SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Director : Bob Persichetti, Pete Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast : Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Jake Johnson, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Zoë Kravitz
Genre : Animation/Comics
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens : 13 December 2018
Rating : PG
You know Peter Parker, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. In this animated film, various Spider-people are putting the “tangle” in “quantum entanglement”, in a story that’s just a little different from the Spider-Man story you’re likely familiar with.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager who’s the son of police officer Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), is your regular Brooklyn teenager. He is enrolled into a snooty private school and feels like only his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who encourages Miles’ artistic pursuits, really understands him. One night, while painting graffiti in an abandoned railway station, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, gaining super-strength, the ability to stick to surfaces by his hands and feet, the ability to emanate an electric shock and turn invisible, amongst various powers.
Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who owns the megacorporation Alchemax, is constructing a particle collider under the building. The collider opens a portal to other dimensions, leading to the Spider-themed heroes of various realms tumbling into Miles’ world. Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) is washed-up and reluctantly teaches Miles how to be Spider-Man. Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) became Spider-Woman and was unable to save the Peter Parker of her universe from death. Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) is a schoolgirl who pilots a mech called SP//DR. Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) is a hard-boiled private eye from a stylised 1930s, and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) is a cartoon animal parody of Spider-Man. Together, these heroes from disparate realities must defeat Kingpin and other villains to find a way back to their respective dimensions, as Miles comes to grips with his newfound powers and the attendant responsibilities.
The filmmakers of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse are painfully aware that practically everyone knows the Spider-Man story, and this animated film is ambitious in that it’s a Spider-Man movie that’s partially about how there are so many Spider-Man movies. On a certain level, it’s philosophical, musing on the universal hero’s journey that echoes through all of fiction, presenting it in wild and woolly permutations. As an animated film, it’s naturally toyetic and is targeted mainly at a kid audience, but it’s also packed with meta jokes (likely influenced by the success of the Deadpool movies) and is not only self-aware but exhibits great medium awareness. This movie does a bunch of things that wouldn’t be possible in a live-action film, and it is interesting to see how that is handled.
However, what makes Into the Spider-Verse stand out from the typical Spider-Man movie also makes it a bit of a mess. The look of the film is a great place to start: the animation is dynamic and eye-catching, employing comic book panels, thought bubbles, onomatopoeia and Ben-Day dots, amongst other devices, to mimic the feel of a comic book. The style deliberately evokes the artwork of Ultimate Spider-Man co-creator Sara Pichelli, and the film is often wondrous to look at. However, there is so much chromatic aberration and the animation is deliberately jerky in a way that tries to blend 3D and 2D animation, so the visual flourishes can wind up being excessive and distracting.
The same is true of the story. We start with a basic Spider-Man template and focusing the story on the Miles Morales incarnation of Spidey does make things inherently different. The film wants its emotional anchor to be the relationship between Miles and his father, but the story gets so cluttered with its multiple Spider-people and villains that one can sometimes lose track of that thread.
Tonally, Into the Spider-Verse seems a little confused. There are plenty of jokes and a lot of the humour is self-referential, but in aiming for dramatic stakes, some scenes and plot points are shockingly dark. A character even gets punched to death onscreen. Some moments are effectively emotional, but others feel out of place.
The voice cast is excellent across the board. Shameik Moore’s Miles is excited but also confused and wracked with self-doubt, and the character is created to be relatable to a large audience, something Moore leans into in his performance.
Hailee Steinfeld captures Gwen’s confidence and charm, but also the quality of being haunted by a personal failure that follows most Spider-people. Jake Johnson brings a certain schlubby quality to his Spider-Man, but another thing that might lose some kids in the audience is that a main character in this movie is a divorced, out-of-shape Spider-Man facing a mid-life crisis.
Brian Tyree Henry brings both humour and authority to his portrayal of Jefferson, while Mahershala Ali’s laid-back coolness and the suggestion that there’s more going on with Miles ‘cool uncle’ than we know flesh the Aaron Davis character out satisfyingly.
Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir is one of the film’s highlights – and in the same year that he voiced Superman in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, as well. John Mulaney and Kimiko Glenn likewise play up how their characters homage classic Looney Tunes cartoons and schoolgirl/mech anime respectively.
Liev Schreiber’s Kingpin is at times almost as frightening as Vincent D’Onofrio’s in the Daredevil series, but the character’s especially exaggerated proportions can undercut his menace as a villain.
Lily Tomlin’s Aunt May, functioning kind of like Alfred with a Batcave-like secret headquarters that she oversees, is a delight.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is boldly experimental and hits more than it misses with its self-reflexive jokes. However, the film winds up feeling significantly longer than its 117 minutes, with a lot of plot to get to, in addition to feeling a little self-conscious about its out-there visual stylings. Stick around for a scene after the end credits.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars