by Charles Gerian

"One thing I know for sure: don't do it like me. Do it like you.”

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is a prime example of saving the best for last for 2018.

The animated action/comedy from Sony Pictures- directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman- swings, thwips, and zips off of a kinetic, emotional, and insanely fun script from Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street) and the aforementioned Rothman. Animated like a comic book come to life, this is not only the best animated feature I've seen in the past 5 or 10 years, but one of the top 3 best Spider-Man films that has been made period.

The action starts in present-day New York City where the quick-witted, intelligent, and arts driven Afro-Hispanic teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, DOPE) suffers from a dangerous looking spider bite just in time to stumble upon Spider-Man himself (Chris Pine) doing battle with the nefarious monstrosity The Green Goblin in an attempt to stop The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from activating a dimension tearing device. Spider-Man is mortally injured in the conflict, and with his dying words tells Miles that he needs to stop Kingpin or the world as they know it will end.

Little does Miles know that the inter-dimensional super weapon brought a few different Spider-people into his world from their own: 40's burnout Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) a divorced Spider-Man with a beer-gut and a jaded sense of depression; peppy and acrobatic Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) aka Spider-Woman; the bonkers Loony Toons-esque Spider-Ham (John Mulaney); the Japanese anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen) who pilots a Spider-Mech suit; and the brooding, 1930's black and white fedora-wearing brawler Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage). Together, they must all unite to not only save Miles' universe, but all of theirs, from complete destruction.

There is so much to love about this movie that there's honestly just too much to enjoy for only one 2-hour outing. This film is a living, breathing, comic book and it works with every single beat that it has. The emotion of the Sam Raimi films with Toby MacGuire (a clear inspiration for the older, jaded Peter) the angst of Marc Webb's sadly short-lived films with Andrew Garfield, all coupled with the fierce vibrancy and “new car smell” of interpretations like the “Ultimate” comic books, the recent PS4 game, and Spidey's many animated outings. SPIDER-VERSE goes a long way in washing the horrid, ass-flavored taste of 2017s disastrous SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING out of my mouth.

There's humor too, obviously. The comedy and the drama has such fine rhythm you may not even realize what's happening since you'll be crying and sniffling one minute (I know I was, several times) and laughing out loud the next. The humor here isn't juvenile or silly, a lot of it is really tactful and well written, helped generously by the cast's magnificent chemistry and sense of delivery. Even the "gag character" Spider-Ham isn't completely off the wall ridiculous. The humor here is never played as immature or condescending to it's audience even though it is an "animated movie" so it carries all the stigma one would associate with that.

Of course to match the vibrant flow of the superb animation where colors spark, collide, and splash across the screen to accompany thought bubbles, comic panels, and drawn sound-effects of comic theatrics like “Pow!”, “Thwip!”, and “Slam!” the movie's soundtrack is there for that extra layer of giddy excitement that nearly trips the circuit breaker on the amount of raw spectacle a film can have. Like the film itself which combines styles and arts from all walks of the Spider-Verse, the soundtrack is imbued with a flavor of hip-hop, pop, and trap. Songs like “What's Up Danger” by Black Caviar, “Sunflower” by Post Malone, “Home” by Vincent Staples, “Scared of the Dark” by Lil Wayne, and “Save the Day” by Ski Mask all come together in a way that never makes the film seem derivative or crass, but something that truly feels alive.

The message in the film is clear: Anyone can wear the mask. By the film's end you'll be ready to rip open your shirt, pull down your own Spider-goggles, and swing into action. All walks of life are represented here, and all walks have the ability to be heroes. Each of the Spider-men (and women) build and inspire one another, and there's so much genuine heart and soul within this movie that it's truly unlike anything the genre has seen since something like Guillermo del Toro's HELLBOY 2.

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, like Spider-Man, is spectacular, amazing, astonishing, and...inspiring.