A Whole New Tangled Web
Tripwire’s new contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at new animated film Spider-man: Into The Spider-verse, out this week in UK cinemas
Spider-Man – Into The Spider Verse
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoë Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage
If you were born in the UK in 2002, you still can’t legally drink alcohol, buy cigarettes or go see an 18 certificate film in the cinema.You have, however, seen no less than three different attempts at a Spider-Man franchise on the big screen, each with their take on Spidey’s origin alongside different actors playing the Web-Slinger (and Mary Jane. And Green Goblin.Etc.) This constant rebooting (of which Spider-Man is not the only victim, but perhaps the most glaring example) is not that surprising not only in the light of Hollywood’s voracious need to eat itself but also in the wake of the tangled web of rights that the cinematic Spider-Man has found himself caught up in. Yet the constant reinvention is also a tacit reminder of Spider-Man’s comic book origins, with an underlying tenet of the industry to re-invent characters every decade or so whilst keeping the basic story beats the same. Spider Man – Into The Spider Verse is ostensibly an exciting and clever animated loose adaption of the popular 2014 comic story arc. But it’s also a homage to the character of Spider-Man and the medium of comics themselves.
We begin with Peter Parker telling the audience that they“…already know the story,” followed by the briefest of recaps of his origin(and a sly swipe at some of the excesses of the Raimi films). He then promptly disappears from the first third of the film, as we shift focus to teenager Miles Morales. It’s a clever meta-commentary on our familiarity with the characters and gives the subsequent Morales ‘origin story’ more a narrative impetus than simply ‘how does he become a superhero’. We’re interested to see how this new character – at least for those who haven’t read ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ – will fit into a mythos that has become rather familiar over the past 15 years.
Morales is a gifted teenager who spends the weeks at a boarding school away from his parents. After a night spent with his slightly wayward uncle, Morales is bitten by a spider which confers on him some rather familiar powers including sticking to walls. The now terrified Morales finds himself stumbling upon Spider-Man battling The Kingpin – who is experimenting with technology that will breach dimensions – and is relieved to find that he may have found someone to explain all these strange new feelings that his powers have bestowed upon him. But when tragedy strikes, Morales is left all alone to understand what is going on. But when Peter B Parker – a Spider-Man from another dimension – turns up, it’s clear that The Kingpin’s experiments have had more of an effect than first thought. With other people from the Spider-Verse soon appearing, Morales must learn how to be the hero he can be while stopping The Kingpin from destroying the world.
Much of the film revels in reframing the traditional origins of Spider-Man, showing how the character both differs and stays the same for different generations. Certainly, the beats of Morales origin are similar to that of Parker (gifted teenager, close relationship with an uncle that will goon to inform his future) but as a teenage black and Hispanic character, he’s also definitely a Spider-Man for modern times. The film plays with the extremes of some of the different portrayals, hence the appearances of Spider-Man Noir (a 1940s version, gruffly voiced by Nicholas Cage) and Spider-Ham, the porcine version whose real name is Peter Porker.
Yet the film deftly contains all these different characters while being able to shift tone from overtly comedic to dark drama. Slapstick moments (such as a gaggle of Spider-Men crawling across a ceiling to avoid being seen) and a fine line of wit contrast well against heavier moments such as the deaths of a few major characters. There is also one of Stan Lee’s final Marvel Universe cameos which turns out to be quite emotional.
The film’s aesthetic is overtly cartoony (for exampleKingpin is an obese walking mountain) but this is part of the film’s entire invocation of the comic book medium. At one point Morales’ thoughts appear on the screen as thought bubbles. Fight sequences are accompanied by sound effects(and the iconic ‘thwip’ makes an appearance) and manage to be exciting and well-rendered, in contrast to the usual mass of flailing limbs that make up said sequences in live-action counterparts.
There are plenty of in-jokes here for the dedicated fan but even those with a cursory knowledge of the Spider-Man mythos will find much to enjoy here. This is not only a fresh take on the character of Spider-Man, and an investigation on what makes him (and her) so enduring, but also one of the best superhero movies of the past few years.