Sony have only gone and made perhaps the greatest superhero movie of the decade, who’d have known?
Back in the early/mid 2000s, Sony Pictures released the two best live-action Spider-Man films. Since then, things have been a bit shaky: Spider-Man 3 was naff but not as bad as its critics suggest, the two Amazing Spider-Man films were totally awful, and the MCU Spider-Man film is decent enough but not great.
Now, it seems that Sony have realised the pressure is off them to deliver, after Web-Head has gone off fighting Thanos with the Disney Gang it’s allowed Sony to try something a little different. The first of these experiments manifested itself in Venom, one of the weirdest films to come out this year and a surprisingly entertaining mess – to say the least.
Following the shock success of Venom, Sony have gone a different route altogether: handing their most lucrative franchise to its animation studio for a crossover of multiversal proportions that until now, only comic books and Saturday morning cartoons could deliver.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a bright, vibrant, beautifully realised celebration of all the weirdest things that have come so far in the Spider-Man franchise. It’s a sequel, spin-off, reboot, origin story and so much more for the wall-crawler’s different incarnations, that is so full of Easter eggs and cameos that it could leave the average cinemagoer’s head spinning.
The story itself is utterly bonkers, and for fear of giving anything away I’ll try and explain what happens without dropping spoilers: Miles Morales looks up to Spider-Man, and one day finds himself taking the mantle after something happens that also causes a rift in dimensions, which pulls through 5 Spider-People (2 Spider-Men (one entirely in monochrome), 1 Spider-Gwen, 1 anime with Spider-Mech and 1 Spider-Ham) to Miles’ reality. From there it just gets madder.
The dynamics between the different forms of spider-based heroes are brilliantly realised, with a sequence of Wreck-it Ralph 2‘s Disney Princess-style deconstructions of what makes a Spider-Person a Spider-Person. It’s a film that has The Lego Movie‘s makers’ marks all over it, with Phil Lord and Chris Miller both credited as producers and Lord responsible for the story.
Like The Lego Movie, Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t seek to upset the apple cart of the genre’s conventions, but embraces every last absurd bit of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s brainchild’s legacy. It’s a straight up, shameless love letter to one of the most iconic characters of the 20th and 21st Century, and it’s heaps of fun.
Speaking of the man, of course any film attempting to portray Spider-Man in any medium will now be doing so in the wake of Stan Lee’s death earlier this year. Thankfully his inevitable cameo here is a beautifully poignant send-off for the man, and while there will no doubt be other appearances to come in films already shot, this feels like a good endpoint for those cameos.
Where Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse flies highest though, is in the animation itself. It’s no hyperbole when I say that I’ve never seen a film like this before, in fact it barely feels like a film at all. Spider-Verse is a comic book brought to life, complete with thought bubbles, web lines literally going THWIP across the screen, and every different Spider-Person’s aesthetic has been created to complement one another beautifully – never did I think that a Looney Tunes style cartoon would look so natural next to a gruff 1930s noir detective – and I’ve seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Given the ambition, heart and love that exudes from this film, it’s a little surprising that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse even exists in this state. The art style is far rougher around the edges than any large studio would dare put out these days, and the odd Sony product aside, there’s seemingly no concession to fit in with focus groups or test audiences that have caused any compromise.
This is a really special film, and while it’s inevitable that there will be sequels, further follow-ups and imitators aplenty trying to bottle this cinematic lightning, I can see this shining bright for years, maybe even generations to come.