With the Marvel Cinematic Universe growing at a ridiculously fast rate, and DC constantly doing their best to match it, it can be exhausting to mentally tally all of the storylines, characters and sequels.
Enter 2018’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse, Sony’s animated web-slinging adventure that’s free of any ties to other movies, and that anyone with even just a cursory knowledge of the source material can jump into and enjoy.
Part of the joy of that is switching erstwhile protagonist Peter Parker to a supporting role (more on him shortly) and focusing on Miles Morales. Miles is a school kid, not a scientist. Instead of a sage Uncle, his father provides his moral compass, while his actual Uncle is involved in some shady enterprises – unbeknownst to Miles.
There’s an origin story here, but it feels fresh by divorcing Spider-Man from Peter Parker (something often done in comics, but not in movies). Miles isn’t a shy, reserved character. He’s awkward, sure, but he’s also eager, cocksure, sarcastic and even arrogant at times.
What sells his complex character is some truly impressive animation. The whole movie looks like a comic strip that’s come to life. In fact, with up to 177 animators working on the film at one point, that’s arguably the greatest compliment.
Colour is splashed around like dot work on a page, the city streets lit up by impressive lighting and little details like graffiti. Spider-Verse’s New York City arguably feels more alive here than it has in any live-action movie. It’s more a character than set-dressing here, it’s dark outlines and patchwork of urban textures. Even when the movie isn’t in motion, it’s interesting to look at – and it’s obvious that every frame has received the utmost care and attention.
That aesthetic carries through to the movie’s character designs, too. With multiple Spider-People, each from a different universe, animators are able to flex their muscles – every superhero moves uniquely, from Spider-Ham’s awkward stuttered steps, to the Spider-bot’s almost serpentine limb movements.
Even the basic “Peter B Parker” that travels from another dimension is distinguishable by his unshaven stubble, unkept hair and middle-aged spread. He’s a reluctant mentor to Miles, replacing his father after his death in the first act. His performance is understated, like a man who’s seen dark times – and not necessarily at the hands of supervillains.
That brings us nicely to the cast, and it’s an excellent bunch. Shameik Moore’s Miles is cheeky but likeable, while Jake Johnson is just the right amount of jaded as Peter B Parker. Mahershala Ali exudes charisma as Miles’ uncle Aaron, making his villainous turn as The Prowler all the more gutting, while even Kingpin is afforded emotional resonance and honest to goodness motivations, which Liev Schreiber of all people duly channels.
Wait, multiple villains? Yessir, and not in the “let’s shoehorn Venom into Spider-Man 3” way. With the story taking place in a world that’s already had a Spider-Man, there’s no need to offer up any convoluted origin stories for any of the movie’s rogues gallery. That means you get an awesome female Doctor Octopus and a hulking Green Goblin, as well as new takes on Scorpion and Tombstone.
Spider-Verse continues to defy expectations when it comes to the soundtrack, too. Much of the movie is scored by licensed songs, including certified chart-topper ‘Sunflower’. It’s the song that got the limelight, but we’d argue that ‘What’s Up Danger’ offers a much more obvious microcosm of Spiderverse’s rebellious nature.
With a tight pop hook and energetic rap verses, the song takes a step back to offer respite before swelling with the kind of orchestral sounds we’ve come to expect from the superhero genre. It comes as a welcome surprise, and also offers the kind of fist-pumping, goosebump-inducing moment that the genre offers at its best. When it ties in with Miles’ final mastery of his powers, there’s no denying the power the music has.
Into The Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies ever made. Its animations are genre-leading, its characters well written and believable (despite this being a world where there’s a Spider Pig and Nicolas Cage playing a dark, brooding Spider-Man in the same room), and the soundtrack is the rare example of licensed music adding to an experience rather than breaking the sense of immersion.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to watch it again.