“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.
What’s the story? Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales 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) — to stop a threat to all reality.
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.)
What’s the rating? PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements and mild language. There are sequences of great intensity, villains Kingpin and the Prowler are a bit scary, and little ones with arachnophobia won’t like the creepy-crawlies. There are some heavy themes at play and a surprising and unsettling death early in the film.
What’s the ideal viewing age? Having an 8-year-old often leads me to consider 8 to be the cutoff, and that’s probably a flawed analysis. However, I stand by it. The action and themes make that age and above a fit for the “Spider-Verse.” Younger kids will have a hard time keeping up.
One nice element is 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 Tobey Maguire films and 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” starring Tom Holland.) But “Spider-Verse” swings to its own bold beat.
Is there anything else parents need to consider? The film is nearly two hours long, a taxing run time for kiddos. But there are clear (dialogue-driven) moments that are ideal for bathroom breaks. Oh, one more thing: 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.