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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

When news broke that Sony Pictures Animation were going to be producing an animated Spider-Man film, the news hardly set the world alight. After all, we've already seen three different live-action reboots of the character since 2002. As more information came to light- Phil Lord and Chris Miller's involvement, the fact that it would focus on Miles Morales- it began to look more intriguing. Then the first teaser hit for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and it was clear that we were in for a Spider-Man movie like we've never seen.

The film follows Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager from Brooklyn (Shameik Moore) as after he is bitten by a radioactive spider. At the same time, he must contend with the arrival of multiple Spider-people from alternative dimensions including an older Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) Gwen Stacy aka Spider Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Can he help them get home and rise to meet his destiny as the new Spider-Man of his reality?

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman.

The first thing that needs to be talked about with this movie is the way it looks. It looks like no other animated movie from Hollywood or anywhere else. Yes, it's CGI but it eschews the slickness and photo-realism that other CGI movies aspire to for something much more interesting. It's been hinted at in the trailers but you really need to see in context to appreciate its true genius. We've seen efforts to create CG that looks like hand-drawn animation before, but it has always fallen short, managing to fall between two stools. Here though, they've perfected it.

The animation employs a lower frame-rate than other CG animation, which gives it a unique look that almost resembles a cross between 2D and stop-motion. It also utilises an array of inventive techniques that truly make it look like a comic-book come to life. These include the obvious elements such as onscreen panels, speech-bubbles and sound effects, but also subtle things such as blurring, crosshatching and colour choices. In a particularly nice touch, the whole image is textured with dots that resemble the kind- named Ben-Day dots- that were the result of the printing process used in old comics. There's other influences too, such as street art and graffiti.

As the alternative spider-people are introduced, the animation style is mixed up even more.  For example, we get elements of manga and anime for Penni Parker, hard-boiled monochrome crime comics for Spider-Man Noir and classic cartoon-style for Spider-Ham. This film has an irresistible visual playfulness that starts with the production company logos at the start and runs right through to the end of the credits. By the end of the first 10 minutes, you'll be left wondering why all comic-book movies aren't animated.

All of which is well and good, but what of the rest of the film? If the story and characters don't match the visuals then surely it would be little more than a tech demo. Luckily, this film has so much more to offer than good looks.

With Lord scripting, alongside his 22 Jump Street collaborator and co-director Rothman, it's no surprise that the film is extremely funny and whip-smart. What may surprise you, however, is how much heart there is here too. The characters are brought to life with a great deal or care and affection and this really works on an emotional level, something that can't always be said for past Lord and Miller productions. The dramatic moments are also handed assuredly, and all the twists and turns hit their mark.

And of course, there are the copious action set-pieces, which are thrilling, visually astounding and exquisitely choreographed. Each Spider-person brings their own style to the fights, so they are brilliantly varied too.

One of the concerns that may have come up when the multi-verse angle was revealed was that Miles Morales could possibly be overshadowed in his own story. The other two Spideys with the most screen time- Peter B Parker and Gwen Stacey- also get their chance to shine but make no mistake, this is very much Miles's story. It's actually quite a while until the Multi-Verse element really kicks off and in some ways, the other spider-folk- other than Gwen and Jake Johnsson's Parker- are little more than cameos.

Spider-Man's strength has always been in his relatability and in Miles we have a character who is easy to identify with and incredibly human. His concerns and family issues will resonate with teenagers or pretty much anybody who has ever been a teen.

The film is an absolute treasure trove for Spider-Man fans, and full of references for fans of the comics and almost every other incarnation of the franchise. It's also packed with wider pop-culture references, cameos, sight gags and throwaway meta- nods that mean this will reward multiple repeat viewings. Spider-fans will also enjoy getting to see a fresh take on the characters they know so well.

Despite all this, the film should stand up perfectly well as a standalone work. The chances are high that you will have come across at least one version of Spider-Man before. But if you haven't, there's more than enough in Miles's story to keep you engaged.

Refreshingly, this is a mainstream animated movie that seems to skew just a little bit older than your typical studio fare. While younger audiences will likely enjoy the film, the complex plotting and some emotionally intense material would perhaps make it a little much for the under-10s.

Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse is spectacular- the most daring, original and groundbreaking animated film to have come out of Hollywood in many a year. And the fact that we're saying that about a movie made by a major studio, based on one of the most popular characters in the world? That's quite something. This could be a watershed moment for animated filmmaking in the west.


IN A NUTSHELL:  A triumph on every level, Spider-Verse is simply stunning. Our Spidey-Senses tell us we've just seen the film of the year.