Before my mates dragged me to the cinema to check out the new Spider-Man I’d heard little about it. As I sat down in my seat, I got comfortable and prepared myself for what I assumed would be a soulless, blatant cash-grab.
But boy was I wrong. This… this is my favourite movie of 2018, without a shadow of a doubt. It might even be one of my favourite superhero movies full stop, bringing me back into the fold and giving me the motivation I needed to re-evaluate Homecoming and finally give Infinity War a watch: two things I’m now very glad I did.
The film introduces us to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a student struggling to adjust to life at his elite boarding school and live up to the expectations of his parents. Soon, in typical Spidey fashion, he is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops extraordinary powers. Following the experiments of an incredibly rendered man-mountain of a Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), Miles bumps into Peter Parker… from an alternate universe. This isn’t the Peter we’ve come to know however; he’s plump, middle-aged, worn out – the perfect contrast to Miles’ enthusiasm and fervour. They’re not alone though, soon they are joined by Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Noir (Nicholas Cage), Penni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and amusingly, Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and must team up to destroy Fisk’s dangerous machine and return home.
I like to make a point of differentiating between films that I enjoy and films that are well-made, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is definitely both. The script, co-written by Phil Lord – half of the creative duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie (accompanied by Chris Miller) – has the same irreverent charm and self-awareness of its predecessors and is all the better for it, the closest thing I’ve seen to a comic book come to life. Stuffed to bursting with in-jokes, nods and references for big fans of the comics, Spider-Verse walks a line between meta-humour irreverence, and heartwarming charm. With the help of some excellent voice-acting, the film effortlessly hits its most affecting plot beats, hopefully a reassurance for more casual viewers.
Spider-Verse‘s visual style is certainly its most arresting aspect. All too easy would it have been for the filmmakers to imitate the annual Dreamworks/Illumination offerings, but instead they opted for more of a pop-art look, each frame a cross between Ben Day-processed comic panels and a psychedelic drug trip. An extra vernacular of captions, thought-bubbles, and onomatopoeic visual vocab (“wham!”, “bang!”, “pow!”) injects every scene with an added burst of energy and fun. The different animation styles for the alternate Spideys and the glitchy effects of an unravelling universe, although initially jarring, will ultimately have you wishing all animation studios put in this much effort.
Style extends far beyond the visual however, and Spider-Verse subverts expectation musically too, foregoing the customary orchestral fanfare of superhero flicks for a hip-hop, jazz and R&B-inspired musical palette. Both this, and having the main character be a hero of colour, are laudable touches for such a watershed year for diversity in cinema. If The Lego Movie‘s soundtrack was a lampoon of consumerism, Spider-Verse‘s (like Black Panther‘s) aims to draw attention to race issues in Hollywood.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller have here proved their knack for turning what would otherwise be box office duds into bright, colourful, fun, even touching movies. If The Lego Movie wasn’t enough proof, Spider-Verse definitely is.