So Spider-Man has always been Peter Parker, right? No? Okay, here we go.
Comic book universes are full of convoluted histories and some characters who have been around forever have been killed off, resurrected, rebooted and remade — it can drive casual fans mad. Marvel and DC have embraced the idea of multiverses for decades. Multiverses allow for different slants on the same characters. There is a universe where Gwen Stacy is bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. There is a universe where Miles Morales becomes a second Spider-Man. There is also a universe where Peter is an anthropomorphised spider who gets bitten by a radioactive pig, thus is born Peter Porker, Spider-Ham.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes these realities and combines them together into a wildly entertaining ride that only animation can accomplish. The main reality that we deal with is the world of Miles Morales a world in which not only is Peter Parker, still Spider-Man, but is beloved by the city. Miles is trying to cop with his new powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He comes across the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker who is fighting bad guys who are bout to turn on a particle accelerator owned by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. The accelerator will tear time/space open and allow alternate realities to cross over. The reason Kingpin wants to do this is o bring back his dead wife and son. (The backstory of Kingpin’s wife is fairly convoluted but in this universe she and her son died from a car accident after finding out he was the Kingpin of crime in NY.)
Spider-Man ends up dying trying to save he city and Miles takes it upon himself to take on the mantle of Spider-Man. But the particle accelerator managed to work enough to bring across from the multiverse several different Spideys. Miles first meets Peter B. Parker, a Spider-Man from another reality where his life has failed him. He agrees to tutor Miles on being a superhero so that they can fix the crossed up universe. Along the way they will also encounter a noir Spidey, Spider-Gwen, Peni Parker who controls a Spidey-bot, and the aforementioned Spider-Ham. Together they must fix the rift in the realities or the multiverse will go kablooey.
The sub-plot to this is that Miles still must learn to control his new powers and reconcile his less than perfect relationship with his father, who not only is a police officer but dislikes Spider-Man and thinks of him as a vigilante. Yeah, his life is a little complicated.
The film quite a visual feast for the eyes and is in some ways revolutionary. Sure it is still CG, but there are instances of hand-drawn animation to it. There is a conscious effort to make scenes look like comic book panels, complete with thought balloons. Some of these stylistic choices were a little jarring at first for me as there were some scenes that looked out of focus in the foreground. I thought for a bit we were accidentally seeing the 3D version without glasses. I have been so conditioned for sharp and plastic skin looking CG animated films, it threw me off.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does not only a good job at being an animated film but also succeeds at being a good superhero film. It is, of course, not The Incredibles. It doesn’t try to be either. And with the success of this, it can hopefully pave the way for more animated adventures of Marvel characters on the big screen as opposed to the current trend of direct to video releases. DC, has been churning out quality animated (but direct to video) films for years. And to this day I still believe Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the best Batman films ever, live action or animated. I’m still hopeful for adaptations of Squirrel Girl or the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel. The good news though, is that a Spider-Gwen movie is in development with crossovers from Spider-Woman and Silk. So we have more Spider-Verse movies to look forward to.