WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Sony's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in theaters now.
For many fans, Sam Raimi's original trilogy -- two-thirds of it, in any case -- remains the gold standard for Spider-Man fans. For others, Tom Holland delivers the definitive wall-crawler in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and elsewhere. But we have some breaking news: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, arriving in theaters this weekend, is better than all of them.
The Ensemble Cast
Into the Spider-Verse immediately sets itself apart from previous Spider-Man films with its ensemble cast. The movie, of course, focuses on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), whose supporting players -- from Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) to Miles' father Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) -- not only help him to shine, but shine themselves in the process.
Heck, the film deserves accolades just for presenting the coolest-ever version of May Parker, voiced by Lily Tomlin, who's no doddering widow or clueless aunt; she's a caretaker and guide who isn't afraid to defend her home from invading supervillains.
Yet, the movie utilizes its ensemble sparingly. When it comes the time to let Miles have the spotlight, the other characters take a backseat. For the final battle with the Kingpin, Miles is the only Spider-Man around, which is exactly as it should be.
Putting the Comic Book in Comic Book Movie
Into the Spider-Verse also has the benefit of being the most comic book-y of all Spider-Man films. Sure, most of the previous movies have embraced the source material, not to the extent that Into the Spider-Verse does, with its unique animation style that allows for the use of visual and sound effects pulled straight from the comics.
And while there's a veritable legion of Spider-heroes, including the unlikely Spider-Ham, it's not only about them: Into the Spider-Verse is able to juggle some of the most colorful characters in Spider-Man's rogues gallery -- Doctor Octopus, Tombstone, Scorpion, Green Goblin and Kingpin -- some of whom are depicted in fresh ways. Previous films, such as Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, were famously bogged down by too many villains, but Into the Spider-Verse makes multiple foes, and multiple heroes, look effortless.
A Story With Heart
Despite all of the multiverse-colliding action, big laughs and sprawling cast, Into the Spider-Verse remains a story with heart. Never does it do a disservice to its protagonists, Miles Morales and Peter B. Parker. Both of their character arcs are rooted in emotion, and the film doesn't hesitate to pull at the viewers' heartstrings.
It's that perfect balance of humor, action and heart that helps to make Into the Spider-Verse the best Spider-Man movie. While the other films have experimented with that same formula -- some with more success than others -- this animated feature gets it right every step of the way.
What's more, the film humanizes its primary antagonist, Wilson Fisk, by giving him a sympathetic backstory: His goal is to open a portal to the multiverse not to destroy the world, but to bring back parallel versions of his dead wife and son. Whether it's Miles losing his uncle, Aunt May seeing an alternate version of her late nephew, Peter B. Parker trying to make amends with Mary Jane, Spider-Man Noir comforting Peni Parker, or Spider-Ham bidding an emotional farewell with the gift of a hammer, all the characters make an emotional contribution to the film that's bound to resonate with the audience.
All of that is done to help move forward the story of Miles Morales, who emerges from the film as an inspirational figure. It's a safe bet he will become a fast favorite of moviegoers previously unfamiliar with the character. And that's perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Into the Spider-Verse: introducing a new Spider-Man, one who's not Peter Parker, to a new generation of viewers.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stars Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Jake Johnson, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld, Liev Schreiber, Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney and Kimiko Glenn. The film is now in theaters.