29 December 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse review

It's been a good couple of years for Spider-Man fans, which is something of a pleasant surprise when you consider the radically different position the character found himself in just four short years ago. Cast your minds back to the winter of 2014 for a moment - Spider-Man couldn't help but feel a tad like yesterday's news, what with the newly crowned Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the screen, the Raimi trilogy already being something of a distant memory and Webb's attempt to restart the franchise failing to ignite much passion in anyone but its most vocal detractors (myself included - if nothing else, at least The Amazing Spider-Man 2 inspired me to start this very blog). Things weren't looking great for ol' web head - and yet since then, we've seen the character make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to much applause, star in his first good solo movie since 2004, make a hugely enjoyable appearance in probably the most successful and talked about film of 2018 and even star in his own critically acclaimed and highly successful video game. It's been quite the impressive turnaround - so really, I guess it's only fair that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ends that winning streak in such a disappointing fashion.

I'm joking, of course. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might actually be Spidey's biggest success story yet, a film so top to bottom great that if given the option, I'd have sat there and watched it a second time just as soon as the end credits stopped rolling. And possibly even a third.

We follow Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino New Yorker teenager who (wouldn't you just know it) winds up getting bitten by some kind of radioactive spider and gaining superpowers. But this isn't your average origin story - after a plan to stop a dangerous experiment held by Wilson Fisk goes wrong, several other Spider-Folk are dragged into Miles' universe, all of whom will soon die from the side-effects of being in the wrong universe if they cannot get back to where they came from.

It's an exciting conceptual hook that really helps Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stand out amongst the crowd, but vitally, it's not a hook that ever threatens to overwhelm the film entirely. In fact, it could be argued that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is actually fairly restrained in this respect - it would have been easy (and I imagine incredibly tempting) to really cram in as many Spider-Folk as possible, but by keeping that number reasonable and ensuring that the real meat of the story centres on just three of them (namely Miles, Peter and Gwen), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse manages to perform a careful balancing act that ensures the multiverse concept neither overpowers the movie nor ends up feeling under-utilised.

The result is a film that manages to both have its cake and eat it too, indulging in all the fun weirdness that the multiverse concept brings while also telling a tight and well-focused story about a young man figuring out his place in the world. I had assumed from the marketing that Nicolas Cage's hilariously po-faced Spider-Noir or the adorably anime Peni Parker would end up being my favourite character, but wonderful as they are it was actually Miles himself who ended up taking the top spot - he's simply a delight to spend time with, earnest and funny and self-conscious and deeply relatable, all traits that are perfectly embodied in the brilliant vocal performance given by Shameik Moore. Then again, he's far from the only stand out character - virtually every other character in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse leaves an impression of some kind, whether they be Jake Johnson's schlubby Peter Parker, Hailee Steinfeld's instantly iconic Spider-Gwen and others that would be mild spoilers to even talk about.

And it's so damn funny too, which probably shouldn't come of much of a surprise given the talent involved - Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's fingerprints are all over this, after all. They might not have directed it (that particular credit goes to Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey) but one has to assume that Lord and Miller were very hands-on producers - it's fits their style and sense of humour to a tee, filled with neat visual gags and open slapstick right alongside some very character driven humour that never seems to miss, all of which only adds to the sense that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is simply an immaculately crafted movie on every level.

And then, of course, there's the animation itself, which is so good all on its own that the film would probably still be worth seeing even if it didn't contain the aforementioned great character work, brilliant humour and captivating, original story. When talking about a good looking film, it's common to see people exaggerate and say something along the lines of "every frame is a work of art" (and I don't doubt that I'm probably guilty of that myself), but for the first time maybe ever, that's if not actually true, then at least less of an exaggeration than usual. I don't know what animation techniques were used to ensure that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse looks as original and distinctive as it does, but I do know that I've never seen anything else quite like it - a vibrant and colourful and highly distinctive feast for the eyes that seemingly never tires of introducing a new style of animation or visual quirk just for the sake of it. It's not just one of the best looking films I've seen this year, it might be one of the best looking films I've seen full stop, so unapologetically stylised and stylish from top to bottom that I'm hoping it might cause something of a revolution in the (lets face it) somewhat stale world of mainstream 3D animation.

So that's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a film just bursting at the seams with innovation and heart, a movie that demands your attention from frame one and never wavers in its commitment to earning, so consistently, fundamentally great that I feel like I could carry on gushing about it for some time. Instead, I'll leave you with this: even as a huge, huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is such a fantastic movie that it single-handedly justifies Sony's decision to hang on to the rights to the character. I just can't see a film this different and daring coming into existence under the Disney banner, and if the price of that is the risk that Spider-Man could simply disappear from the MCU one day? Well, so be it. It's worth it, and I don't say that lightly. I probably won't see another film in the cinema in 2018 - thank God that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was such a high note to end on.

5 stars

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