Monday, 10 December 2018

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse:
Thwip it up and start again

If there's one thing I bloody love, it's a good hard kick up the bum. Not literally you understand, and also not aimed in the direction of my own bum, but rather the kind that someone gives to a flagging movie franchise every now and again. I've wanged on about it a thousand million times but see Dynamite Comics' James Bond stories for a classic example of cracking the mould while remaining respectful to the source, or The LEGO Batman Movie for a triumphant and hilarious cape caper that never forgot what made its hero unique.

Superheroes, of course, are massively ripe for this kind of bum-kicking, and while Spider-Man got a decent enough reboot last year when the MCU finally got its hands on him, there was still a sense of the same beats being followed that have been the Spidey road map for five preceding films. So thank the lord (or, more accurately, Phil Lord) for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, a film as unconventional as its embarrassing-to-say-out-loud title.
"Two for Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse
In Theaters Christmas In 3D And Real D 3D please"

Jerking us sideways into the universe of the Spidey comics, Into The Spider-Verse is set in an alternate dimension not entirely dissimilar to - but significantly different from - the one that the Spidey we know and love occupies, thereby immediately sidestepping tedious "BUT IS IT CANON?" questions. They've got their own webslinger, but they've also got Miles Morales, an ordinary schoolkid facing similar bother to that which Peter Parker experienced before his encounter with a nuclear arachnid. When Miles gets bitten by a similar bug, becoming New York's second Spider-Man, he finds himself up against exaggerated villains and aided by - for reasons way too bonkers to explain here - a handful of Spider-guys from other dimensions, including two Spider-women, one Spider-pig and one Spider-Nicolas-Cage.

As you have no doubt deduced, all of this turns out to be absolutely batshit crazy. It's the kind of plot and execution that live-action super-films are usually terrified to go near, and when you walk out of the Spider-Verse, anything Sony or Marvel ever did with the character on screen before suddenly seems about as cutting edge as the Nicholas Hammond-starring late '70s TV series in comparison. There are so many unfeasibly ginormous monsters, truly mental set-pieces and white-hot meta references to previous incarnations of the character that every cinemagoer should be issued with a coffee-table book of every frame of the film to get the most out of it.

But all that would be pointless if it weren't carried off with the love, humour and storytelling skills on display here. With Phil Lord writing and Chris Miller also tinkering in a producing capacity, the frothing excess of ideas that characterised The LEGO Movie spill out of the frame and into your incredulous, gaping facehole. Despite detailing about half a dozen origin stories (usually the curse of the modern superhero flick), Into The Spider-Verse is almost comically efficient, setting up its own cinematic universe of characters in the time it takes most franchises to stretch out one character's backstory. The assorted Spider-people are like the Avengers, if the Avengers were all slightly different versions of the same character, and each gets their own USP and moment in the sun without losing sight of the core plot.
"Is anyone else's NikNak sense tingling?"

That plot, of course, is Miles' journey from paint-spraying delinquent to web-shooting legend, and Lord peppers that story with a perfect balance of knowing nods to the Spidey mythology (uncles play as crucial a role here as ever, and familiar scenes from the past are given hilarious twists) while entirely surprising tangents come so thick and fast they give you thwiplash. And while Miles Morales isn't Lord's creation, the decision to use a half Puerto Rican, half African-American kid as the lead in a superhero movie (a youth- and diversity-celebrating choice reflected in the hip-hop soundtrack that left me scratching my old, white head) is only to be applauded.

The one thing I haven't mentioned yet is the thing that gives Into The Spider-Verse its licence to flip out and take all these liberties: it's animated. But this is nothing like any animation I've seen before; what's being fired into your eyeballs at a thousand miles an hour here can only be described as Spectacular Spider-Manimation. It's a mash up of comic-book dots and lines and bleeding-edge CGI that takes some getting used to (for at least half an hour I was convinced the cinema had forgotten to dish out the 3D goggles), but it's innovative, retina-popping and staggeringly beautiful at times. In all honesty it's also occasionally too much, especially in busy action scenes that overloaded my optic nerves a few times and, for me, could have been dialled just a notch below supermassively megafrantic. But I'm an old man who doesn't get hip hop, so what do I know.
Hold me

Bravo, then, to this mad, anarchic bastard of a film and the hurricane force blast of fresh air it aims at its overstuffed genre. What looked like it might have once been a straight-to-Netflix, kid-oriented time-passer for restless toddlers is in fact as game-changing a cinematic experience as any cape film we've seen since Superman: The Movie. It also makes a strong case for all superhero films from now on to be made like this, and with Nicolas Cage playing a monochrome, 1930s detective version of Spider-Man in each of them. If you ask me that's exactly the kick up the bum they all need.

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