Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is unlike any other Spider-Man movie you’ve ever seen. Taking its cues from the comic book series of the same name, early footage from Sony’s animated Spidey effort neatly sidesteps the MCU, swinging by and serving up a brave and bold effort. It not only acts as the zanier, more colourful cousin to September’s Spider-Man PS4, but treads where Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios dare not to thanks to its surprising story beats and commentary on what it truly means to have great power and great responsibility. Mild spoilers follow...
During a preview event I attended – of which the first act (roughly 40 minutes) was shown – things kick off with the tried-and-tested recap of Peter Parker’s story. Same old, same old, right? Except, this time, things are different. Sure, Uncle Ben and the radioactive spider are there (twice!), but there’s also a few neat, laugh-out-loud references to Spider-Man’s previous movie history. Spoiler: Toby Maguire’s awful Spider-Man 3 dance shows up. You can tell things are going to be different.
It helps set the scene nicely for a movie that acts as a love letter to the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man’s storied history. Throughout, there are deep cut references and Easter eggs to keep you on your toes: everything from Ultimate Spider-Man creator Brian Michael Bendis’ number appearing in a contact list, to a Childish Gambino music video playing during a scene with Aaron Davis – whom Donald Glover played in Spider-Man: Homecoming – in his apartment. So far, so very fun.
The whole world Miles with you
But then things turn on its head. Instead of following Pete around New York, it’s Miles Morales – complete with, uhh, no super-powers whatsoever – that we tag along with through the first act. Morales is infinitely likeable and, dare I say it, geekier than Tobey Maguire, more awkwardly cool than Andrew Garfield, and more quippy than Tom Holland. It really is a nice patchwork of what makes each previous protagonist work so well and, when coupled with the movie’s kinetic animation style, which bursts from the screen with every hop, skip, and jump, it creates a living, breathing comic book. Again, this could very well be perfect antidote to the MCU if that isn’t your bag, but also a sublime alternative while we wait for Spider-Man: Far From Home to hit theatres.
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Much of the first 20 minutes, though, is slow-burn stuff. If you’re going in expecting the trailer’s frenzied tone with Nic Cage, Spider-Ham, and all the rest of it, you’re going to be disappointed. You may want Into the Spider-Verse to explode straight out the gates, but you’re not going to get it. While much of Miles’ high-school plot (including trying to woo Gwen Stacy in an excruciatingly awkward scene that involves Morales, with newly acquired sticky Spider-Man powers, pulling out a large chunk of Gwen’s hair) is fun stuff, but you can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here all before. In fact, this is simply place-setting, with the main set-pieces still to come, well beyond the slow-paced first half-an-hour.
Of course, when the plot does eventually step up a gear (and it does take some time to get going), there’s a real shock to the system. A surprisingly emotional scene that I daren’t spoil here shows how Into the Spider-Verse might exceed expectations specifically because it’s working without the safety net of the MCU. From there, Miles is thrust into the Spidey spotlight and dealing with Peter B. Parker, an overweight, overwrought, recently-divorced alternate universe version of the Peter Parker we all know and love. And that’s where things end; a cliffhanger to tantalisingly dangle in front of our faces before its December release.
All in good time
All in all, there’s a lot to enjoy about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, as well as the directorial team, clearly have a great deal of respect for the webhead’s history – and it shows in every frame.
Sure, the animation (admittedly unfinished in places) can look a little janky and more like an upscale Telltale engine than a multi-million dollar project, but kudos to the team and the animators involved for trying something new while just about walking the tightrope between cartoonish craziness and a Pixar-style sense of realism. The scant few action scenes, including one between a mutated Green Goblin and Spider-Man are definitely promising, filled with slick moves and even slicker style. The movie, presumably, is inevitably going to pick up in the final 90 minutes, so the complete package of action, comedy, and comic book reverence is something that could even help kick off an animated MCU-style universe of its own. It excels in all departments.
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But there’s a long way to go yet. Yes, the first 40 minutes were promising, but it remains to be seen as to whether the movie will be able to juggle the several parallel Spider-Men and Women who will crashing onto Miles’ lap, as per the trailer. The first act was already bursting at the seams thanks to its need to present Miles as a character worthy of taking on the Spider-Man mantle, even before he gets his powers. Then there’s the relationship with his dad, his uncle, girls at school, Miles adjusting to said new school, and so on. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. Into the Spider-Verse is running the risk of being overstuffed, especially if it moves in the same direction as the comics.
For now, though, mark December 12 on your calendars: we’re in for a wild ride, unlike any comic book movie you’ve ever seen before. It’s the anti-MCU, a story that can up the ante without fear of affecting several other movie franchises through the ripple effect, but also a movie that could prove to be Ground Zero for an entire universe of its own. Which is very, very exciting. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
While you wait for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to hit cinemas, why not check out the films which have already made our best movies of 2018 list?