Spider-Man is, in many ways, Marvel’s version of Superman. A character so well-trodden, a story that’s been told so many times, that occasionally it’s hard to get that excited about the next new take. But we have good news. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse is a Spider-Man movie that even the most sceptical viewer should get excited about. From its laugh-out-loud funny opening to its heart-melting final moments, the film delivers nothing short of two hours’ worth of visual and emotional treats. The hype, as they say, is real.
The adventure starts with a familiar origin retold as we meet a Peter Parker 10 years into his career (a voice cameo from a surprise Hollywood heartthrob), loving life and loving being Spider-Man. Shortly after, we meet Miles Morales (Dope‘s Shameik Moore), a teenage student and Spider-Man fan struggling to fit in at school. When Miles finds himself on the receiving end of a spider-bite, everything that happened before happens again – only differently.
When man-mountain baddie the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) unleashes a devastating, reality-warping device to achieve his selfish ends, spider-peeps from multiple realities – including Jake Johnson’s older, world-weary Spidey, Hailee Steinfeld’s superpowered Gwen Stacy (aka Spider-Woman) and Nicolas Cage’s hilarious Spider-Man Noir – team up to save the world. And, this being a Spidey movie, they’re up against a (sort-of) familiar rogues gallery, including fresh takes on the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus and the Scorpion. Miles could well be the key to saving everyone, if only he can step up and become a hero.
It’s almost hard to know where to begin praising the movie, but the visual style is perhaps the most instantly gripping aspect. The pop-art inspired visuals place it apart (and above) the more conventional Disney/Pixar/Illumination animation it could easily have aped, while the comic book-esque captions, thought balloons and sound effects create an additional visual language that puts extra jokes and energy into every sequence. These things alone would be enough to get by, but the film weaves in even more ideas, from the differing animation style of each version of Spidey to the glitch-art effects of a world unravelling. You’ve seen nothing like it on this scale.
Indeed, the film’s entire aesthetic is impressive. From the design to the cinematography, it feels fresh and original on every level. The soundtrack eschews the orchestral template set for superhero movies in favour of hip-hop, jazz and R&B-inspired music. It creates a world that feels modern and textured, more grounded than usual even as the action shifts from the streets of New York to the interior of a supercollider. This version of Spider-Man is by far the most fantastical, and yet somehow, perhaps the most relatable.
But a great look and sound isn’t enough to carry a movie, and luckily the story is smarter than the titular web-slinger. There’s barely a cliché that the directing team (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman) haven’t ducked or spun in service of making the film feel like a new take on not just Spider-Man, but superheroes full stop. Although the occasional beat feels inevitable, this is far from a film built out of stock elements. Without wanting to spoil anything, there are some brilliant twists that are unique to this film’s universe. There are nods, in-jokes and references to every incarnation of Spidey, but even if you’ve read every Spider-Man comic made, you won’t see a couple of things coming.
The script, co-written by Phil Lord, isn’t just funny – it’s also superbly crafted to take you through the emotional arcs of its many characters. One minute you’re laughing, the next you’re quietly devastated by a stray comment or unexpected admission. The plot, meanwhile, is presented in a genre-savvy manner that mercifully assumes the audience is at least as familiar with alternate universes as the characters. The best jokes come from the interplay between Miles and Johnson’s jaded Peter Parker, but the hyper-competent and wilfully independent Spider-Woman is perhaps the breakout star, if only because of how starved audiences are for superheroines.
The central premise of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is that anyone could do what Spider-Man does given the powers and the motivation, and its cast of characters is assembled to prove it. Each of the spider-heroes is brilliantly-written, more than capable of carrying their own story, and together they make the film’s point impossible to dismiss: no matter what your age, gender or creed, you could be a hero.
No matter how bored you might be of seeing Spider-Man stories, you’d have to be pretty cynical not to see the value in this one.