‘Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse’ is the first animated film starring the beloved superhero, but it remains the seventh Spider-Man film to be released in the twenty-first century. To add to that, a trailer for the forthcoming ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’, the sequel to 2017’s ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ was released last month.
Modern cinema has been saturated with this superhero and the filmmakers of Spiderverse ensure that the audience knows that they are aware of this during the course of the film. Seven different Spider heroes are included, cleverly satirising how there have been a number of renditions of the hero in the space of fewer than twenty years. There are winks to the other films, most notably to the famously mocked scene in ‘Spider-Man 3’ in which Tobey Maguire clicks and sways as he walks through the streets of New York. Spiderverse is clever and groundbreaking but above all, it is an entertaining family film. Its chances of winning Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars are great.
The film’s focus is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a young Afro-Latino boy who is in the midst of great change in his life. He has recently transferred to a prestigious boarding school which his parents are certain will provide him with a bright future, Miles is less optimistic. Not long after, a radioactive spider bites him and he gains superpowers. Meanwhile, the villain of the film, Kingpin, opens a particle accelerator that provides access to other universes. Spider heroes from parallel universes appear in Miles’ world. There is a washed up, middle-aged Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), a teenage, jaded Spider Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), a noir, self-serious Spider-Man (Nicholas Cage), an anime iteration of the hero, Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). (Who would have thought Spider-Man could be reimagined as a pig?)
Some depictions of Spider-Man purely provide comic relief while others have more profound implications. In every Spider-Man film so far, the hero has been white and male. Miles Morales and Gwen Stacey’s appearances in this picture challenge this singular depiction. The filmmakers do make a conscious effort to challenge the normative, expected versions of the characters that have appeared in these adaptations. The popular villain Doc Oc is female and the typically worried, oblivious Aunt May is instead a fierce woman who knows about Spider-Man and the dangers that lie ahead.
The film passes at a rapid speed, accurately reflecting the high stakes of the plot, as is to be expected from a superhero film. The heroes need to work together so they can return to their respective universes and importantly, they must prevent the particle accelerator from destroying the world. Spiderverse is thrilling, there is not a boring moment. Unfortunately, this means some plot points are neglected. In particular, there is an important story arc running throughout the film involving Miles and his uncle that I felt was underdeveloped. By the film’s conclusion, it was not resolved to a satisfying degree, resulting in the audience being left with too many unanswered questions.
Spider-Man is an endearing character because he is so human. He is vulnerable and naïve, he does not have complete control of his powers. This certainly applies to Miles Morales, it takes practise and time for him to become an effective superhero. The other Spider heroes are crucial sources of support for Miles. He does not feel alone on his difficult journey because he knows the others have had led the same path as him. In a different type of superhero film, Miles’ relationships with his family and friends would be presented as a weakness of his, but in Spiderverse, it is his strength. Instead, the villain’s fatal flaw is that he neglected his family when they were alive, and now he misses them deeply. The film subverts the familiar Chosen One narrative and presents a heart-warming, uncynical message about the importance of friendship, family and teamwork.
What is most striking in Spiderverse is its use of animation. CGI and traditional styles of the form are fused with one another to an extraordinary effect. The characters are rendered in CGI and they move through vibrant, hand-drawn backgrounds of forests in autumn and streets in New York. It is a shame that traditional animation has been largely abandoned for CGI, there is an artistry to the form that viewers are sorely missing out on. There is also dedicated attention to detail, I spotted the icons of Chance the Rapper and The Weeknd appear in the background during some moments in the film, two artists Miles Morales likely would listen to. Animation lends itself perfectly to a comic adaptation because the form of a comic can be revered in the film itself. Immediately after Miles gains his superpowers, word balloons of dialogue appear in the corner of the screen. Each hero’s origin story is explained visually by a comic book. One wishes it was possible for every superhero film to be an animated feature because the two forms complement each other so well.
Unfortunately, it would not be possible to release three films of this detail and effort every year, as Marvel does with its live-action films. Maybe that is for the best, if these types of films are rare, they are better appreciated. So many superhero films are released these days and I have found that many of them are enjoyable to watch but then they are forgotten immediately after. Spiderverse is not that type of superhero film. It is not perfect, at times maintaining a breakneck speed is prioritised over character development, but it is visually pleasing, intelligent and heartfelt. I look forward to its sequel or spin-offs.
By Brigid Molloy – Film Writer