Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Nicolas Cage
It’s too much, man! If it’s not the brain-battering collision of every character imaginable in the MCU smashing their gloved fists into one another, it’s the dreary drudgery of DC’s Justice whathaveyous, the utter awfulness of Venom, the run-of-the-mill shenanigans of Ant-Man And The Wasp or the upcoming and laughable-looking Aquaman. I was hard won over by the comic book movie craze, but it got hold of me and I’ve been the dutiful consumer. I’ve caught up and kept up with the Avengers, the Guardians etc. I’ve gone into battle for Wonder Woman and Black Panther. But I’ve even heard comic book lovers – the faithful and the fanatic – sigh wearily this year that we’ve reach saturation point. Too many goddamn superhero movies.
And now here’s this. Another Spider-Man reboot? It’s too much!
…but hold on…
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a new animated iteration hitting cinemas this December. And it’s mixing things up, a lot. With gorgeous animation that uses rotoscoping techniques and which adheres doggedly to the look and feel of chasing your favourite characters over the panels of a page, Spider-Verse is the most eye-catching of spectacles. It is, for once, a literal comic book movie. Characters’ thoughts spring up in text boxes, explosions are wrought in expanding wedges of colour, and everywhere there’s the textural haze of ink on the page.
That its akin to the stop-motion verisimilitude of The LEGO Movie is no coincidence. A key name in the creative process here is Phil Lord, who together with Chris Miller brought Emmett and co. to our screens a few years ago. Having one half of that dynamic duo is plenty, it transpires, and much of the humour splattered through Spider-Verse is of a familiar, post-modernist stripe. There’s a persistent playfulness, self-referential and self-deprecating.
Peter Parker is dead. Ten years into his career as Spider-Man, he’s been shot by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) in the aftermath of some nefarious experiment with an advanced (and dangerous) super-collider in the sewers beneath New York. RIP Spider-man. Witness to this is young Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a high schooler with a gift for graffiti. Miles is bitten by a different radioactive spider and lo, he starts to develop his own super-human skills. But with Parker gone, who will help him hone his skills?
Not Tony Stark, that’s for sure. Neatly stepping around the proprietary mess of Sony vs Marvel, Spider-Verse itself takes place in an alternate dimension to the MCU’s ongoing, finger-snapping timeline. The existence of multiple dimensions becomes key, as the title suggests. Activating the super-collider has brought several other spider-people into Miles’ universe. It’s time for a madcap, all-inclusive romp, one that manages to make a long (long) joke out of that one famed sequence in The Simpsons Movie.
That Morales himself is a young black man of mixed American and Latino descent also helps bolster the worthy message bumping up this manic caper; that superheroes can be anybody and true heroism isn’t bracketed by race or gender. Hailee Steinfeld voices Gwen, a girl at Morales’ school who is also much more than she initially appears to be. So empowerment overflows in Spider-Verse and belongs to all comers. On that score the film is almost impossible to knock, and kudos to the team of writers who have so mindfully engaged with the youth and optimism of their target audience, acknowledging a generation increasingly weary of stereotypes.
And yet, the plot machinations are largely cookie cutter. That’s the nature of the genre, which is pinned by certain tropes as securely as the war film or the western. What’s left to be stunned by are the high velocity visuals, which dazzle deliriously from beginning to end. So much so that, frankly, it all becomes a little bit numbing; a little but exhausting. It seems churlish to complain of getting too much of a good thing, but at 117 minutes, this is a long animated film, and the all-out assault has a habit of becoming bludgeoning.
In short, the movie is a first-class headache machine. Make sure you’re well rested and hydrated before booking your seat.
For Spider-Man fans and those with a vested interest in animated movies, this is an essential watch, and the big screen sensation is akin to watching a firework let loose in a Skittles factory. For this viewer, it was a smart, inventive and refreshing take on an all-too-familiar character. Even if, at times, it was all a little too much, man.