But Spider-Verse has created something both completely classic and completely new, blasting aside conventions and all our dread at "just another superhero" movie.
Is it the story? Yes and no. The titular Spider-Man this time is Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), half black and half Puerto-Rican. This time he's not a boy from Queens, but a boy from Brooklyn. He's won the lottery in getting selected for an uppercrust magnet school in the city and also in getting bitten by a radioactive spider. Not long after the latter, evil-doers have disrupted the space-time continuum, which results in, wait for it, having to save the world, but also other Spider-Man versions from parallel dimensions who get sucked from their universes and into Miles'.
It's all a little heady, and it sounds like it could be as messy as an Avengers movie, but directors Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, and Peter Ramsay are helped rambunctiously by writer Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) and the result is a totally off-kilter, incredibly complicated film that has an amazingly singular vision and direction, achieving clarity with each mindboggling push of the visual envelope.
Each Spider-Man counterpart is chosen for their individuality, highlighting a difference in animation, in gender, in style, and ethnicity. Miles himself has his own rhythm, his own swagger, even as he's struggling to come into his own. Spider-Man: Homecoming chose to eschew the origin story completely in order to deliver its fresh take on the worn tale. Spider-Verse does the opposite and doubles down, but that's the beauty of it. The movie, and Miles himself, is a thrillingly original, alive being. You've never seen a Spider-Man like this. But while the movie is about finding its uniqueness, it is concurrently about identifying with others. At each point, Spider-Man is finally able to look at someone else and say "I know you. You are me." It is precisely that duality that Spider-Verse balances and thrives on.
Breathtakingly beautiful in animation, in music, in the undeniable pleasure and beat of the movie's rhythm. Spider-Verse finally takes us back to the keen joy of superhero movies. It flushes us in CMYK colors, squiggles come out of characters to indicate sensory emotions, and at some points the film dips into paneling and thought bubbles as it dips into the format that got us all into comic book heroes in the first place. The whole voice acting team is again a joy to behold, and all the lines have the familiarity of an extremely well-thought out rhythm, like banter put to music. It's the best animation of the year in every way possible -- visuals, acting, story, and animating innovations.
Moore's voice is the emotional core of the movie, one where the peril and sentiment aren't contrived. Its message resonates with the viewers, not just because of how potent it is or how imperative it is to revel in both our individuality and being able to recognize ourselves in others. There's a moral imperative Miles shares with us without having to hit us over the head with it. Miles is able to overcome and to grow not only because his great power gave him great responsibility, but through his acknowledgement of his power, which is inherent in any one of us. Spider-Verse's themes of identity are essential, but its most thrilling aspect might be that any one in the audience can, in some way, point at the screen and say "I know you. You are me."