Kids today. No idea how lucky they are. Ageing comic book geeks like me spent most of the 1990s getting good Batman, bad Batman, Bat-nipples and a woeful Judge Dredd. And mere rumours of Spider-Man (from James Cameron, no less). The struggle was real, but the idea of no Spider-Man in cinema is now unimaginable. He’s even taken a rightful place within The Avengers and the MCU, despite the efforts of Thanos and Sony.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe appears to know no bounds in its ambition. We’ve gone from thinking that dependable old Peter Parker might not make it to the silver screen at all to a talking racoon and his pet tree hoovering up the global box office. Even Venom, one of Parker’s more eccentric villains, did pretty well as a stand-alone movie.
We’re in uncharted territory for cinema. Even so, I thought the multiverse might be a step too far when the trailer for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse dropped. The Marvel/DC comic multiverse was narrative short-hand to synchronise the myriad of stories crossing over and making no sense at all. DC even had the “Zero Hour” event which envisaged the universe being destroyed and recreated, just so they could cancel loads of redundant titles.
The multi-dimension hopping stories have since been embraced with nothing but trusting enthusiasm by fans and so the idea does translate to cinema brilliantly. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an utter delight. Despite 7 Spider-People-Things (maybe 8 if you count Peter twice), it’s not in the least bit convoluted.
It’s a simple trick, really. All of the superhero films, be they Marvel, DC, Pixar, Sony, Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, follow the same basic formula (Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are virtually the same narrative with interchangeable characters). The good-hearted stories (even Deadpool) are nuclear-powered soap operas. The threats can get bigger, messier, sillier, but so long as there’s a touchstone for the audience, we’ll believe anything and love every minute. It’s easy to be cynical, but cynicism has no place in comics.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is machine-tooled perfection in this regard and others. The story follows Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teen who gets bitten by a spider and… you know the rest (the film hilariously plays with the notion we’ve seen this origin time and time again). Miles sees the real Spider-Man get killed by Kingpin and feels a responsibility to finish the mission, but he’s just a kid. Then along come five more Spider-heroes from other dimensions. They range from the obvious (an older, fatter Parker) to the insane Spider-Ham: a Looney Toons inspired pig, not to be outdone by Homer Simpson.
The film sort of takes place in its own dimension too as there are no hooks into the current Avengers plot, but it does poke fun at the Raimi films and classic comics with charming irreverence, including a wonderful cameo by the much-missed Stan Lee. Playful dialogue has as much rhythm as the excellent soundtrack. The atmosphere feels closest to Big Hero Six, but the style is fresh. Animation is getting more innovative with every passing year, both in technique and narrative. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is no exception and has bold, invigorating art. It’s smooth and crisp and yet, look closer, scratchy, frenetic and unpredictable. You can feel the hands at work behind the images and you can feel the love for the Spider-Man universe fuelling every moment.
Spider-Man has always been special in a way that’s hard to quantify. Possibly Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s finest creation, he’s the archetype comic-book hero and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse embraces the mythology with an infectious joy. Oh, and as usual, stay watching through the credits.
Alternate Universe Mode: A clever way of spinning out storyboards and ideas that didn’t make it in. It fits the theme and is great fun, but another way of getting to the material without watching the entire thing would have been good.
Filmmaker commentary: Fun, engaging and full of facts considering this is such an extraordinary film for many reasons
Caught in a Ham: Spider-Ham in a classic Looney Toons style short (4m)
We Are Spider-Man (8m) and Spider-Verse: A New Dimension (5m) are both a bit thin and frustratingly brief look at the cast and style of the film.
The Ultimate Comics Cast (15m) is more substantial and the title speaks for itself, looking at the voices behind the characters.
Designing Cinematic Comic Book Characters: Heroes and Hams (8m) and Scoundrels and Scorpions (5m) insight into the design of characters we know really well. Or thought we did.
A Tribute to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (9m): this is just lovely for True Believers as the filmmakers explain Lee and Ditko’s influence on them.
The Spider-Verse Super Fan Easter Egg Challenge (5m): this is like catnip for geeks and you’ll immediately want to watch the film again as the crew explain loads of the eggs. Especially as they are barely scratching the surface.
Also included are lyric videos for Sunflower and Familia. Plus, a one-minute preview for Hotel Transylvania 3 gets a menu link.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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