A film as lovingly crafted as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse doesn’t come around all that often – and I’m so glad I was here when it did. Co-written by Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord and directed by Rothman, Bob Persichetti, and Peter Ramsay, Spider-verse offers a dazzling burst of colour and curiosity to shake us out of the winter blues.
Our protagonist Miles Morales is endearingly brought to life by Shameik Moore (Dope, The Get Down). He’s a totally ‘normal’ Afro-Latino kid in Brooklyn busy trying to hit the high notes in his favourite songs, stamping his illustrations around the city, and attempting to navigate his place in an elite new boarding school. After going to an abandoned subway station with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) to graffiti the walls, Miles’ life changes forever after he is bitten by a genetically altered spider. Meanwhile, deep under the subway lines Wilson Fisk, better known as Kingpin, is plotting to open a gateway to alternate dimensions.
After Kingpin’s (Liev Schreiber) particle collider malfunctions, parallel versions of Brooklyn glitch together and Miles meets a whole gang of people just like him. Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) forms the most significant relationship with Miles, sort of like a Yoda and Luke scenario if Yoda was less wise and more cynical. Johnson and Moore are fantastic as the mentor and mentee. Miles is constantly looking for guidance or validation from the men in his life, whether that be his Uncle Aaron, whom he idolises, his dad, or Spider-Man himself – Spider-verse is Miles’ very own origin story, and he owns every second of it.
The film borrows from the classic comic aesthetic without being obnoxious. Parts of Miles’ inner monologue pop up in yellow boxes, or when Spider-Ham (a hilarious John Mulaney) pulls out his mallet a “Wham!” shoots across the screen. These are small flourishes that feel like a fun nod to the source material, but are carefully balanced to not overpower. The animation, on the whole, is immensely satisfying to watch; you can see the meticulous layers of colours, style, and comic-book influences, and it’s completely thrilling.
The supporting cast comprises of Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), Spider-Ham, Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and a badass Aunt May (Lily Tomlin). Each character brings with them a slightly different animation style, Peni borrowing from anime and Spider-Ham from the classic Looney Tunes cartoon style. They are a fantastic addition, propelling Miles’ narrative just enough but still holding their own. Every performance in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is pitch perfect, but Brian Tyree Henry was a stand-out. As Miles’ police officer father, Jefferson, he’ll have you laughing till it hurts and reaching for the tissues in equal measure. Each ‘spider-person’ introduces themselves in the same way, making for a hilarious running gag, “For the past [insert timeframe here] I have been the one and only Spider-Man.” Yet, when they meet it’s not a battle for the title, it’s the comforting prospect of sharing the load. All six of them find solace in the fact that they’re not the only ones dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with such power, but they each have a part of their story that makes them unique.
The real heart of Spider-Man as a character is that he could be any of us. In a pivotal moment early on, the camera pans over a crowd of people wearing the mask – a reminder that it’s not about superpowers, any of us could help people today. In the final act, as Miles’ story continues, he speaks in voice over – as if directly to the audience – and says, “Anyone can wear the mask, you can wear the mask. If you didn’t know that before, I hope you do now.” A powerful call to action, and a reminder that Spider-Man is one of the greatest legacies the incomparable Stan Lee left behind.
By Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm