In comic books and the media based upon them, the concept of a “multiverse” is ubiquitous to the point of being inescapable, dating back to the 1960s (at least), when DC featured its recently-reimagined, sic-fi flavored version of The Flash in a crossover with his long-dormant 1940s predecessor. Since then, the company’s “Crisis” events have become something of a tradition; the convoluted continuity and painfully transparent marketing gimmickry involved, however, make them… controversial among fans, to phrase it generously. Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first feature-length theatrical effort by a major studio to tackle this kind of premise (though it’s predated by too many video games, television shows, and animated series to list), and it excels because it remembers to elaborate on the themes and lessons that made its costumed characters so beloved in the first place.
Stan Lee often described Spider-Man as an everyman superhero, and Into the Spider-Verse pursues that idea to its logical conclusion, offering up a dimension-hopping narrative in which literally anyone can become a friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, from a Nazi-punching pulp serial bruiser to an anime-inspired teenage mech pilot to an anthropomorphic cartoon pig. Our primary protagonist is Miles Morales, a socially awkward high schooler struggling to replace his universe’s recently-slain Spidey. When he encounters an older, more experienced version of Peter Parker from an alternate reality, he believes that he’s found the perfect mentor; unfortunately, this particular Web-Head took the whole “great power, great responsibility” thing a bit too far, hiding behind his alter ego to avoid his adult obligations until he ultimately alienated his loved ones, ending up a sad, pathetic, out-of-shape loser. In order to avert the destruction of infinite Earths at the hands of a mentally-unhinged (yet surprisingly sympathetic) Wilson Fisk, the two wall-crawlers must teach each other to overcome the fears, flaws, and doubts that have prevented them from achieving their full potential.
Into the Spider-Verse is a visual treat, creatively mixing and matching countless styles and aesthetics (the physically-manifesting thought bubbles, Spider-Ham’s Looney Tunes antics, a Kingpin that looks as though he lumbered straight out of a Bill Sienkiewicz painting) into an exhilarating cinematic roller coaster ride that’s unlike anything we’ve witnessed before in this genre, but it’s the implied call-to-action that makes it truly memorable. You don’t need the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider to be amazing, spectacular, and sensational; every single one of us is capable of accomplishing great things, as long as we’re willing to keep pushing back against the obstacles that stand in our way. So… do you have what it takes to be a hero?