Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse amazes not just for its storytelling, but for existing separate to the superhero fatigue argument as directors Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman created a love letter to the comic book age.
The collective trauma shared by audiences in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War for many still elicits post-traumatic anxiety as the world watched in horrified awe when big bad galactic despot Thanos completed his mission.
A single finger snap from his infinity stone-encrusted gauntlet successfully wiping out half of all life across the universe. Exiting the cinema, the usual hushed chatter was more of a frenzied roar, with many satisfied patrons loudly proclaiming Avengers: Infinity War as not only the single best comic book film they’d ever seen but the greatest film ever, period.
The mass genocide of superheroes being immediately comparable to the likes of Citizen Kane and Jeanne Dielman for these comic-book fanatic cinephiles. Recency bias being a very real affliction, I may have been foolishly in firm agreement then but let’s not dwell on past mistakes.
All of their excitement soon dwindled just a few months later as Sony’s latest attempt to make the big superhero bucks swung into multiplexes. Not only was the audaciously brilliant Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse a major hit with critics and audiences, but it stirred up some deep-rooted feelings which recent Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings had ignored.
Sadly that connection feels almost non-existent these days. Having given rise to entire studios, the superhero genre is now the beating heart of the film industry.
Panel legends like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America are now franchises of their own right, pooped out onto a never-ending conveyor belt to satiate the masses and maintain those precious share prices. Crowds flock to cinemas, every multiplex screen dominated by the latest instalment of an unwieldy cinematic universe; a once great concept, now just a product filled with homogeneous shlock.
And again speaking on a personal level, in the early years of the millennium, I too followed sheepishly into this trend, shifting my attention, money, and excitement to the moving image. The original Spider-Man trilogy imbued with Sam Raimi’s madcap genius is still one of the reasons I reference as to my entire adoration for film. In the early days of superhero adaptations, there was a real, almost tangible connection between the movies and the comic books which that so heavily inspired them.
Then came all the consistent grey, desaturated, depersonalised, and depressing formulaic films. Each progressively losing audiences, irking them at the loss of originality. An originality deemed extinct as the Russo Brothers kicked us all whilst we were down, leaving their characters, and our attitude in the dirt.
Enter the Spider-Verse.
A vibrant spark that glitched, and breathed life with its beautiful concoction of cubist art and comic book adoration.
A film unlike anything audiences had seen: a superhero movie made with genuine sincerity, which when examined oozed a love and reverence for its pulp comic roots.
Its tactile need to express itself is palpable as the usual studio indents glitch giving way to an unexpected but very welcome sight: the Comics Code Authority stamp, an old voluntary icon used years ago as a seal of approval to satisfy sellers, advertisers and parents. This wasn’t just any old easter egg, one of the many loving winks and knowing nods stuffed into this wild love letter of a movie; this was a statement of intent, a promise that what we were about to witness would be unlike anything we’d ever seen. The filmmakers marking it with their own seal of approval.
For nearly two deliriously enjoyable hours, we were treated to what many, myself included, firmly believe to be not only the best Spider-Man movie made to date, but also the greatest comic book adaptation.
The effort to create such a visual treat was truly gargantuan. Just ten seconds of footage took two early production animators a whole year to develop, necessitating the involvement of nearly 200 animators at one point, by far Sony’s biggest team assembled for a single animated feature.
Ultimately all this painstaking work was worth it. The film is a truly unique experience, its eye-popping visuals freed from the shackles of expectation and, in places, reality as we know it. The action unfolds with animation that looks stiff and crunchy but still feels eerily lifelike, almost like someone has drawn over real life in the same vein as Richard Linklater’s cult hit, A Scanner Darkly.
Backdrops are made up of halftones and Ben-Day dots; onomatopoeias spell out all the big hits, not to mention the occasional doink of a bagel to the head. It all leads to a trippy final showdown in a collider of Kirby crackle, a psychedelic shower of colours changing in dramatic tandem with the moods of battling heroes and villains.
It is the closest we’ve come to a living, breathing comic book.
A lot of people love this movie, but it’s not just down to the way it looks. Visuals are one thing, but they mean little if we don’t get the hero at its core. The decision to bring young Miles Morales to the big screen was a smart move, a fresh and relatively new take on the iconic hero. The addition of a gallery of multiverse variants, Nicolas Cage as the noir-drenched channelling of Humphrey Bogart, a true standout all combining to form the complete essence of Spider-Man to help Miles understand his newfound powers.
The deft combination of animation, story and characterisation is best illustrated through Miles, who begins his epic journey of self-discovery appearing at a jerky 12 frames per second. As he comes to understand with great power comes great responsibility, the smoothness of his movements catches up to his peers, who are moving at 24 frames per second. A tiny detail, but one that so perfectly encapsulates the brilliance of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
A film can do wonders, but to elicit a response of nostalgia so specifically capturing why, and how, I fell in love with comics is a trick no Marvel movie has ever achieved.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse embraces its comic book heritage, as well as the art of making movies. It’s been almost five years since its release, with its sequel set for release soon. A positive sign that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, along with their talented team, have utilised their time in taking Miles’ story into something unique. Superhero fatigue may have struck Marvel and DC, but for Miles Morales, we’re only getting started.
Did you like this article?
Would you like to read more reviews, news, and opinion features sent straight to your inbox? Then consider subscribing to our weekly newsletter.