& Rodney Rothman, 2018, USA
As much as I liked ‘Spider-man: Homecoming’, I still had issues with the use of Marvel’s Mile Morales’ Spider-Man high-school premise. I did feel ‘Homecoming’ got around appropriating a mixed-raced teen’s story by having notable diversity around him, but it seemed however much the comics world was now used to Miles, the cinematic world wasn’t quite ready for a Spider-person of colour. But Marvel’s use of an animated film to introduce Miles to a wider audience seems a smart and canny move: it means they have been able to do whatever they want. From the ‘Spider-verse’ trailer, I also thought Miles was going to be drowned out by too many spider-people – even Peter Porker! – but this also proves not to be the case.
Blitzing through the multiple origin stories with montages and quips, we quickly get to Miles who looks different here to the comics and is more breezy, confident and less angsty. It’s true we’ve had a lot of Spider-Man angst to go around over the decades, so this really isn’t missed (and why the aww-shucks upbeat Tom Holland Spider-man is so winning). There’s a crowd of huge bad guys – perhaps Kingpin is a little too big in design, just a black hole crowding the frame (but maybe I’ve been spoilt by the wonderfully textured Vincent D’Onofrio Wilson Fisk from the up-and-down ‘Daredevil’ NetFlix series?) – which the script doesn’t care to give backstories to, just relying on fan recognition to fill in the blanks (again, this has to be an advantage of being an animated feature – hey isn’t that Tombstone?). The voice cast do a great job, of course, with Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir being an amusing easter egg. (A list of other easter eggs at Den of Geek.)
It’s fast and always kinetic in a way that animation allows that can be tiresome and in live-action, but held together by a script that doesn’t come to a stop when the emotional bits happen or becomes indecipherable when the action kicks in. Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s screenplay is almost as scatological as ‘Deadpool’, with the logistics surely on par with ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. Or, as comics writer Scott Snyder tweeted:
As a writer, #Spiderverse is a deeply inspiring movie. The challenge of that script - in-troducing a new spidey, a new universe, then 4 more new spideys, making it all feel true, exciting, heartbreaking... that math is next level hard and the movie was incredibly good
On top of this, there’s a wealth of varying animation styles – various universes and all that – and a trippy finale that matches anything from ‘Dr. Strange’… and even a good Rubik’s Cube gag. There’s a strain of animation that is hyperactive and often nonsensical, but ‘Into the Spider-verse’, as chock full of stuff and diversion as it is, never loses focus. As over-crowded as this is, it is steered by Spider-people's outsider qualities: the other Spideys are like future options for this brand new one, whether dead, gone -to-seed, moody-noir, silly-ham or heroic young Gwen: but it's not like he has to choose - he's just starting out and finding his bravery.
And it even defiantly saves the Miles Morales subplot of his roommate knowing he’s Spider-man in the back pocket for the next time, regardless of ‘Homecoming’ already pilfering it. Miles’ debut couldn’t have ended up being more striking. Fun, furious, gung-ho, ludicrous and highly entertaining. If this is your kind of thing, it’s the kind of film that you know will reward a repeat viewing even as you watch, a big surprise of exuberance and the joys of the genre and animation.