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Review: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is one of the year’s best films

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) in the new animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” (Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

I wrote a parents guide on “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” for the Buffalo News; here is my full, four-star review.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the seventh big-screen entry for Marvel’s beloved webslinger, is the only animated film this year that can comfortably fit on the Top 10 list for a 10-year-old superhero junkie and a paunchy, late-thirtysomething film critic.

It is the finest superhero film in a year that featured some pretty darn good ones — “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Incredibles 2,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Teen Titans Go to the Movies.” And its meta approach to storytelling makes for an invigorating experience that also carries powerful messages (the importance of self-belief, the support of family and friends) for wee Spideys.   

This is all rather unexpected. After all, despite the success of 2017’s entertaining “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” starring Tom Holland, and the character’s appearances in “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” Spidey qualifies as a hit or miss character on the big screen. The Andrew Garfield-Emma Stone entries are already forgotten (thankfully), and the last Tobey Maguire-starring Spider-flick came out in 2007. (And it was terrible.)

What a difference 10-plus years makes. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is utterly fresh, thanks to stunning animation, legit humor, and the most likable onscreen Spider-Man yet.

We’re talking about Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales, who becomes the Spider-Man of his reality and crosses paths with a diverse group counterparts from other dimensions — an alternate Peter Parker, Spider-Woman, 1930s-styled Spider-Man Noir, an anime version (Peni Parker), and, most delightfully, Spider-Ham (a.k.a., Peter Porker).

The LSD-flashback visuals and brisk story are key elements to the success of “Spider-Verse,” but the characters are its greatest asset. Miles is a charming lead, and the same can be said for almost every character in the film, from comics’ favorite Gwen Stacy to Miles’ loving parents. (Not to mention porcine powerhouse Spider-Ham.)

The entire voice cast is strong, including Shameik Moore as Miles Morales, Brian Tyree Henry as his police officer father, Jake Johnson as the offbeat Peter B. Parker, Hailee Steinfeld as Spider-Woman, Mahershala Ali as Miles’s uncle, Lily Tomlin (!) as Aunt May, Liev Schreiber as gargantuan gangster Kingpin, and, quite memorably, John Mulaney as Spider-Ham and Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir.

It’s worth noting that a viewer need not be a serious Spidey scholar to enjoy the film. There are some razor-sharp jokes for those in the know (including a killer “Spider-Man 3” reference a few minutes in), but the focus on Miles Morales lends a real freshness to the proceedings. There are moments that recall some of the character’s greatest big-screen adaptations. (We’re talking the first two Maguire films and “Homecoming.”) But “Spider-Verse” swings to its own bold beat.

Credit must go to the stellar creative team, including directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, as well as co-producers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. Famously given the boot from “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Miller and Lord are back here in a big way. “Spider-Man” is an even greater success than the duo’s “Jump Street” series and “LEGO Movie.”  

After seeing many superhero films, kids race from the theater desperate to browse the toy aisles. “Into the Spider-Verse” is no exception. The difference is that this time, thanks to the freshness of the film and its messages, you won’t mind that slow crawl through Target. Yep, Spidey is that good.