Comic books have long been a staple of pop culture; able to tell multiple stories featuring multiple characters using various different art styles and tones to different effects. Introducing multiple universes (or the multiverse as it’s more commonly referred to) was Marvel Comics’ way of refreshing their narratives by opening the door to alternate versions of beloved characters; one of those being Spider-Man. After three Hollywood incarnations of the wall crawler, this new animated film could easily have been a simple cash grab, opening that multiverse door to new versions of the character, but with the care, attention and detail that shines on the screen, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sits above every version of Spider-Man that has come before.
From the outset you can tell that the animation is going to be something special; from the opening studio logos to the end credits, every second of the film feels like a comic book come to life. With the animation landscape becoming slightly crowded in recent years, Spider-Verse stands out from that crowd, using a style of animation unlike any seen on screen before.
Using a unique animation style is one thing but directing it with finesse is a whole different ballgame. Thankfully the trio of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman accomplished just that. Not only have they pieced together a coherent, living comic book, they also managed to masterfully balance a multitude of different tones.
Spider-Verse is genuinely hilarious thanks to a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, taking full advantage of Lord and Miller’s signature style of wit and self-awareness seen in the smash hit ‘The LEGO Movie’ and the underappreciated ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’. There were many times during Spider-Man’s run time where I feared that the creators would fall into Marvel’s bathos trap; building up tension only to break it with a joke and leaving a bit of an anti-climax. Luckily this movie is smarter than that, knowing exactly how to juggle humour with heart, drama and action.
Whilst on the subject of action, Sony have gone to town with the action here. This movie is jam packed with exhilarating action scenes, from pulse racing chases to heart stopping battle sequences, all deftly written and directed, justified in both developing character and plot whilst looking awe-inspiring and frankly drop dead gorgeous.
A large part of the Spider-Verse hinges on its characters, lead by Miles Morales in his on-screen debut and supported by a host of ‘spider people’ including Peter Parker’s Spider-man, Spider-Gwen, Spider Noir, Peni Parker and Spider-Ham. This is definitely Miles Morales’ film; not only is he the central protagonist that we follow, but the general feel of the movie, from the phenomenal soundtrack to the story’s themes are extensions of his character. He was already a fan favourite amongst comic fans and I can already hear the cries for much more of Miles in both animation and live action.
Every member of the ‘spider gang’ feels as fleshed out as they need to be, with the audience learning each of their origin stories in an effective, concise and brilliant way that feels completely natural in the context of the film. Similar can be said for the villains that appear in the film; they are given as much backstory as is entirely necessary, with a couple being somewhat humanised and having their actions moderately justified. One sign of a great villain is the ability to justify their actions and let the audience understand why the character might make those choices, even if they don’t agree with them, which is something we last saw with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year and can be seen again here in Spider-Verse.
And where there are great characters you need a great cast, and Spider-Verse is oozing with talent. Shameik Moore absolutely steals the show with his portrayal of Miles Morales, nailing the character’s endearing awkwardness and heart. The entire cast are standouts in their own rights, with Jake Johnson being perfectly cast as an older Peter Parker and Hailee Steinfeld capturing the vibrant quirkiness of Spider-Gwen whilst sprinkling a subtle hint of melancholy underneath. Nicolas Cage is also fantastic as the dark Spider Noir, making the absolute most of his small screen time. Everyone excels in portraying their universe’s unique web slinger and perfectly slots into the tightly constructed narrative.
Every second of screen time has a purpose and a place in the grand narrative: nothing is filler and no time is wasted. The story is compelling, giving truly satisfying arcs for each of the characters, big and small, heroes and villains alike. More important than anything, it’s self-contained (a rare occurrence these days) with only small breadcrumbs hinting at future stories to be told. No matter the spectacle on-screen, my personal interest is driven by plot and character, and this film delivers ten-fold. Plus, in true Marvel fashion, make sure you stay through the credits as there is a post-credits stinger that made my inner geek squeal.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a perfectly crafted web of characters, story and design. It manages to weave a fantastic voice cast into an excellently animated narrative masterpiece full of depth, humour, action and heart. In a year full of blockbuster behemoths, this swings ahead of them all and I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
Jordan Duguid | [rating=5]
Animation, Action | PG | UK 2018 | 12 December 2018 | Sony Pictures | Dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman | Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali