The Spider-Sense remains as razor-sharp as ever. “With great power …” a young, over-enthusiastic Miles Morales begins, and we know what this oft-quoted adage is leading up to, used as we are to hearing it ever since Uncle Ben gave a morally conflicted Peter Parker an earful of his advice in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence. I am sick of it,” our webslinger hastily interjects, and it is this constant sense of irreverence — coupled as it is with a complete awareness of how silly the superhero genre can truly be — that gives Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse its wings.
Fittingly enough, the film opens with a rapid-fire self-introduction. We know the drill by now, and so does the burger-chomping Spidey himself. “All right … let’s do this one last time. My name is Peter Parker — I am pretty sure you know the rest. I saved the city, fell in love, then I saved the city again, and again, and again.” This is a Spider-Man endowed with a generous helping of visceral fat, far removed from the waterboard abs of both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and he goes on to lampoon his omnipresence: from comics (True Life Tales of Spider-Man!) to cereal (Spidey-O’s!) to Christmas carols (Spidey, It’s Cold Outside, in a lovely little riff of Frank Loesser’s song).
Miles Morales, meanwhile, has battles of his own to deal with. This is a teenager who tackles syllogisms and quadratic equations with an air of inevitability, one who perceives his new school as elitist and sees his Uncle Aaron as something of a father-figure. In keeping with the film’s deadpan tone, the his firt meeting with his mentor turns out to be an anti-climactic moment in itself, and he goes on to describe him as a “janky old broke hobo”. The film throws up a whole host of villains, including familiar faces such as Green Goblin and Dr Olivia Octavius. The Spidey side of things is equally heavily populated as well — there’s a Spider-Woman, a Spider-Noir, and even a snout-faced accomplice named Peter Porker. The film explores not only Miles’s emergence as a superhero in the context of these sidekicks but also his relationship with his fellow graffiti-artists, namely his uncle and his dad.
As is almost a given in animated films these days, the voice acting is uniformly good across the board, with names like Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld and Mahershala Ali rounding up the cast. The film’s relentlessly energetic soundtrack lends a sense of urgency to the proceedings. The artwork here is staggeringly imaginative in its pixelated finesse, quite unlike that of any Spider-Man movies to date. Each lovingly illustrated comic panel bursts to life with a hard-to-describe exigency, and directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman display great novelty in their usage of classic comic-book tropes to take the narrative forward. In one scene, for instance, we get a split-screen to underline the adjacency of multiple comic frames. The animation here employs textboxes, speech bubbles, captions, and even exclamation marks to terrific effect. A shot where multiple dimensions cave in onto themselves remains a personal favourite from the film, as does one where a leap of faith is taken against the towering, brightly-lit skyscrapers of Brooklyn.
It’s fluff, undeniably, but visually sumptuous fluff — the cotton candy of the Marvel Universe, so to speak. I was a little distracted by the jerky, rickety movements of the characters on screen — this might well have been by design —, and occasionally a little put off by the film’s over-reliance on dry humour, but Into the Spider-Verse remains, above all else, a breezy blast of originality that never quite fails to surprise (including a most delightful posthumous cameo by the one and only Stan Lee).
It’s a tale of identity, adolescence and the impressionability of youth told in the most non-obvious way possible, and our superhero films — well, at least those associated with Marvel — look to be in good hands for now. With great heart comes a great filmography.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Shreehari H. is a lover of films and an even greater lover of writing.