The wildest, wittiest web-slinging Spidey movie yet
In a spiffing fusion of Marvel’s aesthetic the makers have laboured to replicate the look and feel of Stan Lee’s comics
How fitting that just a month after Stan Lee died, the most detailed homage conceivable to his art and legacy lands in cinemas. It’s not another live-action Marvel sequel – give us a moment to breathe, for all that’s holy – but an animated one.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is produced by the guys who made The Lego Movie, which is just a starting indication of the wit, speed and irreverence it unleashes. Swiftly wiping its hands of Peter Parker’s origin story – “I am the one and only Spider-Man!” he boasts, very incorrectly – it switches tack straightaway to tell the tale of Miles Morales, a new character created in 2011 and voiced here by Shameik Moore.
Miles is a black-Hispanic teenager living in New York City who has a Spidey-saga of his own to relate, and emerges as one of the most appealing new heroes in the Marvel pantheon: a soulful graphic-design nerd finding his place in the world.
Bitten by a spider in the city’s bowels while he’s graffiti-tagging an off-limits section of subway, he gains all the same powers Peter did, confusing them initially for some particularly humiliating phase of puberty. After a few bouts of practice he finds himself teaming up with the other Spider-Man in mind-spinning ways ... despite the latter having been murdered on the job (bear with me) by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and having to beam in posthumously from another dimension.
This, which may require more explanation than is succinctly possible, is where the whole “Spider-Verse” business comes in.
The film’s plotting is satisfyingly zippy and fleet, giving us hectic proliferations on the same old web-slinging. It’s the craft that’s out of this world. Spider-Verse’s makers have laboured gloriously to replicate the look and feel of Lee’s comics, right down to the means of their colourisation – all across the screen you’ll see cross-hatching and “Ben Day dots”, after the printing process pioneered by Benjamin Henry Day jnr in 1879.
During the intense first phase of Miles’s superpowers evolving, the screen flings out square captions for internal monologue – he has the odd feeling his voice is getting louder – and KRRACKK!-style action sounds when he bumps into things. All this is beautifully managed to honour the artform without smugly cluttering up the film , which might have been a problem.
The character designs are delightful. Gwen Stacy, coolly voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, makes just as much of an impression as she did played by a real-life Emma Stone opposite Andrew Garfield, and easily eclipses memories of Bryce Dallas Howard in the fan-loathed Spider-Man 3, which this film breezily trashes at the start. Here she becomes Spider-Girl, hailing from another other dimension, and three further Spider-heroes jump in from alternate realities of their own.
Low on screen time he might be, but Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Noir, whose whole world exists in Sin-City-ish black-and-white, is a reliable pleasure whenever he appears, with his Bogart-esque pastichey drawl and air of mystery. Treating us to six different Spideys, all arrayed against Kingpin and his minions, could very well have risked seeming like fan-service overload – too much of a good thing – but hey, there are just as many Avengers kicking about in one space without anyone crying foul.
Plus, this film is absolutely unconstrained by what special effects can achieve. It’s remarkable how well the whiz-bam-blap of its storytelling spins off in all these directions without doing your head in – or perhaps you could argue it does your head in exactly the right amount.
Meanwhile, the New York cityscapes look better in this – all hypnotic smeared pastels and neons, with a lived-in sense of urban blight – than they ever have in the live-action Spideys, with that heavily digitised, video-gamey look they’ve always had.
Into the Spider-Verse is a spiffing fusion of Marvel’s historic aesthetic with state-of-the-art animation techniques, and it’s an awful lot of manic, dimension-hopping fun, right through to the sumptuously designed end credits, which give every character a bespoke send-off. If all future Spider-Mans were made this way, they’d have me glued, and no mistake.
– © The Daily Telegraph