Forward steps in animation feel increasingly rare. Toy Story was a landmark film in 1995 but few animated features since then have pushed the art form to new territory. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse feels like the next big step for animation. It is at once psychedelic and post-modern while regularly referencing comic book styles that have been around for years. The mixture is visually intoxicating.
Luckily that isn't the only thing going for the film. This is the first comic book film in years that actually makes me excited to see another entry. That it comes from one of the most reworked properties in Marvel's universe is very surprising. Translating the experiences of reading Spider-Man comic books doesn't seem like it should be this irreverent and fun, but it is.
The plot involves alternate dimensions that spring Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) into a world of multiple Spider-People. He is a Brooklyn high schooler who, shocker, gets bitten by a genetically altered spider while working on some graffiti art with his cool Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). Peter Parker exists in his world and is the current Spider-Man but that all changes when Kingpin gets the drop on Parker and he meets his demise. Kingpin is using a super-collider to bring his family back to him but inadvertently opens an inter-dimensional rift that brings about a slew of Spider-People. They team up with the Miles as he learns how to be Spider-Man and attempts to avenge Parker's death.
The film's infectious fun comes largely from the alternate Spiders. There is Gwen Stacy or Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Anime inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her robot, there is washed up and overweight Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), there is the gritty, Nazi-fighting Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage) and finally Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) who is a talking pig version of the superhero. Of these, Peter B. Parker gets the largest character arc. He has lost his way, pining after Mary Jane. He helps show Miles the ropes but reluctantly. Miles, in turn, inspires him.
Directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman juggle all of these characters with ease. They allow each character an origin story, which get increasingly hilarious. The film feels akin to The Lego Movie in the way it mixes rapid-fire jokes with real heart and character. This makes sense as Miller and Lord worked on both films. The film packs in so much humor that it will likely reward upon repeat viewings.
Watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again won't be a hard sell. The voice acting is impeccable. Cage is used to great effect as the dark, troubled Spider-Noir. Mulaney is pure silliness as Spider-Ham. However, it is Moore who really shines as Miles. He makes Miles a character to root for, even when we are on our fourth Spider-Man in a little over a decade. The film works on so many levels, pushing animation to a new level while honoring the legacy of the comic books. This is the year's best superhero film and animated film.