It feels like we’ve been bombarded with Spider-Man over the years. Indeed, we have had three actors take on the mantle for the big screen in 16 years with Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland, and five Spider-Man films – not counting Holland’s MCU appearances. And now, with a new film boasting a title that promises so. much. more. Spider-Man, well, it’s understandable if some audiences feel as though they’ve had enough. And if that turns them off from checking out Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, that’s a serious shame, because they will be missing out on one of the best, if not the best, Spider-Man adventures to ever grace the screen.
Voiced by Shameik Moore (Dope), Miles Morales is a charming, Afro-Latino, Brooklynite teen we meet during a trying period as he deals with being moved to a new school, wanting to follow his artistic passions, and dealing with his well-meaning but slightly overbearing cop father (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta). Morales’ world – both personally and at large – is changed after he is bitten by a radioactive spider and a very dangerous experiment being pushed by The Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) results in bringing in Spider… beings from across the multiverse into his dimension. Meet Spider-Man Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). The race is now on for Miles to embrace and master his newfound powers to help these Spideys return home and stop Kingpin from his dastardly plans.
The team behind the film is spearheaded by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, best known for their hit Lego Movie, the 21 and 22 Jump Street comedies, and at least part of Solo: A Star Wars Story (before they were let go). To say they are the right people for the job is an understatement. Lord co-wrote the screenplay with Rodney Rothman (22 Jump Street), working with a three-person directing team: Peter Ramsey (Rise of the Guardians), Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman.
The obvious point of difference with this big-screen Spidey film is that it’s animated, and not only that, but how glorious this animation really is. A wondrous combination of hand-drawn aesthetic and CG-fueled wizardry ensures the comic book feel that is being aimed for is accomplished; it’s as though you have entered a comic book, immersed into the art and exploring the panels as you fly through the pages. Into the Spider-Verse reportedly had the biggest animation crew to ever work on a Sony Pictures project, and you can tell. The level of attention to detail is almost dizzying (big Spidey fans will have a field day combing through the many nods on offer when the film arrives on home entertainment and that pause button can get a workout), and the insane action sequences smartly take advantage of the medium and chosen style. It’s not a film that merely employs a style of animation for the sake of it, like those animated films that make you wonder if there would be much difference in a live-action translation. This film proves it must be in this format.
Pushing aside its undeniable technical and artistic feats, visual creativeness and all the money in the world in effects can’t fix a lacklustre narrative and screenplay. Thankfully, Lord and Rothman have delivered a cracking script, filled to the brim with characterisation, wit and heart. Morales is almost instantly a winning character, wonderfully crafted with the perfect balance of earnestness and attitude. He goes through some pretty tough moments, turns that have emotional weight thanks to how easy it is to care about him and his plight. His family characters (father, mother, and uncle) and the familiar-yet-cartoony rendition of New York further the story’s magnetic pull; you’re invested, and you may not realise until the drama kicks in.
The other Spideys are also wonderful creations, particularly Jake Johnson’s utterly convincing performance as an out-of-shape, depressed Peter Parker. His relationship with Morales provides one of the film’s strongest through lines. Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy is also a standout, and although she perhaps isn’t given too much of a narrative thread, we now know that Sony has plans for this universe’s heroines. Peni Parker and her bot, Spider-Noir (a very amusing Cage) and the hilariously quirky Spider-Ham (who shouldn’t work as well as he does) round out the Spider-gang nicely.
If there is a wrinkle in the smooth character work, it’s with an issue that we’ve become accustomed to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The villains aren’t really given a healthy amount of fleshing out; Kingpin’s story is given intriguing hints here and there that could have used a little more screen time. Still, it’s not much of an issue when the pieces have all been placed so carefully and all the plot machinations so well thought out.
This is a precisely crafted crowd-pleaser, a highly kinetic, uproarious, emotional ride that wears its love of the Marvel webslinger on its proverbial sleeve. With a ton of well-timed and non-smug meta jokes, the film carries a self-awareness of the Spidey brand’s business, its place in time, and what the character means to so many, resulting in a joyous film that serves as a true celebration of all things Spider-Man. And yes, there’s a ridiculously great post-credit scene you must wait for. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is quite the ride; you’ll be left cheering.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★★
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ will open in Australian cinemas on December 13 and in the US on December 14.