The best Spider-Man movie since Sam Raimi’s second one, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse also has the wildest, trippiest sights seen in a Marvel movie since Doctor Strange.
But more than just being a showcase (oops, wrong publisher) of astonishing vistas, it is also an infectiously free-spirited and energetic celebration of all things Spider-Man, and also of every fond memory you have from reading comics.
With a visual sense that veers wildly from slick computer-animated neorealism to plain old four-colour printing of the kind found in old comics (with the colour registration even seeming “off” in places), Into The Spider-Verse is a bold approach to telling a familiar story and it pays off in spades.
After all, face it, True Believer – when it comes to superhero movies, there’s nothing more familiar (and more in danger of growing stale really fast) than an origin story.
At least, it involves a character who is not only new to the movies but relatively young in comic years, too.
The central Spider-Man here is Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) – a youngster who (in 2011, in the Ultimate line of comics set in a parallel dimension to the “regular” Marvel Universe) took on the Wall-Crawler’s role after Peter Parker died.
While the core content of the origin story is pretty standard, the charm and pizzazz (ah, correct publisher this time) of the film lie in how it tells its tale.
As the title indicates, there is a whole multiverse of parallel dimensions out there, each with its own incarnation of the hero.
And something really monumental happens to bring a motley bunch of these Alt-Spideys to Miles’s dimension, just as he is struggling with his newfound superpowers.
The less you know about this one going in, the more you will enjoy it. That was certainly my experience, since the trailer I saw didn’t reveal much aside from the different Spideys involved. The extended sneak peek tacked on after the end credits of Venom did not exactly impress me either, since it gave no context in which the viewer could appreciate it.
So to be honest, I went in expecting this to be a passably entertaining diversion at best.
Was I ever mistaken – but also happy to have been wrong.
Spider-Verse is crafted with a clear love for comics and the superhero genre, even according the late Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee a cameo that speaks volumes and is now all the more poignant after his recent passing.
The writers – Lego Movie co-creator Phil Lord and his 22 Jump Street script collaborator Rodney Rothman – have the uncanny knack of knowing just when to pull back before reverence becomes overindulgent fawning, and how to take the mickey out of their material without being disrespectful.
(Admittedly, certain subjects of this gentle mockery, such as Tobey Maguire’s dance/strut in Spider-Man 3, and the overuse of the “with great power, etc” phrase, could stand a little more dissing than what they get here.)
There is some pretty strong emotional content, involving not just the main character but also the “guest Spideys” and even the central villain.
Those familiar with the comics will also realise that Miles’s family dynamic (once it is established on-screen) is going to cause him a great deal of unexpected heartache further along.
And when that moment comes, Spider-Verse milks it for all the grandly operatic import you would expect of such larger-than-life stories.
Voice acting is pitch-perfect all round, with Nicolas Cage standing out for a hilarious take on Spider-Man Noir (a dark, brooding vigilante patterned in part after the masked 1930s non-Marvel pulp fiction character The Spider).
Interdimensional sagas tend to be a little hard on the noggin, but rest assured that you don’t need a degree in advanced Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble to follow the continuum-busting hijinks here.
No, just let this little gem grab you by the collar and haul you onto its neon-lined dance floor. Cartwheels optional.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Voice cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Jake Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn