Genre: CG Animation
Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey
Cast: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Jake Johnson, Liev Schreiber, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Lily Tomlin
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Official Website: http://www.intothespiderverse.movie
Opening Day: 13 December 2018
Synopsis: Spider-Man crosses parallel dimensions and teams up with the Spider-Men of those dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.
Before you groan that ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ is yet another origin story on the titular superhero, let us reassure you that this animated action-comedy from the irreverent minds which brought you ‘The LEGO Movie’ is like no other origin story you’ve seen.
And truly we mean that in a good, even great way: producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, together with a trio of directors (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman), have completely embraced the freedom that the animated genre provides in adapting the array of comic books of the Spider-Man canon. Untethered from the sort of realism that live-action movies are bound to, they have instead created a film with an ultra-stylistic, hyper-kinetic, over-caffeinated aesthetic that is visually dazzling in its own right.
Amalgamating Ben-Ray dots, hand-drawn effects and soft-focus backgrounds (reminiscent of the old non-polarised 3D movies with blurry red and blue edges), with a deliberately stilted frame-rate and signature comic-book elements of panelisation and dialogue boxes, it is probably the closest we’ve come to see of a comic recreated in motion. To be sure, it does get a little over-indulgent at times; in particular, the retina-searing finale that takes place inside a universe-collapsing subterranean device resembles what you may get within an overly aggressive lava lamp, playing like the most sustained stream of vibrant psychedelia we’ve ever recalled seeing. It’s breath-taking all right, even breathless at some points, but there is no denying the imagination and originality that is on display.
The same can be said of Lord’s script, co-written with Rothman, that boldly imagines a formula-busting origin story with a potent emotional core. At the centre of it is the character of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn Afro-Latino teenager having trouble adjusting to life inside a new elite boarding school. Miles, who first appeared in the comic seven years ago from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, has had great expectations thrust upon him by his NYPD cop-father Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse-mother Rio (Luna Lauren Velez), but prefers hanging out with his father’s estranged brother Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) graffitiing the subways.
In Miles’ version of New York City, Peter Parker’s Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) is a well-established community hero/ vigilante, but Miles realises that Peter’s powers aren’t quite that exclusive when he himself is bitten by a radioactive spider. Unfortunately, before Peter can teach Miles how to properly navigate his newfound powers, the former is killed while trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from using his nuclear super-collider from ripping a gash in the space-time continuum and causing several alternate universes to collapse onto the present.
Thankfully for Miles, that same machine also opens up portals in other parallel universes, pulling in several alternate Spider-People into his universe. These include a paunchy, washed-up 40-year-old Peter Parker (Johnson again); the graceful, ass-kicking and too-cool-for-school Spider-Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld); the hard-boiled, black-and-white Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage); the cartoonish Peter Porker a.k.a. Spider-Ham (John Mulaney); and last but not least, the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her arachno-droid SP//dr.
Even with upwards of seven Spider-beings and five bad guys (besides the Kingpin, there is also Doc Ock, Prowler, Tombstone and Scorpion in the rogues’ gallery), the movie never comes off overstuffed, thanks to a surprisingly poignant relationship between Miles and Peter.
Ultimately, this is Miles’ coming-of-age story that sees him struggling to step up to the mantle in order to save the world. Next to Miles, the curmudgeonly Peter is both his foil and his mentor, and their relationship is the heart and soul of the movie. In fact, they anchor some of the best sequences in the movie: their first encounter which finds both of them bound and dragged by a subway train through the streets of New York is both exciting and hilarious; and Peter’s lesson to Miles how to web-swing through from tree to tree in upstate New York while being chased by Doc Ock is also both exhilarating and joyous to watch.
Yet we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ does sometimes veer into excess. As unapologetically self-referential as it is, its self-awareness sometimes proves too clever for its own good, tipping so far into fan service that it comes off rather self-indulgent. It is also guilty of resorting to the same superhero comic-book clichés that it pokes a postmodern finger at, most notably how the key to disarming the Kingpin’s supercollider is a simple USB device. And there is so much going on that certain emotional notes do not ring as loudly as they should, and that is especially true of the family triangle comprising Miles, his cop dad and his cool uncle that feels less fleshed out than it should be.
Even so, this is one of the most original superhero origin stories we’ve seen in a very long while, and that alone says a lot for a character like Spider-Man which has seen no less than three reboots over the past few years. With this high-concept animated movie, Sony has finally moved on from Peter Parker in a manner that acknowledges his significance and expand the Spider-Verse in fresh and exciting ways. Credit to that belongs very much to Lord and Miller, whose sensibilities are all over the movie, ranging from its witty quips to its breakneck pace to its meta-textual treatment.
Fans of the Spider-Man comics will quite surely love it to bits, but there is also plenty for the casual viewer to enjoy in this fast, funny and thrilling piece of definitive pop-culture. It is brilliant all right, and we dare say one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made.
(Overflowing with wit, verve and inventiveness, this latest Spider-Man reboot expands the Spider-Verse in visually dazzling and hilariously self-referential ways)
Review by Gabriel Chong