You’d be forgiven for feeling like Spider-Man’s recent big-screen adventures have simply been a repetitive, endlessly recurring multiverse. There have been three cinematic Peter Parkers in the last decade or so, and three sets of powers that come with relating sets of responsibility. So kudos, then, to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, for boldly ignoring any potential audience fatigue by doubling down — or rather, quintupling dolwn — by telling not one Spider-Man origin story, but five.
Right from the off, this is a Spider-Man wholly distinct from the live-action vintage, in every possible sense. While the earlier adaptations sometimes attempted to soften the wackiness of the comics, here, the many-tendrilled Marvel multiverse is lustily embraced. It’s quite simple, really: your bog-standard girl-meets-boy, boy-stumbles-across-a-supervillain-accidentally-opening-a-portal-to-multiple-dimensions story. Screenwriting 101, essentially.
The animation is like nothing we've ever seen before.
With infinite Spider-people, there are infinite possibilities, but wisely, most of the attention is on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), the first non-white incarnation of the character, first introduced in the Ultimate line of comics. Miles is a different kind of outsider: prodigiously smart, like Peter Parker, but more at home spraying street art, or listening to old-school hip hop with his uncle instead of knuckling down at his high-achieving academy school.
The animated form is a perfect bedfellow for the Miles Morales origin story. It’s a wonder the studios haven’t taken the medium more seriously, given how closely it sits with the source — and never more so than in this highly stylised take, a 3D world given a 2D sheen, all primary colours and CMYK-printed bluntness. This is not a cheap Saturday-morning kids’ cartoon: it’s a gorgeously realised alternative world, dripping with invention and energetic action that explodes from the screen. Frankly, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
It’s cheek-hurtingly funny too, stuffed to the gills with witty visual gags, and poking a postmodern finger at superhero clichés. (The influence of 21 Jump Street’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who shepherded the project to the screen, is obvious.) There’s so much gleeful fun to be had with the various Spider-people, from a podgy, over-the-hill Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), to the bizarre cartoon pig known, hilariously, as Peter Porker (John Mulaney). But the three co-directors somehow keep each plate spinning. When tragedy hits, as it must with this character, the tonal shift is not jarring.
If it does, inevitably, climax with the kind of city block-destroying fuckathon that director James Mangold once lamented, a rip in the space-time continuum has at least never looked this good. And through all the madness, it’s Miles’ good heart and motivations that consistently shine through. Into The Spider-Verse is one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made because it’s about Spider-Man: the mythology, the multiple iterations, and what it means to take on that optimistic, down-to-earth mantle. A heartfelt post-credits thank you to Stan Lee (who earns a bittersweet posthumous cameo) and Steve Ditko only emphasises the universal appeal of Marvel’s flagship hero. With Spidey, anyone can wear the mask. Even a cartoon pig.