Film reviews

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Film Review

Move over Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Sit down The Amazing Spider-Man.  And as for you Spider-Man 3… well maybe the less said about you, the better.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter – this is the Spider-Man film you’ve been waiting for, bringing a satisfaction level comparable to Spider-Man 2 and possibly eclipsing the highly regarded favourite.

Whether you’re deeply ingrained in the source material or not, the rich history of the Spider-Man universe is recognisable.  As a cultural icon, Spider-Man’s ability to inspire should not be underestimated, combining the fantastical elements of Peter Parker’s extraordinary gift with the grounded, everyday reality of the real world. That unique, combinational feat establishes him as a universal hero to everyone.

It’s a recognition that positively shapes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, having three directors might have raised alarm bells for its overall creative vision. But in reality it never comes into doubt.  The achievements of Phil Lord (screenplay writer, and producer) and Christopher Miller (producer) are the notable champions in this project, illustrating a fighting comeback from their ill-fated escapade to ‘a galaxy far, far away’.  Their template is not too dissimilar from The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, but every frame of dialogue and moment of sharp, humorous wit acknowledges Spider-Man’s fruitful legacy, and offers the universe a tongue-in-cheek respect that cultivates a bright new future.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm for this generation: an animated film that may sit outside the barriers of its live-action counterparts, but packs an impressive punch where it refuses to be ignored.

Similar to the passionate endeavour from Ryan Coogler with Creed, the spin-off from the Rocky franchise, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse injects a jolt of energy and freshness, focusing its attention on a bold new hero in Miles Morales (Shameik Moore).  Just like Creed, its success is determined by its profound ability to combine the historical (and concurrent) past with its future with a gracious acceptance in not letting the past define you – an aspect that needs to be applauded and celebrated.

Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) may have the familiar, ‘old school’ recognition but Miles’ journey is millennial at best, made to feel powerless by a city-wide tragedy and galvanised to make a contributing change. It also helps that Miles is bitten by a spider, which continues the tradition!  But what sets it apart is the generational teacher/student element it brings, with Peter channelling Stallone, taking a backseat as the jaded, fatigued superhero and Miles’ youthful persistence to help save the universe and live up to the legend.

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There’s nothing quite like the passionate excitement in watching Miles’ transition into Spider-Man.  At its heart, Miles’ story still captures the recognisable teenager struggle and social awkwardness (particularly at his new school) but with an ethnic dynamic (Miles is half black, half Puerto-Rican) that’s reflective of the growing and recognisable diversity amongst contemporary superheroes and audience demand.  Presenting a new level of social and cultural anxiety, it celebrates the family unit (an opportunity that Peter Parker never had) by spending time on its character build-up and empathetic resolve.  Sure, it’s another origin story, an element that is brilliantly parodied throughout its runtime with its pop culture references to the Spider-Man universe (including the finger-gun salute dance from Spider-Man 3).  But “with great power comes great responsibility” and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse unconditionally rips up the rulebook with a vibrant multiverse concept that has begged for the big screen treatment since Miles made his comic book debut in 2011.  Before now, the closest mention to a possible, ‘bigger world’ inclusion was a deleted scene from Spider-Man: Homecoming where Aaron Davis (played in that universe by Donald Glover) mentioned his nephew. Now this is his moment to shine – and what an introduction!

Despite its lack of official ties to the canon behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, operating outside of it is not a bad thing or choice.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse successfully operates in the same field as Deadpool 2 and Logan: outsider films with a daring voice to challenge the formula, without the fortified restrictions and promises that world-building universes are constrained to.  That’s not to sound dismissive of the exceptional work that the MCU has produced.  This year’s examples of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War were narrative game-changers, unmatched by other properties for their consistency.  However, there is an overriding sense of fearlessness when a film genuinely embraces change and the expansive opportunities that freedom grants. This is one of those prime examples.

Although the animation is marked with a jerky, stop-motion-esque action, stylistically, it does take some time to get used to.  But because it affectionately differentiates from other animated styles (e.g. the hand-drawn meticulousness of Studio Ghibli or the pitch-perfect smoothness of Pixar), its execution mirrors common comic book conventions as well as the ‘otherworldly feel’ the concept ultimately represents.  Visually, it’s a welcomed risk as if you’ve stepped into a comic (an aspect similarly explored in Ang Lee’s Hulk, but done to greater satisfaction), fitting perfectly into Miles Morales’ vibe and personality and the scenic landscape of Brooklyn, New York.  The fluidity of Spider-Man flying through the city streets leaves you breathless.

It’s difficult to nitpick this film despite the third act’s reliance on the familiar and overused plot device of ‘light beam in the sky’ (but this time it’s side to side).  The centrepiece villain Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) is given an emotional arc.  Though his character doesn’t quite possess the villainous depth that Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 had (which to this day still sets an impressive standard), but for an animated feature, it has a valid conveyance on its character to rise above the simplistic tendencies of ‘evil guy who wants to take over the world’.  The journey (as with Miles) is a personal affair and warrants the authentic reactions.

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The Comic-Con assembly of the different Spideys can appear overwhelming at first, but the film ultimately recognises that Miles Morales is the future of the franchise, and each cameo appearance (be it Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) or scene-stealer Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) is purposely designed to shape Miles’ superhero development.  There is enough material to maintain a healthy balance without losing the film’s core narrative, with each character living up to its thematic devices of self-aware identity and belonging – everyone and anyone can be a hero by embracing who they are.  Even the traditional (now posthumous) Stan Lee cameo is a sentimental passing of the torch, undoubtedly summing up the cultural heroism that Spider-Man represents and the legacy Lee leaves behind due to his recent passing.  Emotionally, it’s enough to strike a chord with any Spider-Man fan as a fitting tribute.

Universal in its approach by leaving a beaming smile across your face, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse beautifully reminds you why you love Spider-Man in the first place.  Entertaining on all levels, with its assured confidence in embracing its legacy and charting a new destiny, it is in a prime position to become the best comic book film of the year and a contender for film of the year.  Believe the hype – this is comic book excellence.

Oh yeah, and make sure you stick right to the end.  Seriously, it’s meme-worthy!

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