By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas December 13th
When Marvel comic’s most prized possession, Spider-Man, made his triumphant debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one skepticism I heard from many people, myself included, was that we didn’t want to see another origin story. We all know how Spider-Man got his beginnings. Uncle Ben’s death has been seared into our brains forever. And while the MCU thankfully skipped out on the web slinger’s well known origins, this new animated adventure, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, does not. Now, before you groan, at least listen up, for this isn’t your typical Spider-Man film, and it certainly isn’t your typical origin story.
Peter Parker (Chris Pine) has been Spider-Man for years now. He’s saved the city, married the love of his life, and then saved the city once again. But when Spidey’s longtime nemesis the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) attempts to fold together several alternate dimensions in the hopes of bringing back his deceased family, the Spider-Man we know and love is gone for good. Enter young school kid Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who, after hanging out in a place he definitely shouldn’t have been, acquires the powers of Spider-Man. Thankfully for Miles, he’s not alone, as various Spider-People from alternate dimensions all arrive in Miles’ world, including a new Peter Parker now played by Jake Johnson. Together, they’re going to have to team up to take down Kingpin and help prevent the destruction of the multi-verse.
This is a Spider-Man fan’s dream come true. While those only familiar with the live action movies will probably only be aware of Peter Parker, comic enthusiasts are well-versed in the many adventures of the Spider-Men and -Women who reside in alternate realities. From Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) to Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage) to Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) all the way through to the film’s secret weapon, a talking pig named Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Screenwriters Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman draw inspiration from decades worth of material, including some more recent runs that I never thought I’d see on the big screen, such as Spider-Gwen, which debuted in 2015.
With Easter eggs for every level of fandom, there’s no way any True Believer won’t leave the theatre jazzed and delighted, but, at the same time, Lord and Rothman have found that perfect balance of fan service and casual enjoyment. You don’t have to be familiar with Spidey lore to find enjoyment in this animated epic. It’s a film so unfathomably fun that it’s impossible not to love. Lord and Rothman bring their idiosyncratic, self aware, larger than life style that worked wonders in the 21 Jump Street and LEGO Movie franchises to the Spider-Man universe, combining that together with the best elements of the MCU for one hell of a ride. The story is fresh, emotionally resonate and full of surprises. Each of the characters feels fleshed out and loveable, and I’d happily spend ten more movies with each of them.
Peni Parker is the least interesting of the lot, but it’s mostly because she’s given the littlest to do, and hey, it’s always nice to hang around fresh faces. Miles proves to be a wondrous protagonist, whose personal arc and relationship with his family allows for a grounded and compelling central narrative, one I hope eventually translates into live action, but the real scene-stealers are Spider-Ham and Spider-Man Noir. The latter’s fish out of water, ever-brooding characterisation never gets old, only further perfected by utterly sensational voice work by Nic Cage, who, after playing Superman earlier in the year in Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, I hope goes on to voice every animated superhero ever made. He deserves it.
But while each individual character proves fascinating in their own right, including minor non-powered characters (this is the best interpretation of Aunt May yet), it’s the scenes in which they all come together as a team that really elevate the already sensational film. It does fall victim to the occasional superhero movie trope in the first act, but that’s all part of the charm, especially given the self-aware style it persists on. Once the alternate Spider-powered characters come into the mix, the film is utter perfection and hilariously bonkers in all the right ways.
The unprecedented visual style is a unique experimentation of the limits of animation. Every frame replicates the look and style of an old-school comic book, all the way down to the scene transitions and inner monologues of these characters. Words and thought bubbles physically appear on screen, and several famous frames and scenes from a variety of medias are all paid homage to. Better yet, each new character brings about the visual style utilised in their respective comic book. Spider-Ham, for instance, is more of a Warner. Bros cartoon, while Spider-Gwen is designed in watercolours, and Peni Parker is anime. They each stand out, yet they all fit right in.
Marvel fans, you may want to bring along some tissues, as there’s a Stan Lee cameo that, given how recent his passing was, hits really close to home. It’s a less comedic cameo than his prior appearances and his opening lines brought about a number of “awww’s” throughout the audience. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film Stan would certainly be proud of. It’s a celebration of the universe he helped birth and the fans that expanded it. You haven’t seen a Spider-Man movie like this before. Heck, you haven’t really seen a superhero movie like this before. Even the post credit scene is utterly phenomenal, and one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen all year. You’re going to absolutely love this movie. I can’t wait to share the joy with all of you.
4 1/2 Stars
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