SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is awesome. An awesome animated feature, an awesome superhero movie, an awesome coming-of-age story, an awesome film. Did I mention it was awesome?
When a extra-dimensional portal is opened in New York, recently superpowered Spider-Man Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) bands together with the web-slinging heroes from several alternate realities to save his world, their worlds and the multiverse itself.
I can’t recall the last time I saw something completely new in animation. Spider-Verse’s kinetic, textured and graphically dynamic style can feel like visual information overload at first, but once you get your eye in it’s truly something to behold. If pressed to find an easy descriptor I’d call it Pop Arty, frequently thinking as I did of Roy Lichtenstein’s making a feature of comic printing techniques in his work. Every scene of character interaction pulses with life, every action scene takes turns that surprise, thrill and make you grin like an idiot with their sheer creativity.
I don’t think I’ve laughed as much this year as I did at Miles’s first bungling pigeon-inhibited use of his powers. Well, it’s between that and the saloon fight in BUSTER SCRUGGS. This take is self-aware without cheapening the source material, or wants you to have fun but also for the moments that matter to carry weight.
SPIDER-MAN 2 might still edge it as a stronger individual story, but Spider-Verse is undoubtedly the best film ever about what Spider-Man represents: even when superpowered he is the kid on the street. His origin is so well known they can fast forward through, or cut short each universe’s iteration telling their story as a gag.
Anyone can be Spider-Man (or women, or porcine) given the time. These Spider-People are ordinary, grounded and human, their paths to superherodom only altered by the nature of their personal tragedy and the length of time they have spent in tights. Miles’s only stumbling block is inexperience, once he’s been out there doing whatever a spider can for a while he could be more powerful than any of them.
Something they touched upon in Marvel’s latest Spider-reboot is how excited a younger version of the character would be to become a superhero. Shameik Moore’s vocals as Miles perfectly encapsulate youthful enthusiasm coupled with teenage uncertainty and awkwardness and he builds an endearing chemistry with Gwen Stacey (Hailee Steinfeld). Miles wants all the cool experiences, to make a difference and save his loved ones but knows he’s still really an out-of-his-depth kid. Which is why he needs a mentor, and because it’s a teenager-who-needs-training story that mentor has to be jaded, past it and with questionable fashion sense. That mentor is a Peter Parker pushing 40 (Jake Johnson) who upsettingly wears jogging trousers over his Spider-tights.
Other highlights include Nic Cage’s Spider-Man Noir (“Is he in black-and-white?”) and John Mulaney’s Spider-Ham (“Do animals talk in this dimension? ‘Cause I don’t wanna freak anyone out”). These eclectic characters from far-flung dimensions are used to their worlds operating by a certain set of rules, and often we don’t know what these rules are until it comes out organically in dialogue, like Noir’s colour-blindedness not being apparent until he is dumfounded by a Rubik’s Cube. The intentionally clashing animation styles bouncing off and interacting with each other again add to the film’s vivid individualism and make you marvel at what an impressive feat the three animation directors have achieved.
Miles Morales’s big screen debut is important. So few heroes could give under-represented minorities such a presence on a big stage. Visibility is a start, and it leads to recognition and eventually lasting change. That said, Into the Spider-Verse is not a film with an agenda, and everyone creatively involved simply wanted to tell a good story in the most vibrant, joyous and affecting manner possible. So I implore you to swing on to your nearest, biggest screen and fall in love not only with a new Spider-Man but the very idea of Spider-Man all over again. SSP
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