SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Stars: voices of: Shamiek Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Chris Pine, Jake Johnson, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Stan Lee, Zoe Kravitz, Luna Lauren Velez, Natalie Morales, Oscar Isaac, Lake Bell.

Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Shameik Moore, and Kimiko Glenn in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)From Marvel Studios in association with Sony Animation Studios this subversive take on the whole superhero genre gives us one of the more sophisticated examples of animation to hit our screens in recent years. This ambitious film raises the bar on what animation can achieve as well as sets a new standard for superhero movies.

The film offers a new take on the iconic superhero who was first created by the late Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962. It centres around Miles Morales (voiced by Shamiek Moore, who made his debut in the gritty coming of age drama Dope, etc), an Afro-Hispanic teen trying to adjust to the elite private school for gifted children he attends after winning a scholarship. His father Jefferson (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) is an honest hard working and straight-laced cop, while his mother Rio (voiced by Luna Lauren Velez) is a dedicated nurse. Miles himself is obsessed with Spiderman, although his father is not as enamoured with the vigilante superhero.

But Miles also loves hanging out with his street-smart uncle Aaron (Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, from Moonlight, etc), especially when they sneak into the New York subway system at night to spray graffiti on the walls. During one such nocturnal expedition though Miles is bitten by a genetically-altered radioactive spider and soon finds himself turning into Spiderman. While trying to harness his new powers he also has to figure out his place in the world while experiencing the usual teenage angst. Miles tries to help out the real Spiderman who is trying to prevent the villainous Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schreiber) from using a super collider to open a portal into another dimension.

Then things begin to get a little crazy for Miles. Spiderman (Chris Pine) is killed during the fight, and Miles is left confused and consumed by guilt. But soon other incarnations of Spiderman are brought into his world from other dimensions via the portal. There is a seedy and jaded and slightly out of condition Spiderman (Jake Johnson) who is undergoing something of a midlife crisis and who has to reluctantly mentor Miles in harnessing his powers; a hard boiled 30s-style black and white version known as Spider Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage); a female version with Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, from the upcoming Bumblebee, etc) donning the costume after having been bitten by a radioactive spider instead od Peter; an anime version with Penni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her spiderbot technically powered suit; and, most bizarrely of all, the wise cracking anthropomorphic Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), aka Peter Porker.

These various incarnations of the web slinging hero have to work together with Miles to try and close the portal to avert disaster and return to their own alternate universes.

The character of Miles Morales was created in 2011 by veteran Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, and this feature film serves as a wonderful origins story for the character. The subversive and playful, imaginative script for Spiderman: Into The Spider-verse comes from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (22 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, etc), and is full of their irreverent, anarchic brand of humour, lots of clever in-jokes, and visual references to other live action adaptations of Spiderman. They draw upon the mythology of Spiderman himself as well as the various other incarnations of the character created by artists over the decades to shape the film and poke fun at the character. But it is the relationship between all these different Spider-persons that adds to the emotional heart of the material.

The film has been directed by Bob Persichetti (a former animator making his first feature film) and Peter Ramsey (Rise Of The Guardians, etc). Spiderman: Into The Spider-verse features plenty of stylish visuals that mix CGI visuals with more traditional hand drawn animation, anime-style animation, comic book panels, colourful graphics and plenty of eye-popping action sequences tempered with generous doses of humour, combined with an intelligent and multi-layered storyline. The over the top climactic showdown with the villain with its high level of destruction and chaos is typical of most of the superhero movies in the Marvel canon, but seems to work well in this animated form. The distinctive look of the film at times resembles a comic book, and the animation pushes the visuals in a direction that live action can’t.

The strong vocal cast also includes veteran Lily Tomlin, who provides the voice for Aunt May, a far more feisty take on the familiar character; Katheryn Hahn as Dr Olivia Octavius, a different take on Doc Ock, one of Spiderman’s notorious villains; and Zoe Kravitz as Mary Jane. And there is even an animated cameo for Lee himself, which adds a poignant note to the film.

Spiderman: Into The Spider-verse is a stand along superhero movie that doesn’t fit into the MCU. It gives us not only one of the best superhero offerings for quite some time, but arguably the best Spiderman movie. It is not as heavy or down beat as either Black Panther or the recent Avengers: Infinity War and leaves us wanting more of the adventures of Miles and his superhero alter ego.

★★★★

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