Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (USA / PG / 117 mins)
In short: A dazzling treat
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman. Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Liev Schreiber, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali.
The Plot: Teenager Miles (Shameik Moore) lives in awe of his friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man (Jake Johnson). One day, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops his own Spidey powers. Amazed at this, he discovers that the current Spider-Man is actually from a parallel universe and is an overweight middle-aged loser. They team up to stop the villainous Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who threatens to unleash multi-dimensional chaos under the streets of Manhattan by creating a black hole. That’s when things get funky, as other Spider-People cross over into Miles’ dimesion, including Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage). This superhero team just got souped up and ready to save Manhattan from obliteration…
The Verdict: When Venom came out in October to disastrous critical reaction but boffo box office, it also came with a sneak peek at another Sony-in-association-with-Marvel production. An unassuming little animated film called Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Was Sony really that desperate that it was churning out an animated Spidey film to capitalise on its newfound partnership with Marvel? After viewing Spider-Verse, any such doubts can be quickly snuffed out. For this is a true original, the kind of ambitious animated film that puts most to shame with its inventive approach to a shared cinematic universe.
With the film’s emphasis on expanding its established world to include other dimensions, characters and perspectives, the nearest equivalent is The Animatrix. While that film explored different stories within and without an artificial environment, Spider-Verse gathers together a whole host of different Spider-People and makes them work in unison within a real world. This is anchored by the presence of Miles, an engaging character who is coming-of-age but is still awkward around girls and embarrassed by his doting policeman father. There’s a clear sense of growing heroism here, but also warmth and humour. The excellent voice work by Shameik Moore pokes through the animation and makes him grounded. Miles still has to deal with everyday tasks while saving the world.
Co-directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman create a visually eye-popping cinematic odyssey. It doesn’t look like any animated film that’s come before. It mixes a number of different styles – comic book, CGI and traditional animation, including Japanese anime to startling effect. It even includes comic panels, transitions and ker-pow effects. It’s not quite a comic book come to life, but something closer to a graphic novel with its intense explosion of concentrated colour, shifting environments and multi-dimensional chaos. The co-directors keep all of this in check without it becoming over-powering for our lead character or the audience. The creativity and imagination on display is truly astonishing. Surely an Oscar nomination must follow.
It’s no surprise to learn that The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are listed as producers, as their sticky fingers are all over this. Their irreverent sense of humour comes at you in all directions, from little details like hilarious Times Square billboards to granting Homer Simpson’s wish of Spider-Pig becoming reality. There are also two lovely nods towards the late Stan Lee and a humdinger of a post-credit scene. It’s a film that works on different levels – for adults, for children, for the geek contingent (who will certainly geek out here). The fact that it works at all, given that it could have been an almighty mess of animated CGI gloop, is a small miracle. The strength of the story, the visual acuity of its delivery and a starry cast of talented voice actors (including Nicolas Cage going full superhero again) mean that Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a dazzling treat for the senses.