Director(s): Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Nicolas Cage
Running time: 117 minutes
Nerdy is the new cool.
If there was any shred of doubt about that – even after 20 trips to the MCU (and counting) and a handful of rather weak DC alternatives – Phil Lord and co. have firmly put it to bed.
Not only does their latest screen venture come as a slick, sumptuous sugar-rush for Spidey fans, but with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Sony may have finally found a Superhero formula worthy enough to contend with its Marvel-ous heavyweight titleholder. That formula: animation.
The odds were certainly stacked against them, however. Coming as the fourth big screen iteration of the web-crawler (and the seventh film) in just sixteen years, the chances of Into the Spider-Verse crafting something other than a rehash of the familiar Spidey origin story was slim. But animation brings with it an entirely fresh bag of possibilities, and, in screenwriting duo Lord and Rodney Rothman (who also co-directs with Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti) there’s a pair who pump their script so full of joyful self-awareness that such hurdles quickly become platforms upon which they can weave web after web of silky quirkiness.
When we first meet Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales (Moore), he is little more than that. Existing in a world that happens to also be inhabited by the world-renowned Spider-Man, Morales isn’t the stand out intellectual science-whizz Peter Parker is. He’s clever, sure, but struggles to fit in at school – “to get every question wrong on this test, you need to know every answer” his teacher laments – and much prefers to spend his time styling up notebooks and derelict subway walls with his artwork and blasting old hip-hop tracks through his headphones.
But, when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider (what else?), puberty isn’t the only change his body is about to experience. Two Spider-Men in a single universe is a thing in itself, but with a title that – aside from being a clunky lesson in punctuation – hints at a film about a multi-verse of several realities, you can bet there’ll be a few more web-slingers swinging their way into town, too. And so, when crime-lord Kingpin (Schreiber) and his team of tech cronies open up a portal to alternate dimensions and a multitude of various Spider-folk come tumbling out, it’s hardly a worthy entry in the Tyler Durden book of plot twists.
But balancing a sextet of web-shooters – including Spider-Man Noir (Cage) and the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) – is no easy task. And yet Into the Spider-Verse manages to do it effortlessly. Wonderfully rattling through each origin tale at hyper-speed – the nifty joke being that they’re fundamentally the same story – Into the Spider-Verse is able to quickly immerse itself in its own refreshing blend of superhero postmodernism (think Kick-Ass minus the swears and blood), whacky action sequences, neatly-packaged narrative surprises, and on-point humour that ranges from crafty one-liners about Banksy, to knowing nods to cartoon mallets, anvils, and Looney Tunes copyright.
The boundaries, both narratively and visually, are, quite literally, limitless, here. Its mix of 2D and 3D glossing – embracing the cinematic medium while never forgetting its comic book roots – is wonderful to look at. But, ingenious invention and charming playfulness can be found at every turn in this multi-verse. There is, categorically, never a dull moment.
Crucially though, underpinning every kaleidoscopically-washed fight scene and every sly dig at Spider-Man’s (Johnson) less-than-impressive physique, is Morales’ journey of self-discovery. Along the way, there are lessons to be learned and tragedies to be faced, so when Into the Spider-Verse enters into its more emotionally-heightened episodes, the impact of such moments never feel unearned. If Into the Spider-Verse vibrantly teaches us that there’s still fresh web in that Spider-Man repository, it also touchingly reminds us of the humanity that lies at the very heart of Stan Lee’s creation: that no matter how hard life might prove to be, anyone can wear the mask and anyone can be the hero.
The undisputed surprise package of 2018. Although, with a character named Peter Porker in its ranks, we knew it would be good. But certainly not THIS good.