Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A visual feast and a really positive surprise, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is in with a shout of being the best Spider-Man film, and conclusive evidence of how great animation can be for modern cinema.

In New York City, school student Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) juggles a new term, trying to impress new girl Gwen (Hailee Steinfield), a family rift between policeman father Jefferson (Brian Tyler Moore) and uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), and being bitten by a pesky spider. Amidst all this, Miles witnesses an interdimensional event involving Spider-Man and alternate dimension spider-people, while his powers develop.

Straight away this hits you with its unique style and look, a distinctive hybrid of what we’ve come to expect of CGI animation and a comic-book gloss that presents some astounding visuals. This is only emboldened once the multidimensional, high concept set pieces start racking up, and quite frankly it’s remarkable that it’s taken this long for animation to embrace superheroes like this (except of course the Incredibles movies).

What makes it stand apart is that the animation veers across the whole spectrum from photorealism (the stunning NYC skylines and the lighting) through to the most comicbook-y of depictions (the Kingpin is an immense, impossible rectangle of a man, but you buy it despite other characters being more realistically proportioned).

The best way to describe it is that at times it’s like a comic book in flow, a lot of credit for which goes to Sony’s animation team as well as editor Robert Fisher Jr, who makes set pieces (whether action or drama) flow and zing, utilising split panels and psychedelic tricks to play with what we’re seeing. One of the most stark and impressive achievements is that the multidimensional plot means different types of animation blend together, delivering spider-people depicted in anime, black and white and Looney Tunes styles alongside the film’s idiosyncratic own.

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With three separate directors in Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, the movie benefits from all three collaborating in a way that just wouldn’t work with live action, especially visually speaking. Rothman and director/producer Phil Lord (of Lord and Miller fame, co directors of the Jump Street films) have thankfully crafted a script with twists, turns and a lovingly sharp eye for Spider-Man, wrapping in all the cliches, stereotypes and popular culture touchstones in a way that rewards multiple viewings.

You bring in your pre-existing knowledge of Spider-Man, and leave with a newfound feel for an iconic fictional character (a lovely nod to Stan Lee only strengthens this). Perhaps their most impressive achievement is that they take a mindblowing visual concept but keep it funny, fresh and emotionally centred. While marketed to children, it’s too good for them – copious references are joined with joltingly stark repercussions for characters and loved ones alike, from the first act onwards, and the plot has so much emotional complexity it’s remarkable.

There was one point at which I knew the film worked for me, when one character’s growth dovetailed perfectly with Daniel Pemberton’s emotive and resounding soundtrack and the visuals, at almost the perfect moment. It’s rare that you get that feeling of rising emotion in most blockbuster films now, but I felt it then: this near perfect fusing together of multiple elements. The writers deserve immense credit for achieving this while juggling a multidimensional, hard science plotline and keeping everything fun.

 

Pemberton’s modern music with orchestral motifs deserves another mention, being as it effortlessly utilises recent popular music to give the film a contemporary feel, while evoking the best sweeping scores.

An animated movie rises and falls via its voiceover cast, with this film absolutely nailing it. Moore’s young, cocksure voicing of Miles graduates into an emotionally raw and determined man accepting the responsibility and power that he must embrace to deal with the situation, while New Girl’s Jake Johnson is nailed on perfect casting as Peter “B” Parker, a washed up slacker Spider-Man from a parallel universe forced into a mentoring role that slowly chips away at his jaded outlook.

They are well matched by Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen, a resolutely sure and focused female character not at all reduced to love interest, alongside Tyler Moore’s gruffly tender dad and Ali’s suave, conflicted uncle. Schrieber goes full, deep Noo Yoik as the nefarious but surprisingly rounded out Kingpin, while of the spider-people Nicholas Cage is spot on casting for the 1940s Spider-Noir, the actor’s distinctive tones perfect for the curious monochrome gangster superhero.

The best of the rest include John Mulaney (as the utterly bizarre Spider-Ham/Peter Porker), Kathryn Hahn and Zoe Kravitz as one of Kingpin’s scientists and multiple versions of Mary Jane Watson respectively, and superstars Chris Pine and Oscar Isaac, who make surprising cameos.

It’s not on much now if you haven’t seen it, but this movie is a fresh, fun, exciting and incredibly well made perspective on Spider-Man and his iconic mythology. Highly recommended!

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