I know what you’re thinking – ‘haven’t I seen this one before?’. You’d be forgiven for thinking so, or for wanting to give Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a miss in the wake of the six movie adaptations of his character we’ve seen over the past sixteen years. You’d even be forgiven for thinking that the fact this version is animated makes no difference to the way it tells the origin story we’ve seen time and time again.
You’d be forgiven, but you’d be wrong.
This year sees the minds of Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman unveil the latest cinematic interpretation of Marvel’s golden boy. Their vision is a bold one; something unlike that which has come before. Co-produced and distributed by Sony – the producers behind the Sam Raimi and Amazing series – this incarnation sweeps aside the Peter Parker arc in favour of Ultimate Comics’ hero, Miles Morales. Shameik Moore (The Get-Down, Dope) voices the mixed-race New York teenager who cares less about academics and more about graffiti art. It may be the character’s big-screen debut, but careful effort has been made not to feature a tentative origin story. Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, Lego Movie), here is a re-imagining unafraid to reference what has come before – even, at times, poking fun at it. It takes great pleasure in allowing the audience to laugh at, and appreciate, how far this hero has come.
Miles may be a new character but Parker (Jake Johnson) remains, albeit slightly older than audiences have seen him before. Thus, the question: two spider people? No, actually – there are six. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) is a refreshing redevelopment of the Gwen Stacey character; Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn, more quality than quantity) is an anime-style hero with mechanical muscle; Nicholas Cage (yes, really) is Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Ham (Voiced by John Mulaney), is a pig more Porky than Peter. All provide different ideas and characterisations of a hero we’ve seen so many times before – and contribute to the origins of one (Morales) audiences will hope to see again and again.
The six unite after classic villain Kingpin (a brooding, brilliant Liv Screiber) plays with science to collide multiple dimensions in pursuit of something lost. Constant glitching in this shared universe in addition to personal problems in respective individual universes mean they must all find a way home.
The individuality and character imbued throughout Into the Spider-Verse mean that the visuals are strikingly unique. As though if ripped from the comic pages themselves, the aesthetic dynamically shifts to show the diversity of each hero. We see Peni Parker’s world take on a Japanese, anime style and Spider-Ham and his comic weapons appear more like a classic cartoon. The cinematography comes together wonderfully with vivid characterisation to create the genuine heart woven into the story. With such a saturation of protagonists, it’s hard to imagine there being room for great supporting characters, but the film boasts both cleverly written villains and emotionally nuanced family members.
While we may yet see another spider bite and one more hero getting to grips with his sticky fingers, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is built into a larger story – it knows exactly what it has to do to be successful. It doesn’t restrict itself in imagining what the idea of Spider-Man can be; there’s a timely message stating that it doesn’t have to be a white, male academic under the suit. It’s almost hard to believe this has come from Sony, who it seemed had given up on the red-and-blue hero in favour of villainous spin-offs.
Ultimately, the film’s theme song ‘Sunflower’ (performed well enough by Swae Lee and Post Malone) represents the bond between Sony and Spider-Man perfectly. After varying degrees of success and a number of setbacks that would have had other characters cast off long ago, Into the Spider-Verse proves that there may still be growth in this once-fruitful relationship yet.
By Ryan Goodwin