Film Review: Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse (USA, 2018) is a dazzling near perfect comic book movie

Of late comics fans have been spoilt for choice when it comes to seeing their favourite superhero being depicted on the big screen. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe have been battling it out for the eyes and dollars of fans. So when word spread that another Spiderman movie would be on its way, fans were a little wary. This would be the 8th movie to feature the webslinger but would be its first that would be animated. And also its first that would exploit the concept of a multi-verse, And also the first to be about Miles Morales, a young African-American teenager who becomes the next spiderman. With all these firsts, you’d think it might struggle to live up to the hype. But readers you’ll be pleased to hear that this film does that and more.

We meet Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager from Brooklyn struggling to find his place when his police officer father (Brian Tyree Henry) ships him off to a private school. After getting bitten by a retro-futurist possibly Skynet driven radioactive spider, he develops new powers. It also happens to be the same night that Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) unleashes his hadron-collider-vortex manipulator and rips open multiple doorways to other universes, resulting in not one but 4 more alternate “spider-people”(ish). There’s an older paunchier Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), the mysterious new girl at school Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), the brooding black and white detective Spiderman Noir (Nicolas Cage), the anime-styled Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and the literally cartoonish Peter Porker aka Spider Ham (John Mulaney). As Miles comes to grips with his new found power and responsibility, the spider-gang must all work together to stop Kingpin from completely destroying their respective universes.

Immediately the eye-catching work of Sony Pictures Animation from Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman is a standout. Utilising a 3D animation style with a strong focus on primary colours that makes it look like a comic book popping off the screen. It even comes with its own speech bubbles, kapows, squiggly spidey-senses and action panelling. Your eyes are constantly drawn to so many things happening on the screen with the movement and action and the colours are just dazzling. Stylistically they also keep the look with a certain level of street-cred, with the soundtrack featuring songs by Post Malone and Swae Lee, which makes sense considering it’s set in Brooklyn, New York.

The screenplay by Phil Lord with production assistance from Chris Miller (who both helmed The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street) manages to not only give Miles’ story a solid arc and character development, but also enough rapid-fire backstory moments and some development for each of our spider-people. Which is no mean feat in a film featuring 6 superheroes. Miles’ emotional drive in this story is something most young teens can relate to, the need for a hero or mentor figure in their lives. His police officer father is too straight for his creative sensibilities, whilst his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) is a closer fit for his personality. But the arrival of Peter Parker and his spidey abilities sees Miles latch onto him for guidance and tutelage. But in the end, Miles has to be able to believe in himself before he can truly accept his place as a new Spiderman.

The comedic sensibilities of both Lord and Miller also means the film is packed to the rafters with in-jokes, pop culture references, and meta moments which will require multiple viewings to catch them all. And obviously with opening itself up to endless universes means endless possibilities down the road for more films. Just be sure to guard yourself for the Stan Lee cameo and the title card at the end acknowledging him and Steve Ditko – it will sucker punch you right in the feels.

The voice cast is spot on too, with Moore providing a perfect balance between awkward and sometimes hapless to endearing and heartening. The surprise and utterly genius choice here is Cage as Spiderman Noir, giving that gritty edge without being too over the top. Schrieber is also great as the hulking main villain. But really, everybody here is delivering stellar performances ranging from hilarious to heartwarming.

It’s hard to find anything to be too picky or negative about with this film. Maybe that we didn’t get to see more of Spiderman Noir? Or maybe that Kingpin’s motivations are hastily explained? Maybe that there are so many references and things to keep an eye out for, we’ll have to go back and see it multiple times? All of which are fairly minor quibbles on the grand scheme of things.

The TL;DR version of this review, Spiderman Into The Spiderverse is not just an excellent superhero movie, but it’s quite probably a near perfect movie period. The animation is beautiful and colourful. The characters are relatable and inspiring. The story is exciting and engaging. The music and soundtrack feels synchronised with the tone of the film. The pop culture nods and references are fun. And at the core of it is a message that anybody can be a superhero in their own way. This film is sure to be remembered as a fan favourite for many years to come.

PSA: you must stay to the very end of the credits for an uproarious post credit scene

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse is out in Australian cinemas from December 13th 2018 through Sony Pictures