By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — Traditionalists be warned: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (Columbia) has little to do with your father’s Peter Parker.
Instead, this innovative but noisy and frenetic animated take on the Marvel Comics saga features one novice web-slinger and a quintet of alternate versions of the title character who arrive on Earth from other dimensions.
The resulting adventure is not for the easily jangled or the littlest tots. But it is otherwise suitable for a wide audience.
Although the personnel have changed, the premise remains. So it’s no surprise when half African-American, half Puerto Rican Brooklyn lad Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore), like Parker before him, is bitten by a radioactive arachnid and takes on some of its characteristic abilities.
Confused to find that his hands keep sticking to everything — including, sadly for her, the hair of Gwen Stacy (voice of Hailee Steinfeld), the girl he would like to make his own — Miles gets some much-needed mentoring from an unlikely source. It seems that villainous Kingpin (voice of Liev Schreiber) has successfully opened a portal to parallel universes through which five variants on Spider-Man arrive, one by one, on Earth.
Though he eventually teams with all his fellow Spideys, Miles first forms a partnership with Peter B. Parker (voice of Jake Johnson), a slightly sad-sack iteration of the familiar figure. Reluctantly at first but with growing enthusiasm as things progress, this Peter shows Miles the ropes — or, perhaps, the strands.
In bringing to the big screen characters first created on paper by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, the trio of directors — Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman — maintains a jaunty and humorous tone. In keeping with his name, for instance, Spider-Man Noir (voice of Nicolas Cage) uses the stilted jargon of a mid-20th-century movie tough guy.
Amid stylized dustups and often jarring psychedelic imagery the screenplay, on which Rothman collaborated with Phil Lord, conveys a message about the importance of family bonds. It also offers a lesson in living up to your potential.
Thus Miles is close to both his cop dad, Jefferson (voice of Brian Tyree Henry), and nurse mom, Rio (voice of Luna Lauren Velez). He also looks up to his slightly dodgy Uncle Aaron (voice of Mahershala Ali) whose waywardness has led to his estrangement from his by-the-book brother Jefferson.
With Peter’s help, fledgling Miles learns to take control of his powers and use them for good. Specifically, that involves battling Kingpin and his octopus-like sidekick, Doc Ock (voice of Kathryn Hahn).
Back in his world, Peter B. has broken up with his true love, Mary Jane (voice of Zoe Kravitz), in part because she wanted to have children and he did not. This is presented as evidence of selfishness and immaturity on his part and his relationship with Miles gives him a new, more positive perspective.
Even when the bullets fly, the sometimes-intense mayhem remains suitably cartoonish. And, aside from a brief foray into questionable humor involving Miles mistaking his transformation for the symptoms of puberty and spouting awkward statements on the subject, the dialogue is overwhelmingly innocent.
The film contains some harsh but bloodless violence, including gunplay, references to puberty and a single vaguely crass word. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.