Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man, as the old TV theme used to go. Well look out, because here comes another Spider-Man -- and another and another and another.
Yes, the superpowered webslingers of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in theaters worldwide this week, aren't your daddy's Spider-Man. This new animated movie features an assortment of different versions of the much loved Marvel character -- and still finds room for bags of character, heart and joy that burst from every gorgeous pop art frame.
There's something about the cartoon form that allows the creators to be a little looser, so Spider-Verse is free to dive headfirst into the tangled web of Marvel comic book continuity in a way that just wouldn't be plausible in a live-action movie.
Superhero comics are notorious for writing and rewriting the histories of their long-running characters, piling up all manner of different versions of the heroes, not to mention skewed timelines and parallel dimensions. But when you have enough different versions of a character, the potential for confusion becomes opportunity for crossover. So Marvel's many different takes on Spider-Man become the different strands of a multiverse -- or Spider-Verse.
In one such alternate strand, Spider-Man's longtime flame Gwen Stacey was the one bitten by a radioactive arachnid to became Spider-Gwen. In another, anime-inspired Peni Parker pilots a spider-themed mech suit. In yet another, Spider-Man Noir is a grizzled1930s-era crimefighter with Nicolas Cage's voice.
Then there's the dimension of porcine Peter Porker, a superpowered pig also known as Spider-Ham.
See? Just a tiny bit looser.
The original Spider-Man, Peter Parker, is on hand at the start of Into The Spider-Verse. But the story primarily focuses on Miles Morales, the version of Spider-Man from the Ultimate comics series that rebooted Marvel's core characters in 2000. That isn't really important: what matters is Miles' life. Miles lives a richly-portrayed life with friends, family and teenage angst all fondly depicted and lovingly voiced by the likes of Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali and Hailee Steinfeld.
Eventually super-shenanigans roll around as Miles goes through a new twist on the familiar spider-bite origin, leading to a confrontation with the mountainous miscreant Kingpin. The cartoonishly looming villain wants to poke his shiny head into alternate realities and unwittingly drags various friendly wall crawlers to the neighbourhood from their disparate corners of the Spider-Verse.
That includes a jaded alternate Peter Parker, voiced by the excellent Jake Johnson. This Peter has let himself go while Miles has yet to fulfill his potential, and they need to rely on each other to save the day. The resulting coming-of-age story is exuberant, funny and endlessly charming, packing more affecting emotional punches than actual bad-guy biffing punches.
It's stuffed full of Easter eggs and it's meta as all-get-out, but it's far from an exercise in fan service. Yes, the cartoon form means it can reference past Spider-Man movies, TV shows and even merchandise in a way that a live action film could only dream of, but Miles and his family and their dilemmas are sketched out so richly that genuine emotion rather than superhero silliness powers the film.
Inevitably with so much going on some stuff has to fall by the wayside. I'd have liked to see more of the actual Spider-variants, for example. The subplot about Miles' school just disappears as soon as the Spider-Versions show up. And it isn't entirely clear why Miles' origin happens at all. You'll be having so much riotous fun you won't even notice. I mean, in terms of flaws it's barely on the same planet as Venom.
And it looks utterly gorgeous: the genuinely novel animation style combines a cutting-edge neon-coloured 3D effect overlaid by echoes of classic comic books lines and colours, right down to the Zip-A-Tone dots seen in olden day newsprint. From the breezy origin story recaps to the sweeping New York cityscapes to the epic psychedelic fight scenes, there's detail and charm and sheer love in every image.
Oh, and there's a post-credits scene too. It's worth the wait.
A sequel has already been approved, and it's well deserved. Look out!
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