First-rate Spidey meets world-class animation.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shouldn’t work. The stupefying, impossibly conceived action sequences beckon belief, the stuffed ensemble (which brings together an unlikely smorgasbord of actors) defies norms, and the implausible level of quality of an adventure with the web-slinger coming from Sony feels like a throwback to simpler days. But Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr and Rodney Rothman’s extraordinary feature shatters doubts; it’s a superlative, cross-genre achievement of an insanely high degree.
Forget the neighbourhood Spider-Man you know for a second. This isn’t a Peter Parker tale, it belongs to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). He’s your pretty standard high school kid; cocky and shy in equal measure, angsty with his parents (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) but chilled with his cool uncle (Mahershala Ali). During a late night, spray-painting jaunt down in a subway, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider. What happens next? Well, he finds himself endowed with a growing set of powers: sticky hands that backfire when he tries to flirt with new-girl Gwen (Hailee Steinfield), increased strength and superhuman agility.
The humour in the origin of any Spider-Man is yet to be proven ineffective, but the directors here make sure to blend it with coming-of-age comedy to elevate it beyond your expected slapstick. Before he knows it, he’s watching the other Spidey, aka Peter (Jake Johnson) fight Green Goblin. He knows he could maybe help, but he’s afraid. But Peter soon finds him and offers to train him; all the while Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) unleashes a device which opens portals to other worlds, which drag several other versions of Spider-Man into Miles’ life. Kingpin must be stopped, but the friendly neighbourhood ‘Spider-People’ need to return to their respective dimensions, or else they’ll glitch out and die.
Johnson’s Peter actually opens the fare, with a stomach-hurtingly funny self-referential roast of himself and his previous outings. But the writing is fantastically consistent, the script having been penned by Rothman and Phil Lord, the latter of whom’s contribution is glowing proof of his talents (alongside producing partner Christopher Miller), but a sad indication of how great Solo: A Star Wars Story could have been if they hadn’t been shafted. There’s jollity that will appeal to everyone, and the script, despite being packed to the brim, is chucklesome, grown-up and equipped with a disarming wit that could easily rival and perhaps best Deadpool in a meta-savvy battle.
A quick introduction to your lesser-known wall-crawlers: Spider-Gwen (Steinfield); Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her crime-fighting mech-bot; Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a Looney Tunes-esque hammer-thumping hero; and last but by no means least, the spectacular Spider-Noir (Nicholas Cage). Each have their own qualities – Mulaney’s unabated, animated voice work provides the most glorious of immature laughs. Steinfield is a terrific performer, and here she only needs a voice to prove her talents. But the highlight is Cage, who plays Noir with a hysterical earnestness and stout manliness (he burns matches down to his finger tips “just to feel something”).
Every person behind the mic brings their all here (even those on music duties; ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ makes an appearance, as well as Post Malone’s ‘Sunflower’ and a bombastic, bass-stroked composition from Daniel Pemberton). Moore and Johnson are a superb pair, the former bringing that cherished naivety that makes his character the more charming, the latter embodying a more experienced, slightly-less valiant version of Spidey we’ve come to expect.
So you’ve got top-tier writing, fabulous direction on all accounts and a game voice-cast – all that’s left to worry about now is the animation. Curb your scepticism. Spider-Verse is a kaleidoscopic conglomeration of rampant imaginations. Even the colder-stylised scenes are dazzling, but in the set-pieces, the explosion of colour is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The depth in the rendering is astonishingly conceived, taking a breathtaking level of detail and maintaining it through every “bam”, “wallop”, “boom” moment of joyous mayhem. The smallest touches really tickle (the simple inclusion of a “clackity clack” in the background after a noise), and the ostentatious, hyperactive battles engulf you completely. This is truly a comic-book come to life, taking you back to sitting on your bedroom floor, buried in your favourite world, dreaming up amazing conflicts in your head that could never be realised; until now. Spider-Man 2 (on a personal level) remains the best outing of everyone’s favourite superhero, but this is a feat which can’t, nay, shan’t go ignored; really, quite special.
Beautiful, hilarious, enthralling, inspiring; everything Spidey stands for and more. Masterpiece.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm