Given pop culture’s current era of Marvel superhero ultra-saturation, it’s perfectly understandable if you already feel weary about the release of yet another Spider-Man movie. But don’t resign yourself over to cynicism just yet — Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse seems like it’ll be a wholly unique (if somewhat clunkily titled) glimpse behind the mask. Rather than focusing on Peter Parker, the animated feature will follow Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) as he becomes a web-slinging savior in his own right.
Sony recently released the first full trailer for Spider-Verse, and the first thing that jumps out is the film’s striking art style. According to Collider, Lord and Miller treated the CGI animation with “line work and painting and dots and all sorts of comic book techniques,” and additionally intended to make the most of their medium by “using camera moves and pushing the style in ways a live-action movie can’t.”We get a flash of that impulse during this scene, which depicts a battle between Morales and a villain resembling the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon’s incarnation of the Green Goblin. It’s utterly untethered from the limits of live-action physics, and thus has a kind of vibrant, eye-popping kinetic energy that’s truly unlike any other cinematic superhero showdown we’ve seen before. Here, the use of dazzling colors, pop art-esque halftone pattern textures, and visual onomatopoeia create the impression of a comic panel literally brought to life.
Another fast-moving sequence is punctuated by Morales’ frantic internal monologue: “It’s just puberty! It was a normal spider! I’m a normal kid!” It’s a device that imbues the action with the very real weight of adolescent doubt and vulnerability.
The trailer also positions an older Peter Parker (a delightfully cast Jake Johnson) as a mentor figure to Morales. Spider-Verse’s Parker takes cues from the character’s familiar onscreen persona as a gawky, wisecracking youth, but he’s since grown into an unkempt (and yet weirdly avuncular) adult with graying hair and a five o’clock shadow.
“You have money, right? I’m not very liquid right now,” he asks while chowing down on a burger.
“I think you’re going to be a bad teacher,” responds an utterly unimpressed Morales. It’s a far cry from the lofty mantra of “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Arguably the most fascinating and mysterious aspect of this trailer is how it hints at the broader Spider-Verse beyond Morales’ world. Some seemingly fourth wall-breaking lines from the trailer provide exposition: “In your universe, there’s only one Spider-Man,” Morales says. “But there is another universe. It looks and sounds like yours, but it’s not.”
Even more mysteriously, the deeper-voiced Spider-Man that Morales first encounters in the trailer doesn’t sound like Johnson. This disparity squares with Morales’ origin story in the comics — he only takes up the hero’s mantle after Parker’s death at the end of the Ultimate Spider-Man series, thanks to a spider bite he gets while visiting his uncle Aaron (also known as the low-level villain Prowler, whose casting has constantly been a gift — he’s voiced here by Mahershala Ali and was previously brought to life by Donald Glover in Spider-Man: Homecoming). The older, vaguely disheveled Spider-Man who eventually takes Morales on as his protégé might well hail from an entirely different timeline.
One frame even shows Morales reverently gazing upon a collection of suits, possibly indicating his multiple incarnations across different universes. The leftmost one resembles the insulated suit that Parker designed in Amazing Spider-Man #425 to combat the villain Electro, while the one on the right looks like his costume from Secret War, a crossover series in which Nick Fury recruited Spider-Man (among other heroes) to covertly overthrow the nation of Latveria.
The trailer also introduces Gwen Stacy as Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), another relatively new addition to the Spider-Verse — she hails from the alternate world of Earth-65, in which Stacy gets bitten by the fateful spider instead of Parker. Her presence prompts a comic exchange that’s ripe for speculation:
“How many more Spider-People are there?” a bewildered Morales asks.
“Save it for Comic-Con,” Parker quips. It’s the kind of throwaway, blithely meta line that would seem right at home in a Deadpool installment, or perhaps Lord and Miller’s other gleeful franchise send-up The Lego Movie.
“What’s Comic-Con?” Morales demands to know before being whisked off.
In making Spider-Verse, Lord and Miller’s goal was “to make a movie about regular people who make a choice to be a hero. Not someone who was born to be one.” It’s a beautifully earnest statement of purpose, and Morales is the ideal hero to embody it. The choice to make a smart, sensitive Afro-Latinx teen from Brooklyn (with loving parents, no less!) a fully-realized superhero feels distinctly refreshing, especially for the kind of cinematic narrative — that is, the heroic origin story — that’s often characterized by trauma and individualist brooding.
After all, one of the trailer’s most prominent sequences — sandwiched right between a high-octane car chase and a web-swinging descent into an unfamiliar forest — is an extended bit in which Morales’ cop father (Brian Tyree Henry) acts like … well, a normal, embarrassing, and charmingly corny dad. He coaxes his (thoroughly annoyed) son into saying “I love you” to him in front of his classmates. It’s a moment that reminds us that the most affecting superhero stories revolve not just around exceptional powers, but ultimately the outsize capacities of the human heart.