DIR: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman • WRI: Phil Lord • DOP: Bob Kelly • ED: Síle Ní Fhlaibhín • DES: Justin Thompson • MUS: Daniel Pemberton PRO: Avi Arad, Phil Lord. Christopher Miller, Amy Pascal, Christina Steinberg • CAST: Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber
It’s difficult to get Spider-Man wrong. It’s more difficult to get six versions of the character – all with their own distinct designs and personalities – right but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does it and then some. With a warm, pull-no-punches story and impeccable voice acting and animation Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse asserts itself as not just the best comic book movie of 2018 but as a defining moment in comic book movies.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and after watching his universe’s Spider-Man (Chris Pine) die takes on the mantle to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and shut down the Super-Collider that will destroy New York. The Super-Collider has brought five other Spider-People into Miles’ universe. There’s the schlubby, older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), the competent but aloof Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the Nazi punching Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Looney Tunes caricature Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney).
All of these characters get their moment in the sun but it’s Miles that the movie belongs to. Essentially an origin story Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse wears this fact proudly and twists it in a variety of interesting ways. Thrown in at the deep end with a useless teacher and little time to learn the ropes Miles’ trials and tribulation become the beating heart of a movie that’s never ashamed to make fun of itself or frightened to up end tropes such as the classic Uncle Ben moment.
The problem with a lot of big-budget animation films is that a famous voice cast can often treat it like an easy paycheque. Not here though. Cage is worth a particular mention with his performance drawing on classic actors from the 1930s like Bogart and Cagney. Mahershala Ali’s turn is heart-wrenching, and unusually but not unwelcomely so is Schreiber as a strangely relatable and hilariously animated Kingpin. But it’s the likes of Moore, Johnson and Steinfeld that ground the film in its very real, very affecting story.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t afraid to dive deep into grief and loss. The death of the original Spider-Man in Miles’ universe hits like a hammer blow in a protracted but never overstayed moment. This is helped by the animation which makes the New York of the film feel like a living, breathing city. The vibrant colours and techniques such as the inclusion of split screens, thought bubbles and ‘POW!’ exclamations remind that this film is not just a warm, funny and thoughtful story but a warm, funny and thoughtful comic book story.
At two hours Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never rushes or drags. It was a film I was content to bask in with a world, no universe, that would be criminal not to revisit. Even the film’s end credits scene is worth staying for. Quality right to the end. As Marvel enters its darkest era yet Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a reminder not only of how enjoyably bright these films can be but how enjoyably bright these films should be. The world is a grim place right now but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just a light to rest by but one to be guided by.