SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Shameik Moore (Dope), Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Liev Schreiber (Spotlight), Brian Tyree Henry (Widows), John Mulaney (Big Mouth), Nicolas Cage (Con Air)

Directors: Bob Persichetti & Peter Ramsey (Rise of the Guardians) & Rodney Rothman

Writers: Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie) and Rodney Rothman (22 Jump Street)

Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes

Release Date: 12 December (UK), 14 December (US)

We’ve had a lot of different Spider-Mans over the years (or is it Spider-Men? I don’t know. With this one, not all of them are even men now and…you know what, it doesn’t matter). We had the carefree, optimistic Tobey Maguire years, the divisive angst-ridden Andrew Garfield flicks, and right now Tom Holland is representing Ol’ Webhead over in the MCU. So do we need not only a new wall-crawler, but six and maybe more to come? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse makes an incredibly strong case for yes. Yes we do.

Spider-Verse is an incredibly jam-packed movie, and someone who doesn’t know their Doc Ocks from their Green Goblins may be initially overwhelmed at first. However, once you get past all the talk of multiple dimensions and some of the more obscure in-jokes, this is an incredibly hearty and relatable coming-of-age story that people of any age can enjoy; you’ll just enjoy it in a different way if you’re already a devoted Spider-Fan. There is not a wasted moment in the incredibly efficient screenplay, keeping the story flowing at a perfectly judged pace, but what’s more impressive than anything else in Spider-Verse’s storytelling is its balancing of tone. With Phil Lord co-writing, along with him and Chris Miller producing, it’d be easy to assume this is another self-referential comedy in the vein of The LEGO Movie or 21 Jump Street. Whilst there is definitely an air of that, especially when the humour makes fan service deep cuts, the film has more in its pockets than just postmodern wit. Spider-Verse is an emotionally rich film that seamlessly flits from fist-pumping moments of joy, to heart-pounding action, and then to a few moments that may inspire a tear to sweeten the deal. It demonstrates an undeniable passion for Spider-Man, and it uses those building blocks to tell a story that reminds you why he’s been a beloved character for over fifty years: because he is in all of us, and all of us have the potential to be like him.

If there is anything to nitpick about Spider-Verse, it’s that it is so crowded with characters that not all of them get as much time to shine and develop as one might like. But conversely, I’d argue that whilst I’d certainly like to have seen more of nearly all of these characters, everyone gets just enough screen time to prop up who this story is actually about (and hey, who’s to say we won’t get more of those other characters in sequels or spin-offs?) Whilst the marketing has pitched Spider-Verse as something of an ensemble, at its heart this is a Miles Morales movie, and a long-overdue one at that. A fan favourite finally given the mainstream spotlight he deserves, Miles is a perfect encapsulation of what Spider-Man means to the modern audience, bringing diversity and reliability in a genuine fashion. Shameik Moore’s fantastic voice work brings to life a character all audiences can glom onto, and his journey from jaded teen to bonafide superhero will inspire a generation of kids who grow up watching this movie. No matter where this franchise goes from here, Miles deserves plenty more opportunity to thrive.

But what about all these other Spider-People swinging about the place? (Spider-People? Nah, that’s a little too generic. Spider-…Folks? Spider-Crew? Spider-Gang? Nothing seems to sound right!) Well, all of them are amazing in their own ways too. Jake Johnson brings a humorous world-weariness to a down-on-his-luck Peter Parker, with his pessimistic and dismissive demeanour acting as a perfect counterpoint to Miles’ optimistic determination. Hailee Steinfeld’s Gwen Stacy is perfectly pitched too, bringing a jaded punk-rock sense of cool that’ll certainly make her a favourite of fearsome young girls in the audience; if they are making a spin-off based around her and other Spider-Femmes as reported, I’m all for it. The remaining heroes are mostly there for comedic purposes, but that doesn’t make any of them any less enjoyable. Kimiko Glenn is absolutely adorable as Peni Parker, Nicolas Cage is a deadpan delight as Spider-Man Noir, and John Mulaney makes every moment he has as Spider-Ham an absolute joy to witness (and no, the character is not a reference to The Simpsons Movie! Spider-Ham was created back in 1983 by…oh god, I sounded like Comic Book Guy in your head just now, didn’t I?)

It doesn’t end there either, because there are supporting characters in this movie who don’t have the proportional strength of a spider, you know? The easy standout amongst these is Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’ father Jefferson Davis, delivering some of the story’s most tender and touching moments. Lily Tomlin is perhaps the best Aunt May ever despite her limited screen time, and though Mahershala Ali feels a little underused as Miles’ Uncle Aaron he brings his A-game as always. There’s a whole boatload of more supporting turns, but I won’t give them away considering the marketing hasn’t, but just know there is a ton more Spider-Lore in here that you might expect. As the lead villain is Liev Schreiber’s Kingpin, who delivers decidedly more mobster approach to the crime lord with his thick-accented New York lingo, but he’s a threatening presence nonetheless and his motivations are far more nuanced than just another “take over the multiverse” master plan; just like everyone else, Kingpin is motivated for deeply personal emotional reasons, and that makes the overall journey all the more powerful.

With all of this talk of characters, I haven’t even gotten to how spectacular Spider-Verse is on a technical level. Plenty of animated films before have tried to emulate the hand drawn/painterly/comic book look, but this one captures it in a vibrant and definitive manner. The way it balances a vast array of artistic styles and makes it all flow together makes the experience of watching the movie encapsulating from beginning to end, and the amount of detail in the tiniest of character ticks and background details will have animation fans scouring every last frame for inspiration. The medium also allows the character of Spider-Man to be brought to life in a way no live-action film could ever aspire to capture, with his web-swinging feats of derring-do never looking more fluid and spider-like. Further sweetening the deal is the music, with Daniel Pemberton’s score fusing classic superhero score with hip-hop and techno evocative of Ludwig Goransson’s work on Black Panther, and the soundtrack picks are excellently chosen from top to bottom for emotional and humorous effect.

If you can’t tell already from the last thousand words of gushing, I absolutely adore Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It easily takes the title of best Spider-Man movie ever without contest, but it is also the best superhero movie of the year, the best animated movie of the year, and certainly a strong contender for best movie of 2018 in general. There are so many places where this movie could have fallen apart in less deft hands, but shockingly every decision made here was the correct one. What else is there really to say that I haven’t rhapsodized about already? If you were in any way inclined to see this movie before, do so at your earliest opportunity, and do so even if you weren’t. I genuinely believe even the most thick-skinned, worn-down-by-superhero-fatigue person will find something here to love. So do we now have more than enough different versions of Spider-Man? Honestly, after this, I don’t think we ever will.


P.S. I know most of us have trained ourselves to sit through the credits of a superhero movie now, but please, please stay for this one! Can’t say much more, but it is truly amazing for all of the best and worst reasons!

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 19.46.22

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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