives Miles Spider-Manesque powers.

Soon, circumstances propel Miles into trying to help the original Spider-Man stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone) from opening a portal to alternate dimensions. They fail. Spider-Man dies, and the world as Miles knows it becomes … different. He must destroy the portal before the world changes forever. In the nick of time, he gets unexpected help. A new Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), Spider Gwen (Steinfeld again) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) enter Miles’ world through the portal and help him save the day. The catch? They can’t stay in that world for very long or they’ll die. Other villains include Scorpion (Joaquin Cosio), Tombstone (Marvin Jones III) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn). And because no Spider-Man story would be complete without them, Mary Jane (Zoë Kravitz) and Aunt May (the venerable Lily Tomlin) show up, too.

What’s really great about this new film, which was written by Phil Lord (21 Jump Street) and directed by Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, is how it ingeniously builds on what is familiar. We know the big-screen Spider-Man story quite well by now, and the way Spider-Verse takes that knowledge and expands it into so much more is creative nirvana. Better, it does so in ways that make narrative sense; there are no loose ends. And, of course, the animation is superb. Throw in a soundtrack of pop hits and some very funny moments, and you have a film that anyone of any age can enjoy.

There have been seven Spider-Man films made since 2002. And some of them have been quite good. This one, however, is the very best of the bunch. I’ve never read a comic book (and don’t intend to start) (no harassment, thank you), but at the screening I attended, I sensed that many in the audience had read a comic book or 12—these fans of the comics loved the twists and surprises. Yet, having known only the movies, I loved them, too. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is two hours of unbridled adrenaline that’s full of innovation. It’s an absolute blast to watch.